If you catch yourself dreaming about a trip to Italy, why not find a way to “transport” yourself there? In fact, reading is one of the best ways to learn about Italy before your vacation. Plus, it’s a wonderful cure for those experiencing wanderlust–no passport needed! Since Italy is such a popular destination among tourists, there’s certainly no shortage of literature about this country. For this reason, we’ve taken the time to narrow down the 25 best books about Italy! These must-read novels cover classics, books about Italian culture and travel, history books, historical fiction, romance novels, and mystery novels set in Italy. No matter what genre you prefer to read, you should be able to can find an ideal Italy book on this list!
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Table of Contents
Classic books about Italy
The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
The Betrothed is often hailed as the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language. Set in Lombardy in 1628, this historical novel tells the story of Renzo and Lucia, a young couple who are planning an upcoming wedding. Unfortunately, the local baron does everything he can to prevent their union as he wants Lucia for himself. His meddling leads to the couple’s forced separation over a period of years; however, their love for one another remains.
The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
As part of the Risorgimento, Garibaldi annexes Sicily in 1860 to become part of a unified Italy. In The Leopard, we follow Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, and part of “the old order.” Considering the political upheaval occurring during this time, Don Fabrizio foresees the nobility’s (and his family’s) imminent downfall. Therefore, he’s forced to choose between his comfortable upper-class code of conduct and the new bourgeois way of doing things. The Leopard is one of the top-selling novels in Italian history and is often considered one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
The Enchanted April follows four proper English ladies who leave rainy England to go on holiday to Italy. Although these women have never met each other before, they all respond to the same advertisement for a small medieval castle in Portofino. Lottie, Rose, Lady Caroline, and Mrs. Fisher all have different backgrounds and personalities; however, they’re eventually able to bond over the shared experience of travel. This novel is extremely popular as a book club read and is even credited with making Portofino a popular vacation spot.
Italian culture & travel books
Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks
Italian Neighbors is a must-read for anyone thinking about moving to Italy. In fact, Tim Parks specializes in explaining the intricacies of the Italian psyche to fellow foreigners! This book, in particular, covers his first year living in Montecchio, a small suburb of Verona. Parks distinguishes this travel book by focusing on his relationships with the neighbors and getting to know the locals in town. Additionally, while certain memoirs of life in Italy are more romantic, Parks focuses on the differences between Italian culture and his own (British culture).
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Compared to Tim Parks, Under the Tuscan Sun is a lighter and more romantic take on life in Italy. Let’s be honest: who hasn’t dreamed of buying a villa in the Tuscan countryside? In this novel, Mayes gives us an enchanting tale of doing just that. You can expect captivating descriptions of the renovation process as well as the people, the history of Tuscany, and of course, the delicious food in the region. This memoir has become so popular that it’s been translated into 54 languages and even made into a 2003 comedy-drama film by the same name.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat, Pray, Love tells the entertaining tale of Gilbert’s self-growth journey through travel. Although it doesn’t take place entirely in Italy–Rome is one of three destinations she visits–this book is still worth a read! After realizing that she’s in an unhappy marriage, Gilbert decides to take a trip around the world to discover what she truly wants out of life. In Italy, she spends four months learning “the art of pleasure” and indulging in all of Rome’s best cuisine. Readers will love living vicariously through her time exploring Italy!
Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb
In Midnight in Sicily, Robb dives into an interesting facet of Sicilian life: the Mafia and La Cosa Nostra. After living in Palermo for fourteen years, Robb, an Australian writer, decides to better understand the Mafia, its place in Sicilian society, and its connection to Italian politics. The book’s main focuses include La Cosa Nostra, Andreotti, and the extreme violence of the 1970s-80s. However, there are also certain asides and chapters which cover Sicilian cuisine, culture, and literature.
La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini
While many of the books about Italian life are from the ex-pat point of view, La Bella Figura offers insight into how Italians view their own country. Instead of writing this book as a travel guide, Severgnini takes us through Milano, Napoli, and Roma and describes the people and interactions he has along the way. On this journey, he reveals the unwritten rules of Italian culture and how you can abide by them. Additionally, Severgnini describes the difference between tourists’ romantic concept of Italy and the Italian concept of Italia.
Italian history books
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
SPQR actually stands for “Senātus Populusque Rōmānus,” which translates to “The Roman Senate and People.” Mary Beard’s history of Rome particularly stands out as she focuses on how Rome grew instead of sharing its decline and fall. In fact, she begins her book with Rome’s mythical founding and chooses to end the book in 212 AD. She does an amazing job describing what it was like to live in Rome at different times throughout its history, describing everything from politics, poetry, costs, hygiene, and more.
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
Although Gibbon’s six-volume The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire can be a little intimidating, there’s actually an abridged version on Amazon (shown above)! This edition sits at a more easily consumable 795 pages. 200 years may have passed since its original publication; nonetheless, scholars still enjoy returning to and rereading Gibbon’s prose. Anyone interested in Roman or Classical history should consider giving this classic history book a read.
In 1418 in Florence, a competition was announced to select a builder to complete Santa Maria del Fiore. At this point, the Florence cathedral had been under construction for over 120 years; yet, no one could figure out how to build the gigantic dome that was needed for the design. Luckily, along came Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith, who won the competition and subsequently revolutionized architecture–hence, Brunelleschi’s Dome. His most famous work is still standing in Florence today. Plus, he’s now considered a founding father of Renaissance architecture and the first modern engineer.
Historical fiction about Italy
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
If you enjoy historical fiction based on real WWII spy stories, Beneath A Scarlet Sky is definitely a good choice for you. Pino Lella, a young man from Milan, is pushed into enrolling in the German army. However, unbeknownst to everyone else, he’s actually using his job as a driver to one of Italy’s most powerful Nazi generals to spy for the Allies. Many of the book characters are based on real people, and the events follow Pino’s true experiences from 1943-1945.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
My Brilliant Friend is the first novel in the top-rated Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante. It introduces two friends, Elena and Lila, as they grow up in 1950s-60s Naples in an impoverished neighborhood. We begin with the girls’ earliest memories and follow the push and pull of their friendship all the way to adulthood. In 2018, HBO began to produce a TV series by the same name, which is set to adapt all four books over the course of four seasons.
Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
In Mistress of Rome, Kate Quinn brings to life Thea, a slave girl from Judea living in first-century Rome. Although Thea falls in love with a successful gladiator, Arius the Barbarian, her spiteful mistress tears them apart. Later, Thea finds a way to get back on her feet by performing as a singer for Rome’s aristocrats, and eventually, Emperor Domitian. This book has political intrigue, gladiators, a story of lasting love, and more!
From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon
Set in Italy in 1943, From Sand and Ash brings us a forbidden love story during WWII. Eva Rosselli is an Italian Jew, and Angelo Bianco is a Catholic; however, they find themselves developing deep feelings for one another as teens despite their differences. Everything changes when Angelo decides to follow his calling to the priesthood. Ten years later, we meet Eva and Angelo again, as Angelo must shelter Eva within the walls of a convent to keep the Gestapo from finding her.
The Night Portrait: A Novel of World War II and da Vinci’s Italy by Laura Morelli
This dual timeline historical novel follows two women separated by over 450 years. The first is Cecilia Gallerani, the young mistress of the Duke of Milan, who finds herself the subject of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portraits in 1492. Our other main character is Edith Becker, an art conservator who is forced to work for the Reich in WWII to identify valuable paintings for the Nazis to steal. Later, Edith teams up with American soldiers to save these art pieces–including Lady with an Ermine. The Night Portrait is a great choice for anyone who loves historical fiction!
Beautiful Ruins by Jesse Walters
This bestselling novel is a social satire about Hollywood culture; however, important sections of Beautiful Ruins also occur in the 1960s in Porto Vergogna in the Italian Rivera. Here, we meet Pasquale Tursi, a lonely Italian hotel owner whose life becomes way more exciting when the beautiful American actress Dee Moray decides to stay at his property. We also meet Alvis Bender, an American writer who visits the inn annually. Walters manages to tie all of these characters together as well as introduce sections surrounding modern-day Hollywood.
Romance novels set in Italy
Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
Love & Gelato introduces us to Lina, a young woman dealing with the fallout of her mother’s recent death. To fulfill her mother’s last wish, she hops on a flight to spend the summer in Florence and unwittingly meets her father for the first time. Moreover, after her arrival, Lina is given her mother’s old journal, leading the reader to experience two stories of finding love in Tuscany. In fact, as Lina begins to make her way through the diary, she encounters her own romantic troubles with the boy next door named Ren. This romantic novel is an ideal light and summery read!
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman
Over two hundred years ago, the second-born Fontana daughters were cursed to live a life without love. While Emilia Fontana, a single baker at a Brooklyn deli, believes the second-born women in her family end up single by chance, others, like her cousin Luciana, believe the curse is a fact of life. So, Emilia and Luciana are quite intrigued when their Great-Aunt Poppy invites them on a free trip to Italy to go and break the family curse. In The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, these three women embark on a trip of a lifetime that will uncover family secrets and maybe even spark a little romance.
Our Italian Summer by Jennifer Probst
Our Italian Summer follows three generations of Ferrari women as they attempt to patch up their broken relationships on a whirlwind trip across Italy. Francesca is a successful business owner who also happens to be a workaholic. Meanwhile, her teenage daughter Allegra constantly rebels against her and is frustrated that her mom never puts her first. Lastly, we meet Sophia, the matriarch of the family, who is willing to do anything she can to save Francesca and Allegra’s relationship. The story unravels from all three points of view and is a wonderful tale of both romance and rekindling family connections.
The Lemon Tree Café by Cathy Bramley
The Lemon Tree Café offers a fun mix of Italy and an adorable village in Derbyshire. After losing her job, Rosie Featherstone decides to lend a hand at her Italian grandmother’s café. In the end, Rosie ends up learning more and more clues about her Nonna and why she left Italy, culminating in an unexpected trip to put all the pieces together. All in all, this book is about family secrets, new romances, and even yummy Italian dishes.
Mystery novels set in Italy
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Name of the Rose is a historical murder mystery set in a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy in 1327. Franciscan friar William of Baskerville is essentially cast as the 1300s version of Sherlock Holmes, traveling with his scribe, Adso of Melk, who is similar to Watson. While these men originally are set to attend a theological disputation, a set of mysterious deaths sets them on a different path. Their investigation takes place over the course of seven days as the reader accompanies their search for clues.
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Angels & Demons is the first book in the extremely popular Dan Langdon series by Dan Brown. Dan Langdon is a well-known symbologist called in to analyze a symbol at the murder scene of a renowned scientist. What he finds leads him on a fast-paced adventure in which he discovers a secret society’s conspiracy against the Vatican. Although the plot can seem outlandish at times, this book is an overall fun and exciting read.
Acqua Alta by Donna Leon
Acqua Alta is the fifth book in Donna Leon’s bestselling Commissario Brunetti series. If you love Venice and a good murder mystery, this is an ideal book for you! Follow Brunetti as he works on a deadly case during the “Acqua Alta,” or “high waters” from the Adriatic Sea that occasionally flood the city. Readers will enjoy the descriptions of Venice during the winter; plus, you don’t have to read the Commissario Brunetti series in order! So, feel free to pick up this mystery novel as a standalone read.
The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri
The Shape of Water is the first book in Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series, set in Vigàta, Sicily. When Politician Silvio Luparello is found dead at a trash site, the Commissioner asks Inspector Montalbano to look into the case. Although the coroner declares the death to be of natural causes, Montalbano has a suspicion that someone else was involved. Similar to the Commissario Brunetti series, these books can also be read out of chronological order.