This is the first in-depth analysis of the impact of Italian unification on the hitherto isolated communities of rural Sicily. Traditional explanations of Sicily's instability depict a society trapped by a feudal past. Lucy Riall finds instead that many areas of the island were experiencing a period of rapid modernization, as local government increased their organizational efforts. Beginning with the period prior to the revolution of 1860, Dr Riall shows why successive attempts at political reform failed, and analyses the effects of this failure. She describes the bitter and violent conflict between rival elites and the mounting tide of peasant unrest which together threatened the status quo within the isolated communities of the Sicilian interior. Through an examination of the problems of local government - tax collection, conscription, the organization of policing - and of attempts to suppress peasant disturbances and control crime, she shows that the modernization of the Sicilian countryside both undermined the control of the central government and made the countryside itself more unstable.