If you’re 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 beautiful 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 created this list of the 30 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 your preferred genre, you should be able to 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 to get married.
Unfortunately, the local baron does everything he can to prevent their union since he wants Lucia for himself. His meddling leads to the couple’s forced separation over years; however, their love for one another remains.
The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
As part of the Risorgimento, Garibaldi annexed 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 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 influential 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, 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 eventually bond over the shared experience of travel. This novel is highly recommended as a book club read and is even credited with making Portofino a popular vacation spot.
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
A Room with a View is often ranked as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. It follows Lucy, a young English woman coming of age in the early 1900s, on a trip to Italy with her uptight cousin and chaperone, Charlotte.
While in Italy, Lucy struggles between her old-fashioned values from home and her new experiences in the more liberal Italian culture. Ultimately, she must decide whether or not to follow her true instincts and pursue love.
Italian culture & travel books
Pasta, Pane, Vino by Matt Goulding
This travelogue takes readers on a food-lover’s tour of Italy, beginning in Rome and ending in Lake Como. Goulding brings the country to life, mainly focusing on the diversity of Italian food in different regions. However, it’s important to note that Pasa, Pane, Vino isn’t a cookbook!
Instead, you’ll learn about both the history of Italian cuisine as well as the people shaping it today. You’ll also find 200 photographs inside this book which help illustrate Goulding’s stories.
Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks
At the top of our list of books to read before going to Italy, you’ll find Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks. In fact, this author 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 Italian life 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 Italy travel book has become so popular that it’s been translated into 54 languages, and it was even adapted 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 she’s in an unhappy marriage, Gilbert decides to travel around the world to discover what she truly wants out of life.
During her time 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 exciting facet of Sicilian life: the Mafia and La Cosa Nostra. After living in Palermo for fourteen years, Robb, an Australian writer, decides to understand better the Mafia, its place in Sicilian society, and its connection to Italian politics.
The book’s primary focuses include La Cosa Nostra, Andreotti, and the extreme violence of the 1970s-80s in southern Italy. However, there are also particular asides and chapters which cover Sicilian cuisine, culture, and literature.
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
This New York Times bestseller centers around the city of Venice and was penned by the same author who wrote Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Berendt begins his tale shortly after the famous Fenice Opera House burned down, pursuing his own investigations to discover the truth about the fire.
His descriptions of Venice delve into the city’s art and architecture as well as some of its well-known families. Plus, Berendt’s eccentric cast of characters is always entertaining! You may even forget that this novel is non-fiction.
La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini
While many Italy travel books 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 his interactions with people.
His goal? To reveal the unwritten rules of Italian culture and how you can abide by them. Additionally, Severgnini describes the clear 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 a fantastic job describing what it was like to live in Rome at different times throughout its history, explaining 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.
Two hundred 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 reading this classic history book.
This novel takes place in 1418 in Florence, when 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 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.
The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall by Christopher Hibbert
The House of Medici is a thoroughly researched work on the life, rise, and eventual fall of the famous Medici dynasty. This powerful banking family first rose to prominence in the early 15th century, first acquiring control in Florence. Later, they went on the influence other Italian city-states as well as the Vatican and other countries in Europe.
Hibbert also explains the Medici’s tie to famous renaissance artists, like Leonardo Davinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Donatello. This novel is a must-read for history lovers who are planning a trip to Florence.
Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford
Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy is a thorough biography detailing this controversial “Borgia daughter.” Although many people think of Lucrezia as a femme fatale, Bradford seeks to reveal the truth behind this fascinating character.
Readers will learn that Lucrezia was extraordinarily well-educated and capable and was even content in her position as Duchess of Ferrera. She may not be Mother Teresa, but the history books may not have represented her accurately either. We highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about Lucrezia Borgia and the Italian Renaissance.
Historical fiction about Italy
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
If you enjoy historical fiction based on the true story of a WWII spy, Beneath A Scarlet Sky is a good choice for your reading list. 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 potent Nazi generals to spy for the Allies. Many of the book’s characters are based on real people, and the events follow Pino’s true experiences from 1943 to 1945.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
My Brilliant Friend is the first installment in the top-rated Neapolitan Novels series by Elena Ferrante. It introduces two friends, Elena and Lila, as they grow up in the 1950s-60s in 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 throughout 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 victorious 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 develop deep feelings for one another as teens despite their differences.
Nonetheless, everything changes when Angelo follows 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 an excellent choice for anyone who loves historical fiction books!
Beautiful Ruins by Jesse Walters
This New York Times bestseller 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 and 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, Lina is given her mother’s old journal after her arrival, 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 one of our top recommendations for a 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 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 the journey of a lifetime. They explore Venice, the Amalfi Coast, and everywhere in between, uncovering family secrets and maybe even sparking 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 beautiful 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 learns 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 that takes place 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 are initially supposed to attend a theological disputation, a series of mysterious deaths sets them on a different path. Their investigation takes place over seven days as the reader accompanies their search for clues.
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Angels & Demons is the first book in the top-rated Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown and one of the best mystery novels about Italy. Robert Langdon is a well-known symbologist called in to analyze a symbol at the murder scene of a renowned scientist.
However, 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 Commissario Guido 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 this crime series in the order it was published! 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 suspects that someone else was involved. Similar to the Commissario Brunetti series, these books can also be read out of chronological order.
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