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. Indulge in the ultimate literary getaway and satisfy your wanderlust–no passport required!
Get ready to immerse yourself in the vibrant world of “la dolce vita” with our curated collection of the 34 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 currently 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 planning to marry.
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; however, their love for one another remains–even years later.
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.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Embark on a mesmerizing voyage through Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. As Marco Polo captivates Kublai Khan with tales of extraordinary cities, reality begins to blend with invention. From Armilla to Octavia, Calvino weaves wondrous burgs filled with desires and fears.
In this beloved novel, the aging emperor and young explorer delve into the profound significance of cities. As Kublai Khan faces his empire’s twilight, Marco Polo’s narratives unveil the interplay between urban landscapes and human existence. With lyrical prose, Calvino invites readers to ponder the hidden depths within cities.
Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
The Divine Comedy is a renowned narrative poem written between 1308 and 1320. Divided into Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, it offers an imaginative depiction of the afterlife based on the medieval worldview. This masterpiece played a crucial role in establishing the Tuscan language as standardized Italian.
Dante’s journey through the realms of hell, purgatory, and heaven provides insightful commentary on human nature, morality, and divine justice. It’s widely regarded as the foremost masterpiece in Italian literature.
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 Pasta, Pane, Vino isn’t a cookbook!
Instead, you’ll learn about the history of Italian cuisine and 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
Unveil the thrilling underworld of Sicilian life in Midnight in Sicily as Robb delves deep into the enigmatic realm of the Mafia and La Cosa Nostra. After living in Palermo for fourteen years, this intrepid Australian writer embarks on a quest to unravel the intricate web of the Sicilian Mafia, its pervasive influence on society, and its ties 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.
Delizia!: The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food by John Dickie
Embark on a mouthwatering journey through the vibrant history of Italian cuisine in Delizia!. This captivating book explores how Italian food is intertwined with the cities that birthed it. Moreover, the author works to dispel long-held myths about Italian food and reveals surprising truths.
Through captivating storytelling and research, Dickie explores extravagant Renaissance banquets, the dishes that influenced Italian emigration to the New World, 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: 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 create one of the best Italian culture books, revealing its unwritten rules 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 “the Eternal City” at different times throughout its history, explaining everything from politics, poetry, costs, hygiene, and more.
A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich
Delve into the captivating tale of Venice’s rise and fall in “A History of Venice” by John Julius Norwich. Hailed as the most comprehensive exploration of this mesmerizing city, Norwich’s vivid narrative unveils the strategic location, bustling trade, and political maneuverings that transformed Venice into a formidable trading empire.
Witness pivotal moments such as its expansion, role in the Crusades, and acquisition of vast colonial possessions across the Mediterranean. Experience the grandeur and challenges faced by Venice as its power gradually waned, making A History of Venice a must-read for all fascinated by its allure.
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 to influence other Italian city-states, the Vatican, and other European countries.
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 historical memoir 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 World War II 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 actual experiences from 1943 to 1945.
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
Enter the life of Lucrezia de’ Medici in Renaissance Italy in The Marriage Portrait. As a young duchess, she faces the challenges of court life after an unexpected marriage. In this unfamiliar world, her husband’s true nature remains enigmatic.
Lucrezia must navigate her role, meet expectations, and secure her own future. O’Farrell’s powerful storytelling paints a vivid picture of a resilient woman’s fight for identity and independence. Experience the captivating tale of love, politics, and survival in a world where Lucrezia’s destiny teeters on a knife’s edge.
Still Life by Sarah Winman
Set in war-torn Tuscany in 1944, an English soldier, Ulysses Temper, encounters Evelyn Skinner, a middle-aged art historian, amidst the ruins of a deserted villa. Their connection amid the chaos sparks a friendship that will shape Ulysses’s life for the next four decades. After he returns to London and his eclectic pub crew, memories of Italy stay with him.
Luckily, an unexpected inheritance beckons him back to the Tuscan hills, where destiny awaits. With beautiful prose and a celebration of love and family, Still Life tells a captivating tale of resilience, beauty, and enduring bonds.
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, a master at keeping secrets, is thrust into a world of mysteries when she inherits an incredible fortune after her biological father’s death. As she travels to Italy, Fiona unravels the truth about her mother’s affair thirty years ago. She also learns about the father she never knew and discovers two half-siblings.
Set against the romantic backdrop of Tuscany, this sumptuous tale explores love, sacrifice, courage, and the profound meaning of family. Prepare to be swept away by the enchanting story of These Tangled Vines.
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.
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.
One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle
In One Italian Summer, Katy’s world is shattered by the loss of her mother. Facing a solo trip to Positano, where her mother once found solace, Katy discovers her mother’s presence in the beauty of the Amalfi Coast. To her astonishment, her mother appears before her, offering a chance to see her in a new light.
As reality blurs, Katy navigates the complexities of their relationship. Serle’s poignant prose explores the power of love and the journey through grief. This heartwarming and redemptive tale reminds us of the everlasting bond we share with those we hold dear.
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 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 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.
Murder in Tuscany by T.A. Williams
In the picturesque hills of Tuscany, Villa Volpone serves as a remote retreat for crime writer Jonah Moore and his writing course. It’s also where DCI Dan Armstrong is spending his retirement, contemplating his own future. However, the tranquility is shattered when Jonah is brutally murdered, thrusting Dan back into the world of crime-solving.
With eleven possible suspects–all harboring secrets–Dan teams up 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.
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This article was first published in March 2021 and has since been updated.