The best bloody and tasty books about the brilliance, cruelty, and especially the food, of the Italian Renaissance

Peter Elbling Author Of The Food Taster
By Peter Elbling

Who am I?

Folk-singing was my first vocation, but I made a sudden left turn into comedy, becoming one-half of The Times Square Two. After a few years touring the world, I settled in Hollywood and became an actor, writer, and director. I was inspired to write The Food Taster by the maître d’ of a famous restaurant in Los Angeles. When I complained that my meal had made me ill, he smiled and said I should get myself a food taster.


I wrote...

The Food Taster

By Peter Elbling,

Book cover of The Food Taster

What is my book about?

When Ugo Di Fonte, a starving peasant, and his beautiful daughter Miranda are snatched from their farm by the despot Duke Federico, Ugo thinks life can’t get any worse. He’s wrong. The Duke orders Ugo to be his new food taster, a hazardous job made even more so by the Duke’s many enemies (including the cook). But it’s not just the food that’s dangerous. Miranda’s beauty brings perils of its own as she attracts the attention of the Duke himself. Ugo realizes he must find a way to protect Miranda from all those who desire her: his master, her lover, and perhaps, most sinisterly, his own lascivious brother.

The books I picked & why

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The Decameron

By Giovanni Boccaccio,

Book cover of The Decameron

Why this book?

There’s nothing I relish more than spending an evening with friends, telling stories. That’s The Decameron in a nutshell, except its ten friends regale one another while hiding out from the Black Death, in the 1300s. I savored the many tales about love, tragic or poignant, and I laughed out loud at the stories ridiculing the clergy.


De honesta voluptate

By Platina,

Book cover of De honesta voluptate

Why this book?

Researching the trials and tribulations of a Renaissance food taster meant that I had to become familiar with the court cuisine of the period, the ingredients used in their preparation, and most vitally, the politics of the kitchen. I was delighted to find that many of Platina’s recipes can still be enjoyed today; I have made cabbage stuffed with walnuts, chicken fried with diced lemon, and my personal favorite, cherry cheesecake.


Aretino's Dialogues

By Pietro Aretino,

Book cover of Aretino's Dialogues

Why this book?

I highly recommend the works of Pietro Aretino. I love satire, and Aretino was a satirist for the ages. I admired his raw courage, for he spared no one—including kings and popes—on his way to earning the title “Scourge of Princes.” He died in his early sixties, reportedly from “laughing too much.” I cannot imagine an epitaph I would rather have engraved on my headstone.


The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini

By Benvenuto Cellini,

Book cover of The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini

Why this book?

I appreciate people who don’t shrink from celebrating their own genius, and Benvenuto Cellini was indeed a genius at it. Still, I didn’t mind his boasting, whether it was about his intricate works as a goldsmith or his killing of a rival, for his sense of humor about himself more than made up for his monstrous ego. And even if he had left us nothing else but his autobiography, he bequeathed to us a brilliant record of the Renaissance.


The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

By Jacob Burckhardt,

Book cover of The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

Why this book?

Burckhardt’s encyclopedia became my bible. Whatever I needed to know about the clothing, or the buildings, or the politics—or anything else about that period, I only had to open Burckhardt’s book, and it was all there for me. The information was easy to find and eminently readable; and while I am hardly a scholar of the Renaissance, after devouring his book a thousand times I believe I can now call myself an honorable student.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Italian Renaissance, Italy, and plagues?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Italian Renaissance, Italy, and plagues.

Italian Renaissance Explore 7 books about Italian Renaissance
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