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Book Review

‘Warburg in Rome’ by James Carroll

James Carroll’s “Warburg in Rome’’ has many of the ingredients of a great spy thriller: a high-stakes battle between good and evil; a plot full of twists and turns; a cultural capital both seductive and corrupt; characters caught in ethical thickets; and a moment of existential crisis when all the world’s troubles seem to converge on a single point on the map, bringing out the best and the worst in all who happen to find themselves at the fractured center of civilization.

Like John le Carré’s Cold War Berlin, Alan Furst’s prewar Paris, and Graham Greene’s postwar Vienna, Warburg’s Rome is a morally fraught landscape where the forces of light and darkness battle for and within each human soul. The fate of millions hinges on the decisions made by his protagonists but, as in those other fictional settings, the enormity of the stakes overwhelms moral certainty. We are plunged into a murky world where heroic action often backfires and conflicting moral imperatives give rise to unsavory compromises.

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