Denis Mack Smith CBE FBA FRSL (March 3, 1920 – July 11, 2017)[2] was an English historian who specialized in the history of Italy from the Risorgimento onwards. He is best known for his biographies of Garibaldi, Cavour and Mussolini, and for his single-volume Modern Italy: A Political History.[3][4] He was named Grand Official of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1996.[5]

Denis Mack Smith
BornMarch 3, 1920
DiedJuly 11, 2017(2017-07-11) (aged 97)
Academic background
EducationUniversity of Cambridge
Academic advisorsHerbert Butterfield[1]
Academic work
Sub-disciplineItalian history, modern history
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge (1947–62)
University of Oxford (1962–87)
Doctoral studentsChristopher Duggan
Main interestsRisorgimento, Italian fascism
Notable worksModern Italy: A Political History

Early life


Denis Mack Smith was born in Hampstead (north London),[2][6] the son of tax inspector Wilfrid Mack Smith (1891–1975) and Altiora Edith Gauntlett (1888–1969), and was educated at St Paul's Cathedral Choir School and Haileybury College, where Martin Wight was one of his tutors.[4][7] He earned a degree in History at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and following his graduation, he was a fellow there for the next 15 years (1947–62).[8]



A Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford from 1962 to 1987, and then an Emeritus Fellow until his death, Mack Smith has been considered the world's leading scholar on Italian history for the English world.[9] He belonged to the post-World War II generation of Cambridge historians, many based at Peterhouse, who learned to appreciate the primacy of documentary evidence.[10] He was an Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, and of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He received the Presidential Medal of Italy in 1984.[11]

Though his work on Italian history has been criticized by Italian academics, including Rosario Romeo[12] and Renzo De Felice, since their first translations were published in the 1950s, Mack Smith remains the second best-selling author on Italian history after Indro Montanelli. Other Italian academics were outraged over Mack Smith's refusal "to regard Italian fascism and the rise of Benito Mussolini as an aberration".[13] Mack Smith contended that one of the causes of Italian fascism was the structural weaknesses that existed in the Italian political system, a lasting "legacy of the Risorgimento".[13]


  • Cavour and Garibaldi, 1860: A Study in Political Conflict, 1954.
  • Garibaldi: A Great Life in Brief, 1956.
  • Italy: A Modern History, 1958, revised 1969, completely revised and reprinted as Modern Italy: A Political History, 1997.
  • A History of Sicily, with Moses Finley, in two volumes, Medieval Sicily 800-1713 and Modern Sicily after 1713, 1968; abridged and reprinted as the single volume A History of Sicily with Moses Finley and Christopher Duggan, 1986.
  • The Making of Italy, 1796-1870, 1968 (editor), reprinted as The Making of Italy, 1796-1866, 1988.
  • Great Lives Observed: Garibaldi, 1969 (editor).
  • Victor Emmanuel, Cavour and the Risorgimento, 1971.
  • Vittorio Emanuele II, 1975.
  • Mussolini's Roman Empire (Le guerre del Duce), 1976.
  • Mussolini, 1981. ISBN 0394506944
  • Cavour, 1985.
  • Il Risorgimento italiano. Storia e testi, 1987.
  • Italy and Its Monarchy, 1989. ISBN 0300046618
  • Mazzini, 1994. ISBN 0300058845
  • La storia manipolata, 1998.

With others

  • John Anthony Davis and Paul Ginsborg, eds. Society and Politics in the Age of the Risorgimento: Essays in Honour of Denis Mack Smith. (Ten essays, including "Francesco De Sanctis: the politics of a literary critic," by Denis Mack Smith.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0521526450


  1. ^ Bosworth 2017, p. 3.
  2. ^ a b CARIOTI, ANTONIO (7 December 2017). "Morto lo storico Denis Mack Smith L'Italia vista da un liberal inglese".
  3. ^ Grimes, William (2 August 2017). "Denis Mack Smith, Chronicler of Modern Italy, Dies at 97". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Denis Mack Smith obituary: Eminent historian of modern Italy who was a true populariser of his subject". The Guardian. 24 July 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  5. ^ web, Segretariato generale della Presidenza della Repubblica-Servizio sistemi informatici- reparto. "Le onorificenze della Repubblica Italiana". Quirinale.
  6. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  7. ^ Hall 2003, p. 30.
  8. ^ "MACK SMITH, Denis". Who's Who & Who Was Who. Vol. 2018 (online ed.). A & C Black. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ Bosworth, Richard, "Denis Mack Smith and the Third Italy" (book review of Italy and Its Monarchy by Denis Mack Smith). The International History Review, vol. 12, no. 4, (November 1990), p. 782.
  10. ^ Riall, Lucy, in Encyclopedia of Historians & Historical Writing, Kelly Boyd, ed., vol. 2, M-Z. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers (1999), p. 751.
  11. ^ All Souls College, University of Oxford
  12. ^ "QuAndo Romeo stroncò Denis Mack Smith". Repubblica. 11 January 2001.
  13. ^ a b William Grimes, "Denis Mack Smith, Chronicler of Modern Italy, Dies at 97", The New York Times, 2 August 2017

Further reading