Book Scavenger: Rome Tourist Guide (1936)

by Jason Toon

I've accumulated a lot of ridiculous books over the years - from thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, and dumpsters - and I can no longer bear to hoard their weirdness for myself. Presenting the third in an occasional series exploring the far corners of the Toon library...because the world must know!

Like a James Bond villain, when I see beautiful things, I must have them. So when this sharp-looking cover caught my eye at an estate sale some years ago, I snapped it right up. I think it was three dollars. Clearly, this bygone world traveler had taste. Even among the other vintage travel brochures and posters at this particular sale (some of which hang in my home), this booklet's striking modernist layouts and stark monochrome photos of Roman landmarks had me anxious to get on the next flight.

Now that's what a tourist guide should look like. Let's see, when was this published? Oh, it says here 1936. What was going on in Italy in 1936?

Oh, riiiight...

Now that I think about it, the creepy power-fetishizing title page should've warned me that something was up.

Venal, sadistic, oppressive torturers and murderers they may have been, but those Fascists sure had style, huh?

Richly larded with praise of the Duce as if he built the whole place with his chubby little hands, this little pamphlet succeeds as a guide, all right - a guide to the rancid precincts of the Fascist mind. Here are some choice layouts followed by propagandistic quotations from each page. Believe me, this post could've been twice as long. Click the pages to see them in greater detail.









Funny, though, how for all this talk of Fascist glory and dignity and beauty and destiny, the editors can't seem to muster up many examples of stuff that was actually built under Mussolini.


Yup, just two examples after 14 years of Fascist glory. And of those two examples, neither makes much of a case for Fascist superiority. The sinister University City looks like the kind of place where they'd have Winston Smith strapped to a gurney in the basement.

The Mussolini Forum is a blah Imperial Roman knockoff with all the authenticity of a theme-park food court and more naked male buttocks than a strip bar with a name like "The Manhole". This was supposed to be the future of civilization?


Of course, the anonymous author disagrees. He sees a bright tomorrow for the Forum, Rome, Italy, and the omnipresent Duce.


Mussolini was ousted from power a mere seven years later, in 1943, and executed in 1945. They just don't make empires like they used to.

For more book-scavenging fun, see: