Love, Heroism, and the Battle for the Soul of Mussolini's Rome

"Whoever you are, you are sure to be a severe critic of Fascism, and you must feel the servile shame. But even you are responsible for your inaction. Do not seek to justify yourself with the illusion that there is nothing to be done. That is not true. Every person of courage and honour is quietly working for a free Italy. Even if you do not want to join us, there are still TEN THINGS which you can do. You can, and therefore you must."

These unsayable words, printed on leaflets that rained down on Mussolini’s headquarters in the heart of Rome at the height of the dictator’s power, drive the central drama of Possess the Air. This is the story of freedom fighters who defied Italy’s despot by opposing the rising tide of populism and xenophobia. Chief among them: poet and aviator Lauro de Bosis, firstborn of an Italian aristocrat and a New Englander, who transformed himself into a modern Icarus and amazed the world as he risked his life in the skies to bring Il Duce down. Taras Grescoe’s inspiring story of resistance, risk, and sacrifice paints a portrait of heroes in the fight against authoritarianism. This is an essential biography for our time.

“Compelling…Set during Fascism’s glory years, Possess the Air is about resisting tyranny. It’s about the courage required to defy an autocrat even when the gains will be small.”
Literary Review of Canada

Possess the Air is a beautiful read, and the focus on Rome should open our eyes to how threats to civic liberty can often evolve into concrete form.”
Quill & Quire

Possess the Air is a massive project, combining research that’s deep yet deployed with a light touch, the smooth stag-managing of dozens of historical figures of varying fame and notoriety, a blend of the macro (sweeping social changes) and the micro (love stories, individual crises of conscience.) Yet Grescoe makes it look easy… Taras Grescoe has performed an act of resurrection, and done it with flair.” —Montreal Review of Books

“Superb—an object lesson is what befalls a country that embraces an autocratic strongman as its would-be saviour.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“Artful and detailed … Set in Mussolini’s Rome, which lives and breathes thanks to Grescoe’s storytelling … Alarming parallels emerge to the contemporary rise of populism, autocracy, and racial and religious intolerance. In this regard, Possess the Air is, just like de Bosis’s leaflets were as they drifted down on the streets of Rome, an inspirational message for all of those who love democracy.”
Foreword Reviews (starred review)

“Grescoe effectively breaks through our illusions of true historical objectivity, and in the process reminds us that in times of change turmoil, chaos, populism, and polarity, any essence of objectivity is quickly dispensed with, even in the institutions of academia, where we expect of find it the most. While the message of Possess the Air is universal and pertinent, discerning readers will find in it a mimic of our times.
The Ormsby Review

Possess the Air, which would be a great read in good times, is especially engrossing now as a study of how—given a combination of motive, opportunity, pathology and resources—Fascism, incrementally and systematically, can transform a society.
Policy Magazine

“Masterfully constructed, elegantly composed, this is a books to be savored by anyone with an appetite for what Henry James called ‘the luxury of loving Italy.’ It’s an important books, offering a way through the present by way of connection with a complicate past.”

“In the age of Trump, Mussolini—half-clown, half-tyrant—returns to our minds more readily that does that fanatic of fanatics, Adolf Hitler. Readers of Taras Grescoe’s racy study will learn much about what happened to those, both foreign and Italian, who rejected the Duce’s fake truths even at the sacrifice of their own lives. Their story can help us today resist the populist nationalists who crowd our screens with their lies and superificialities.”R.J.B. Bosworth, author of Mussolini and The Oxford Handbook of Fascism

“Wow! This book is an absolute tour de force—a fact-driven work of historical imagination at once fresh, relevant, and irresistible.  While tracking the rise of Italian fascism through the 1920s and ’30s, Taras Grescoe conducts a master class in applying novelistic techniques to a research-based narrative. By telling this story through individuals who lived it, Grescoe has created a literary experience that revives the idea of the nonfiction novel.”
Ken McGoogan, author of Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada

“In Possess the Air, Grescoe merges impressive scholarship with deft storytelling to bring readers to a Rome we’ve never known—even though Mussolini’s Make-Italy-Great-Again bombast will feel uncomfortably familiar. As much a biography of a city as the characters who dwell there, Grescoe’s book hums and shines.”
Marcello Di Cintio, author of Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Palestine in the Present Tense