Be warned: this list is mainly for History Nerds like myself. I only included books about Italy I actually have read and enjoyed, hence it may be a bit shorter than your average list. If you are looking for more recent books, check out Questa Dolce Vita’s Italy Spring Book Roundup!
A few books about Italy
- All of Peter Robb’s works: Midnight In Sicily, Street Fight in Naples or M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio. Robbs writing style is captivating. He paints an amazing image of Southern Italy all while presenting facts and historical stories in a comprehensible way. His style is for anyone and everyone. I would definitely pick up his works if you are headed to Southern Italy!
- Monster In Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. For all you True Crime junkies, this is the story of Italy’s one and only Serial Killer. While this occurs in Florence and gives a different story to the city’s long history. It also gives insight into some other Italian regional cultures (I don’t want to spoil it!)
- Where Angels Fear to Tread by EM Forester, alright this is the only fiction story I will add to the list. But I choose it because it tells a story that still plays out today. A girl falls in love with the allure of Italy, and of course one of the Italian men…. but doesn’t turn out to be a fairytale.
- Naked in Italy by ME Evans, a MUST if you are moving to Italy. Evans tells another perspective of moving to Italy that often Expats may be quiet about. This humorous tale is such a great story of living in Italy.
A Few by Italian Authors:
- Periodic Table of Elements – Primo Levi. Levi goes through his story of living in Turin during the war, comparing anecdotes to Elements. He paints a really vivid picture of Piemonte and Turin during the time.
- Vieni Via Con Me– Roberto Saviano (ITA only), as opposed to Saviano’s more famous books such as Gomorrah, this one is a little shorter. It is a series of stories from people around Italy who have been affected by corruption, mafia, and crime.
- History a Novel- Elsa Morante. Ok, this book is going to be a long read. But it is such an amazing take on World War II in Rome. It tells the story of a Jewish woman (who does not really embrace this) who is raped and has a child by a German soldier. The story follows her eldest son through his teenage angst trying to decide if he is a Fascist, Communist, or maybe a Partisan. Her baby’s acceptance as a blond child born out of wedlock. Her struggle with her religion, and the entire city of Rome during this time. You’ll be taken through familiar sites such as Termini, Testaccio, and the Ghetto. Really a great read if you are familiar with Rome!
- Christ Stopped at Eboli– Carlo Levi’s tale of being held political prisoner between Basilicata and Calabria. It shares how these areas in the South of Italy were cut off from the rest of the modern world and really lived in their own sphere. Primarily he speaks of the area around Matera. If you are wondering what life in Matera once was like this is a great read!
- Letter to a Child Never Born- Oriana Fallaci, ok this one may not 100% fit here, as this book has nothing to do with Italy, except that it does. It has everything to do with being a Woman, and the choices we are allowed regarding our bodies. Definitely is a must-read for EVERYONE, that is why I had to keep it on the list!
Books to Help You Around Italy
As far as guidebooks go, I do find them helpful when traveling and I would say Lonely Planet is the way to go. For Phrasebooks, there are also plenty to choose from, but for a little slang, my all-time favorite is: Dirty Italian
Something you might not have thought of, but I do recommend is grabbing the Penguin Reference Dictionary of Saints. I know this sounds odd, but with all the religious art, various patron saint legends, and churches: Trust me you will need to look them up.
Finally: Always carry a notebook! Take notes on your favorite restaurants, what you ate, what is it called in Italian, what you drank, your favorite odd spots! Keeping a travel journal is a great idea as so often we forget everything we had experienced once we get home and the buzz has worn off. So carry a journal with you so you’ll know for next time you visit Italy!