Will you be travelling to Italy this summer? Knowing something about the history and culture of Italy can greatly enhance your experience. Here are five of our favorite books on Italy, a sampling to give you a taste of what to expect besides pizza and gelato:
ROME: THE BIOGRAPHY OF A CITY by Christopher Hibbert.
Before traveling to Rome this year, I cracked out my old ‘Hibbert’ from the bookshelf. I fondly remembered it from my Rome class at University of Washington when I was doing my undergrad in Art History, years ago. The class was taught by Professor Sbraggia, a native, and it was absolutely fascinating. We covered the history of Rome from its founding up to the days of Mussolini by way of historical accounts, political reigns, art and architecture, and literature. The ‘Hibbert’ is a dense work, and thoroughly academic, but this time for me it was very helpful in reviewing the chronology and details of key events in places like St. Peter’s Basilica or the Forum, which I definitely wanted to see. Literally EVERYTHING about Rome is in this book.
FOUR SEASONS IN ROME by Anthony Doerr
In this memoir written by a Pulitzer-prize winner, Anthony Doerr tells the story of his year-long stipend at the American Academy in Rome. It’s short, thoughtful, and amusingly ironic; and it bears a funny subtitle: On Twins, Insomnia and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Doerr’s wonderful descriptions and unique observations can help you get past all that is cliché about this famous city, and see it for its truly unique and soul-distilling powers.
UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN by Frances Mayes
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes was made into a movie, but please don’t watch it. It’s awful, and it bears little resemblance to the original story. The book is wonderful. Written by a retired professor who, together with her husband, goes in search of her dream of renovating a Tuscan farmhouse, she discovers a lot of things about Italian culture along the way (like what not to expect from Italian tradesmen!). The pages are sprinkled with recipes, such as a tart made with pine nuts and a chicken dish made with 40 cloves of garlic!
FROM SCRATCH by Tembi Locke
From Scratch is a sweet, romantic memoir about an African-American woman who falls in love with an Italian chef from Sicily. A popular book (recommended on Reese’s Book Club), it was even made into a Netflix series. But don’t choose the series over the book. The book has infinitely more depth, exploring issues of race, nationality, identity and family with complexity and authenticity. A lot of recipes are also included at the end–she married a chef, after all, and gained more than just his heart!
LITTLE SICILY by V M Karren
And lastly, here’s a work of fiction on Italy for you: Little Sicily by V M Karren. Drawing from a research trip he made to Sicily a few years back, Karren crafts a truly unique crime story, with a 12-year-old mafia boss as villain! However, by the end you may be wondering if the boy is the TRUE villain. This is dramatic immersion into Italian culture. Sometimes described as “a cross between “The Godfather,” “Bugsy Malone,” and Italian Opera,” this is a crime story like none you’ve read before!