A Reading List for Italophiles

by Jessica on March 26, 2012

by | March 26th, 2012  

Not everyone can travel to Italy every year, or be in Italy whenever they want – so, for some, the next best thing is reading about Italy. Immersing oneself in a book about Italian culture or set in an Italian city can offer a delightful temporary escape – not to mention planning ammunition for a trip.

With that in mind, here are some of my personal favorite books either about Italy or set in Italy, along with some other highly-recommended books that I haven’t yet had time to devour. As always, I welcome your comments and input.

What Italy-related books do you love?
Are there Italy books you read over and over again?
Have you ever used a book about Italy to help construct an Italy trip?
Let me know in the comments!

Personal Favorites

I have to admit that most of the Italy-related reading I’ve done over the years is of the non-fiction variety, so my personal favorites aren’t as robust in the escapist category. I’ll have to work on that, no?

  • Aurelio Zen mysteries (Michael Dibdin) – This series of mysteries is something of a tour of Italy. Each book is set in a different Italian city, and Dibdin masterfully weaves the personality of the place as well as Italian cultural notes into every story. Ratking is the first book, and if you’re anything like me you’ll be addicted instantly. Buy Ratking on Amazon; see Michael Dibdin’s author page on Amazon
  • The Dark Heart of Italy (Tobias Jones) – This is one of my favorite Italy-related books ever, despite its somber overtones. Yes, this is an historic book about Italy’s checkered (recent) past, and deals with what kind of country could give rise to a leader like Berlusconi, but it’s not all doom-and-gloom. In fact, Jones spends the end of the book talking about why he loves Italy despite its flaws. A great read if you think you’re ready for the flipside of the “Tuscan sun.” Buy The Dark Heart of Italy on Amazon
  • A Season With Verona (Tim Parks) – Admittedly, enjoying this book requires at least a familiarity with soccer and/or an interest in the game, but what I especially love about this book are the insights into Italian culture that come when Parks follows his Italian team around the country, going to every game they play that year. Buy A Season With Verona on Amazon
  • An Irreverent Curiosity (David Farley) – This was one of my favorite reads from 2010, and an unexpected delight at that. Farley spends a year living in a strange hilltop town near Rome where the “church’s strangest relic” – the holy foreskin of Jesus – was once kept before it disappeared. His quest becomes yours, and he even teaches you history along the way in building the story. Buy An Irreverent Curiosity on Amazon
  • The Agony & the Ecstasy (Irving Stone) – This classic historic novel about Michelangelo is a great way to absorb history without feeling like you’ll be bored by it. It’s a huge book, but the format makes it easier to digest than sitting in a classroom would. Buy The Agony & the Ecstasy on Amazon
  • Brunelleschi’s Dome (Ross King) – This is a great book about the construction of the Duomo’s dome in Florence, and will give you new appreciation for the building itself when you visit. King also wrote a book about Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Buy Brunelleschi’s Dome on Amazon
  • Venice Observed (Mary McCarthy) – I have a thing for Venice (you know this by now), but it’s a city that’s sort of difficult to describe without devolving into sappy or overused cliches. That’s what makes this book especially great – it’s an honest, critical, and loving look at a city McCarthy called home. Originally published in 1956, it stands the test of time beautifully. Buy Venice Observed on Amazon
  • A Room With a View (EM Forster) – Another classic, this EM Forster novel was published in 1908 and although it won’t necessarily paint an accurate modern picture of Florence, it’ll have you wistfully imagining the turn-of-the-century city when you wander its streets. Buy A Room With a View on Amazon
  • The City of Falling Angels (John Berendt) – You may know the author’s more famous book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil,” but his second book, “The City of Falling Angels,” is all about Venice. In fact, it’s about the fire that destroyed La Fenice (Venice’s opera house) in 1996, the investigation that followed, and the rebuilding of the new theatre. As in Berendt’s first book, the characters – who are real-life people in the city – are sometimes too good to be believed. Buy The City of Falling Angels on Amazon
  • Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy (David Gentilcore) – Many of us now associate the tomato with Italian cuisine, assuming it has always been so. Gentilcore takes us back through the history of the introduction of the tomato to Italy, which happened fairly recently in the grand scheme of things, and traces it back and forth across the Atlantic. Buy Pomodoro on Amazon

Italy Books Often Recommended (that I Haven’t Read Yet)

These books come highly recommended by other Italophiles, including friends of mine, but I haven’t yet read them. And yes, I know. The first one on the list is a doozy.

Italy Books for Would-Be Expats

In addition to “The Dark Heart of Italy” (listed above), I’d also recommend people who are contemplating a move to Italy take a look at these books at your library or local bookstore. There are similarities between them, so this will give you a chance to browse through them before buying the one you like best. One thing to look for is the publication date – make sure you’re getting one that was either published or updated recently, so the most current legal information is included. I’ve listed the most current publication date I could find of each of the pertinent titles.

Italy Book Reviews & Book Articles on WhyGo Italy

Other Italy Book Recommendation Lists

  • This thread on the Fodors message boards about books set in Italy is outstanding, but it’s daunting because it goes on forever. One user has tried to compile all the suggestions into periodically updated lists in her posts, but even those become too cumbersome to read. In other words, read through the thread until you can’t handle it anymore – and no matter how long that is, you’ll have a long list of books to take to your library.
  • This list of books on Food Lover’s Odyssey has plenty of food-related Italy books on it, but they’re not all about food. There are also quite a few I’d never heard of before.
  • This site seems to list books set in Italy from some kind of database. I’ve no idea of its accuracy, and of course there aren’t any reviews to accompany the listings, but if it’s a specific city or part of Italy you’re keen on reading about, this might be a good resource to check.

More Articles about Italy Books for Italy Lovers

photo by pppspics


{ 17 comments }

David Gilliland March 27, 2012 at 2:43 am
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Hi, You are doing a good job…i like the site and find it very helpful.
Great book list…..you might add James Morris’ book on Venice too.
Thanks for your work on the site…you are making a good contribution to our travel pleasure.
David G

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Keith March 27, 2012 at 8:32 am
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You’ve done a great job with your list! I’d suggest adding some books by Beppe Severgnini. He’s an Italian journalist who has written books in Italian and English. .

Three of his books offer cultural insights on countries (England, USA and Italy): Inglesi (1990), Un italiano in America (1995) La testa degli Italiani (2005)

Two books are about languages: L’inglese. Lezioni Semiserie (1992) L’italiano. Lezioni Semiserie (2007)

He wrote two travel books: Italiani con la valigia (1993) Manuale dell’imperfetto viaggiatore (2000)

Autobiography: Italiani si diventa (1998)

And his latest book in English is Mamma Mia! Berlusconi’s Italy explained to posterity and friends abroad (2011).

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Trizo March 27, 2012 at 10:09 am
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Actually, it might not be such a bad thing that you haven’t read Under the Tuscan Sun. A friend of mine who’s an Italian professor and grew up in Italy doesn’t like it at all…says it’s rife with cliches and stereotypes about Italy.

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vivian March 27, 2012 at 10:25 am
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If you like Sicily, or just want to know more about this region, I’ll highly recommend you “Midnight in Sicily” by Peter Robb. You’ll learn from the authers own experiences about Sicily and the sicilians, about culture and facts- ex history, art, travel and Cosa Nostra. It is one of the books I know for certain that I’ll read again.

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Nathalie ( @spacedlaw ) March 28, 2012 at 8:16 am
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You could add Carlo Levi’s “Christ Stopped at Eboli” and all the historical stories from Andrea Camilleri (not sure how many have been translated into English though).

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Amanda March 28, 2012 at 8:37 am
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Nice list, Jessica! I have my own list of my favorite Rome-specific books, especially juicy historical books-that-read-like-novels (current faves: Ross King’s other, newer book, “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,” and Stacy Schiff’s new “Cleopatra” biography), at http://www.revealedrome.com/2011/04/fun-books-read-rome-history-biographies.html. But it looks like I have some more to add to my list…

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Martha March 28, 2012 at 9:09 am
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Jan Morris’ book, ‘Venice’ is one of the very best written on an Italian city. Her book ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere’ is a close second.
For serious students of Venezia, John Julius Norwich’s ‘A History of Venice’ is the most complete and readable book on the subject

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Harley April 5, 2012 at 7:48 am
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Wow that is a substantial list. I am planning a trip to Italy later this year, can’t wait. At least now I have my reading list sorted, think I will start early to me in the mood :) ….

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Barbara April 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm
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I highly recommend reading Agony & Ecstasy before going to Italy. I read it after being there, and as much as I enjoyed the sculpture and paintings, I think I would have enjoyed them even more understanding the trials and tribulations of the artist. It is a big book but an easy read.

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Michelle Bottalico April 10, 2012 at 4:28 am
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Hi Jessica,
Thanks for this list, it looks like a good selection of titles and I’m always interested in reading more Italy-themed books. I’ve read The City of Falling Angels and I couldn’t put it down.
Michelle

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Cheryl April 12, 2012 at 10:32 am
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Hi Jessica – good beginning for so many great books to read… I wouldn’t waste my time on Marlena de Blasi books, though. She’s a grandstander and writes like a Harlequin romance novelist. There are a few self-published books that are great reads, but quite a few stinkers! My Nook and bookshelves in my U.S. condo are overflowing, and I’ve brought some to my home here in Italy. If you’re hitting the key cities, your list is quite complete. If you want people to know more about Italy, try some regional, non-Tuscan authors: Mark Rotella wrote Stolen Figs and other adventures in Calabria; Paul Paolocelli wrote two very good books, also about Calabria, on the dark side there’s always Monster of Florence, and for a very fun read about Parma try Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Italy is not just Roma, Venezia, Firenze e Toscana… so many Italian books, so little time…

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Jessica April 18, 2012 at 5:15 pm
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That’s one of the things I love best about the Aurelio Zen mysteries – each one is set in a different city, plenty of which aren’t on the usual tourist trail.

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Lucy July 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm
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If anyone is travelling to Northern Italy, specifically Trentino and Alto Adige, this travel guide might be useful. It’s based on my two and a half years of living there, and includes practicalities, travel suggestions and perceptions of the amazing place that it is, trentinoguide.wordpress.com/

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alanc230 August 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm
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“Il Gattopardo”, ‘The Leopard”, is the only book I was ever able to stumble through in Italian.

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SB September 3, 2012 at 11:53 am
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Don’t forget Eat Pray Love!

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A Werner Herzog October 11, 2012 at 4:39 am
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Not everyone can travel to Italy every year, or be in Italy whenever they want – so, for some, the next best thing is reading about Italy. Immersing oneself in a book about Italian culture or set in an Italian city can offer a delightful temporary escape – not to mention

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Penny Sadler October 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm
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I read A Thousand Days in Venice. Written by an American who traveled to Venice for business, met a Venetian and married him. She writes about the difficulties of living with someone from a different culture and making friends with the locals, in a very candid way. I admired her courage in jumping into the relationship with a man she didnt’ really know. She later wrote A Thousand Days in Tuscany. I enjoyed the former but not the latter so much. The Donna Leon mysteries are excellent and give you a nice perspective into life in Venice, present day.

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