The former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison this week, after being found guilty of tax fraud. Berlusconi has two chances to appeal and, in the final summary, we're told, is unlikely to spend any time in a jail cell. For now, at least, the infamous bunga bunga parties can continue.
Still, the scandal-laden downfall (Berlusconi is also facing separate charges of paying an underage prostitute) calls to mind other famous political nosedives. Time to consult the literature.
Surely the grandfather of all media-age political scandals was the 1963 Profumo Affair, when the British secretary of state for war, John Profumo, resigned after lying to parliament about his relationship with the call girl - and possible Soviet spy - Christine Keeler. Taste the scandal first-hand with The Scandal of Christine Keeler and John Profumo (Stationery Office Books, Dh59), which makes available the incendiary 1963 report by Lord Denning. Profumo's political career was over and the British public would never view their establishment in quite the same way again.
Not to be outdone, the Americans soon concocted a mega-scandal of their own. The Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein shook the US to the core when they uncovered Richard Nixon's complicity in the 1972 Watergate building break-in and subsequent cover-up. Their All the President's Men (Bloomsbury, Dh47) is a fascinating portrait of power corrupted by paranoia.
Thirty years passed until another US president came so close to impeachment. Bill Clinton famously skirted over his affair with a 22-year-old White House intern in his voluminous autobiography, so go to Monica's Story (Michael O'Mara Books, Dh47) by Andrew Morton to hear the story as told by Monica Lewinsky. It's all there: that cigar, the stained dress and Clinton's famous defence when asked about his truthfulness: "It depends what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
It's a reading list to engender despair in our politicians. Unless, of course, you're Silvio Berlusconi, who may take some comfort in the idea that other "great men" have been afflicted by scandal. Not quite as often as him, though: read The Sack of Rome (Penguin, Dh65) by Alexander Stille to learn more about 33 previous trials Berlusconi has survived.
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