A recent book about corruption and excess in Italian politics has become a runaway best-seller. It claims that Italian politicians are the best-paid in Europe, and have lavish perks and privileges unheard of elsewhere on the continent.
The book, called La Casta — or "the caste" — details how Italian politicians became untouchable. In just a few months, the book's publisher has sold nearly 1 million copies — extraordinary for a non-fiction book in Italy.
La Casta's authors, Sergio Rizzo and Gianantonio Stella, have become the darlings of Web blogs and chat rooms.
The book has shocked even Italy's jaded public opinion with its revelations. Among them: that the president's headquarters costs four times as much as Buckingham Palace, and that the Italian Parliament building is the costliest in Europe — 10 times more than that of Spain.
Also, Italian members of parliament are paid three times as much as their French counterparts; perks include chauffeured bullet-proof cars, bodyguards, and sharply discounted air travel, as well as individual tennis coaching.
And after only 30 months of service, lawmakers become entitled to receive a comfortable pension when they turn 60.
Members of parliament also enjoy extra-legal privileges: while de facto couples in Italy have no legal rights, unmarried members of parliament can extend health and other benefits to their partners.
The book also reveals that 16 of the Parliament's 630 members are convicted felons.
Rizzo and Stella estimate that between 600,000 and 700,000 Italians live off the political machine.
The worst scandals and costs, they say, are at the regional, provincial and municipal levels, where there are few controls and where political patronage creates high-paying jobs.