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The 34 Best Books About Italy to Read Before Your Trip

Embark on an Italian adventure without leaving the comfort of your couch! Whether time or money is stopping you from traveling there in person, you can always unlock the secrets of Italy’s charm through the power of books.

Drawing upon my own extensive experience and passion for Italian culture, I present a meticulously curated selection of the 34 best books about Italy. Get ready to immerse yourself in the vibrant world of “la dolce vita” and satisfy your wanderlust–no passport required!

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!

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission when you purchase a product or book a stay through these links at no extra cost to you.

Classic books about Italy

Villa del Balbianello, a renowned residence situated in the municipality of Lenno and commanding views of Lake Como in Lombardy, Italy.The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

The Betrothed is the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language. Set in 1628 Lombardy, it revolves around Renzo and Lucia, a young couple thwarted by a local baron’s interference in their marriage plans. Despite their forced separation, their love perseveres through the years.

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

In 1860, as part of the Risorgimento, Garibaldi annexed Sicily to unify Italy. The Leopard explores this period through Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, representing the old order.

Amid political upheaval, he anticipates the nobility’s decline, facing a dilemma: adhere to the upper-class code or embrace the emerging bourgeois ethos. A bestseller in Italian history, The Leopard is a pivotal work in modern Italian literature.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

The Enchanted April follows four English women escaping rainy England for a holiday in Italy. Responding to the same ad for a medieval castle in Portofino, Lottie, Rose, Lady Caroline, and Mrs. Fisher, despite diverse backgrounds, forge a bond through shared travel experiences.

Widely endorsed for book clubs, the novel played a role in popularizing Portofino as a vacation destination.

The scenic view of the charming coastal village of Portofino, showcasing its cityscape and the picturesque harbor adorned with moored boats, located in the Liguria province of northern Italy.A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Ranked among the best 20th-century English novels, A Room with a View  traces Lucy’s journey to Italy in the early 1900s with her strict cousin and chaperone, Charlotte.

In the liberal Italian culture, Lucy grapples with conflicting values, facing a pivotal choice between conformity and pursuing true love.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Embark on a mesmerizing journey in Invisible Cities, where Marco Polo enthralls Kublai Khan with tales blurring reality and invention.

The novel explores the profound significance of cities as the aging emperor and the young explorer contemplate the interplay between urban landscapes and human existence. Calvino’s lyrical prose invites readers to ponder the hidden depths within cities.

Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy, written between 1308 and 1320, is a renowned narrative poem divided into Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, offering an imaginative depiction of the afterlife.

This masterpiece played a crucial role in establishing the Tuscan language as standardized Italian and is widely regarded as the foremost masterpiece in Italian literature.

Dante’s journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven provides insightful commentary on human nature, morality, and divine justice.

Italian culture & travel books

Pasta, pizza, and carefully crafted homemade dishes displayed on a table at a restaurant in Rome, with a view of a beautiful streetPasta, Pane, Vino by Matt Goulding

Embark on a culinary journey across Italy with Goulding’s travelogue, spanning from Rome to Lake Como. While not a cookbook, Pasta, Pane, Vino delves into the diverse world of Italian food across regions.

It offers insights into the history of Italian cuisine, profiles the people shaping it today, and features 200 photographs enriching Goulding’s stories.

Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks

At the top of our list of books to read before going to Italy is Tim Parks’ Italian Neighbors. Specializing in decoding the Italian psyche for fellow foreigners, Parks recounts his first year in Montecchio, a Verona suburb.

Unlike more romantic memoirs, this travel book uniquely emphasizes his interactions with neighbors and explores the cultural differences between Italy and his native British culture.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Compared to Tim Parks, Under the Tuscan Sun offers a lighter, more romantic perspective on life in Italy. Mayes weaves an enchanting tale of buying a Tuscan villa, offering captivating descriptions of the renovation, the people, Tuscany’s history, and the delectable regional cuisine.

This widely popular Italy travel book has been translated into 54 languages and adapted into a 2003 comedy-drama film of the same name.

Cypress trees on the field, San Quirico d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy with a view of a traditional villaEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love narrates Gilbert’s self-discovery journey through travel, including a noteworthy visit to Rome. Despite not being entirely set in Italy, the book is worth a read.

Gilbert embarks on a global exploration after realizing her unhappiness in marriage, spending four months in Italy to learn “the art of pleasure” and savoring the best of Rome’s cuisine. Readers will relish living vicariously through her Italian adventures.

Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb

Delve into the thrilling underworld of Sicilian life with Robb’s Midnight in Sicily. After fourteen years in Palermo, the intrepid Australian author decides to unravel the intricate web of the Sicilian Mafia and La Cosa Nostra.

The book primarily explores La Cosa Nostra, Andreotti, and the extreme violence of the 1970s-80s in southern Italy, with asides covering Sicilian cuisine, culture, and literature.

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

A New York Times bestseller by the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, this book focuses on Venice in the aftermath of the Fenice Opera House fire. Berendt investigates the truth behind the incident, delving into the city’s art, architecture, and well-known families.

Plus, Berendt’s eccentric cast of characters is always entertaining! You may even forget that this novel is non-fiction.

Panoramic view of the city of Venice, Italy, featuring the church of Santa Maria della Salute.Delizia! by John Dickie

Embark on a mouthwatering journey through the vibrant history of Italian cuisine in Delizia!. This captivating book explores the intertwining of Italian food with its birth cities, dispelling myths and revealing surprising truths.

Dickie covers extravagant Renaissance banquets, the dishes that influenced Italian emigration, the evolution of pizza, and Mussolini’s promotion of risotto. With its rich blend of history, culture, and culinary insights, Delizia! is a feast for the senses and the intellect.

La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini

Unlike many expat-centric Italy travel books, La Bella Figura offers insight into how Italians perceive their own country. Severgnini, instead of providing a conventional travel guide, takes readers through Milano, Napoli, and Roma, narrating his interactions with locals.

His aim is to craft one of the best books on Italian culture, unveiling its unwritten rules and offering advice on how to navigate them. Severgnini also highlights the disparity between tourists’ romanticized vision of Italy and the Italians’ concept of their homeland. 

Italian history books

View of the Colosseum in Rome on a sunny daySPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

SPQR  translates to “Senātus Populusque Rōmānus,” meaning “The Roman Senate and People.” Mary Beard’s unique history of Rome stands out as she emphasizes its growth rather than its decline and fall.

Beginning with the mythical founding and concluding in 212 AD, Beard vividly describes life in the “Eternal City” across various historical periods, covering politics, poetry, costs, hygiene, and more.

A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich

Explore the rise and fall of Venice in Norwich’s A History of Venice. This comprehensive exploration unveils the city’s strategic location, trade, and political maneuverings that led to its transformation into a formidable trading empire.

Witness key moments such as expansion, involvement in the Crusades, and acquisition of vast Mediterranean colonies. Norwich vividly captures the grandeur and challenges as Venice’s power waned, making this book a must-read for those fascinated by its allure. 

View of the dome at the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, ItalyBrunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King

Set in 1418 Florence during a competition to complete Santa Maria del Fiore, this novel revolves around the cathedral’s longstanding construction and the challenge of building its massive dome.

Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith, emerged victorious, revolutionizing architecture with his iconic Brunelleschi’s Dome. This masterpiece, still standing in Florence, solidifies him as a founding father of Renaissance architecture and the first modern engineer. 

The House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert

The House of Medici is a well-researched account of the life, rise, and fall of the renowned Medici dynasty. Initially gaining prominence in early 15th-century Florence, this powerful banking family expanded its influence to other Italian city-states, the Vatican, and beyond.

Hibbert highlights their connections to Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Donatello. A must-read for history enthusiasts planning a trip to Florence.

Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford 

Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy provides a comprehensive biography of this controversial figure. Despite the common perception of her as a femme fatale, Bradford unveils the truth about Lucrezia, highlighting her exceptional education and capabilities.

She may not be Mother Teresa, but the history books may not have represented her accurately either. We highly recommend this historical memoir to anyone interested in learning more about Lucrezia Borgia and the Italian Renaissance. 

Read More: 25 Facts About Rome, Italy

Historical fiction about Italy

The square of Piazza del Duomo in Milan features prominent landmarks, including the Duomo, Galleria, and a statue commemorating Vittorio Emanuele II.Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

If you enjoy historical fiction based on the true story of a World War II spy, Beneath A Scarlet Sky is a good choice for your reading list.

Pino Lella, a young man from Milan, enlists in the German army but secretly uses his position as a driver for a powerful Nazi general to spy for the Allies. The characters in the book are based on real people, and the events reflect Pino’s actual experiences from 1943 to 1945.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

Step into the life of Lucrezia de’ Medici in Renaissance Italy with The Marriage Portrait. As a young duchess, she grapples with the challenges of court life following an unexpected marriage, where her husband’s true nature is mysterious.

Lucrezia must navigate her role, meet expectations, and secure her future. O’Farrell’s powerful storytelling vividly depicts a resilient woman’s struggle for identity and independence. Experience a captivating tale of love, politics, and survival where Lucrezia’s destiny hangs on a knife’s edge.

Still Life by Sarah Winman

Set in war-torn Tuscany in 1944, English soldier Ulysses Temper meets art historian Evelyn Skinner amidst a villa’s ruins. Their connection sparks a friendship that shapes Ulysses’s life for four decades.

Memories of Italy linger as he returns to his London pub crew. Then, an unexpected inheritance draws him back to the Tuscan hills, where destiny awaits. Still Life tells a captivating tale of resilience, beauty, and enduring bonds with beautiful prose.

The city of Naples, Italy, with the sunset view of Mount Vesuvius in the background, located in the region of Campania.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.

These Tangled Vines by Julianne MacLean

Fiona, adept at secrets, inherits a fortune after her biological father’s death, thrusting her into a world of mysteries. Traveling to Italy, she unravels her mother’s affair, learns about her unknown father, and discovers two half-siblings.

Set against Tuscany’s romantic backdrop, These Tangled Vines explores love, sacrifice, courage, and the profound meaning of family in a sumptuous tale. Get ready to be swept away by this enchanting story!

Breathtaking views of the colorful town of Portofino, lining the waterFrom 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.

Beautiful Ruins by Jesse Walters

A New York Times bestseller, Beautiful Ruins is a social satire on Hollywood culture, with significant portions set in 1960s Porto Vergogna on the Italian Riviera.

Here, the story introduces Pasquale Tursi, a lonely hotel owner, whose life becomes more exciting with the arrival of American actress Dee Moray. The narrative also includes Alvis Bender, an American writer who visits the inn annually.

Walters skillfully ties all these characters together, blending sections from the past with modern-day Hollywood.

Romance novels set in Italy

View of the cityscape of Florence, showing the famous Florence cathedral and other historical sitesLove & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Love & Gelato follows Lina, grappling with her mother’s recent death. Fulfilling her mother’s last wish, she spends the summer in Florence and meets her father for the first time. Given her mother’s journal, the reader experiences two love stories in Tuscany.

As Lina delves into the diary, she navigates her own romantic troubles with Ren, the boy next door. This romantic novel is a top recommendation for a light summer read!

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

Two hundred years ago, Fontana’s second-born daughters were cursed to live without love. Emilia, a single baker, sees it as chance, while her cousin Luciana believes it’s a fact of life.

Then, their Great-Aunt Poppy invites them on a free trip to Italy to break the family curse. In The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, the three women explore Venice, the Amalfi Coast, and beyond, uncovering family secrets and maybe sparking romance.

One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle 

In One Italian Summer, Katy’s world shatters with her mother’s death. On a solo trip to Positano, where her mother found solace, Katy discovers her mother’s presence in the beauty of the Amalfi Coast.

To her astonishment, her mother appears, offering a chance to see her in a new light. Serle’s poignant prose explores the power of love and the journey through grief. This heartwarming tale reminds us of the everlasting bond with those we hold dear.

Mystery novels set in Italy

Monastery on San Giulio island on Lake Orta in Northern ItalyThe 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 set 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 Altais the fifth book in Donna Leon’s bestselling Commissario Brunetti series. Ideal for Venice and murder mystery lovers, the story follows Commissario Guido Brunetti working on a deadly case during the “Acqua Alta” or “high waters.”

Enjoy Venice’s winter descriptions, and remember, you can read this crime series out of order. Feel free to pick up this mystery novel as a standalone read!

A vibrant morning scene of the Rialto Bridge, showcasing the stunning cityscape of Venice with gondolas carrying tourists, located in Venice, Italy.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.

Murder in Tuscany by T.A. Williams

In Tuscany’s picturesque hills, Villa Volpone is a remote retreat for crime writer Jonah Moore and his writing course, as well as the retirement abode for DCI Dan Armstrong. Tranquility shatters when Jonah is brutally murdered, thrusting Dan back into crime-solving.

With eleven suspects harboring secrets, Dan partners with Commissario Virgilio Pisano to uncover the truth. As tensions rise and another life hangs in the balance, Dan races against time to unmask the killer in this gripping murder mystery by T.A. Williams.

Travel even more of Europe with these book lists:

The 25 Best Books About Ireland 

The 30 Best Books About Scotland 

The 30 Best Books About Paris

The 40 Best Books About Spain

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Discover the 30 best books about Italy, including books about Italian history, Italian culture, and other top books that take place in Italy.

This article was first published in March 2021 and has since been updated.

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