Shawn Levy’s Dolce Vita Confidential gets 4 stars for its breezy, easy tone in describing an exuberant period in modern Italian cultural history. In one sense, the topic is feather light. However, Rome during the 50’s, with its notions of cheerful sensuality, still exerts considerable influence on today’s cinema, fashion, and how we view privacy, celebrity and scandal. Further, Levy has a keen eye for setting, the Roman neighborhoods and, particularly, the Via Veneto which engendered the flowering of creativity across all manner of art and life – though there is a special focus on Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita as the distillation of this era’s effluence.
Dolce Vita’s charm is its focus on the cultural milieu, but it would be illuminating to learn a bit more about how Italy’s post-war economy and politics enabled the burst of artistic inventiveness during the 50’s. Also, being an efficient writer, Levy seems to have used research from his numerous other books to flesh out Dolce Vita; justifiable, I suppose, but sometimes the reader gets the sense that Levy provided extensive detail on a given individual or situation simply because he already had the homework on hand.
I write literary fantasy novels, a genre rather remote from Dolce Vita. Nonetheless, I can certainly learn from Levy’s sense of setting and vivid exploration of an era of exaggeration, when everything was dialed up to eleven. Levy’s descriptions evoke an Italian beauty zipping past the Spanish Steps on a Vespa.