100 books like The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

By Jacob Burckhardt,

Here are 100 books that The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy fans have personally recommended if you like The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Decameron

Justin Jaron Lewis Author Of Imagining Holiness: Classic Hasidic Tales in Modern Times

From my list on people telling each other stories.

Who am I?

Nearly forty years ago, as a young poet, I started going to a storytelling circle in Toronto, thinking it would be a good venue to recite my poems. What I heard there awakened something in me. When I was a child, my parents read me wonder tales, and I soon began to read them on my own. Now I was hearing these stories, the way they were heard for millennia before anyone wrote them down. Today, I am a storyteller, I am married, and I am a professor who teaches a course on storytelling and writes about stories – all because of those weekly gatherings years ago and the storytellers there.

Justin's book list on people telling each other stories

Justin Jaron Lewis Why did Justin love this book?

I’m including one book from long ago and far away – fourteenth-century Italy – because it leaped out at me from the bookshelf.

The Decameron is the most artistically complete written story about face-to-face storytelling – though I also love its rivals, One Thousand and One Nights and The Canterbury Tales!

The book opens with the bubonic plague that devastated Florence in 1348. Ten wealthy young friends, women and men, leave the stricken city to vacation in the countryside. While servants prepare lavish meals, the friends spend their days relaxing, dancing – and telling naughty stories. The narrator delights in describing their reactions to each other’s storytelling.

Yes, stories can be holy and powerful, but sometimes we just need them to clown around for us! Many translations are available – read one that feels playful. 

By Giovanni Boccaccio,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Decameron as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1348, as the Black Death ravages their city, ten young Florentines take refuge in the countryside...

Taken from the Greek, meaning 'ten-day event', Boccaccio's Decameron sees his characters amuse themselves by each telling a story a day, for the ten days of their confinement - a hundred stories of love and adventure, life and death, and surprising twists of fate. Less preoccupied with abstract concepts of morality or religion than earthly values, the tales range from the bawdy Peronella, hiding her lover in a tub, to Ser Cepperallo, who, despite his unholy effrontery, becomes a Saint.…


Book cover of The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini

Peter Elbling Author Of The Food Taster

From my list on the brilliance of the Italian Renaissance.

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.

Peter's book list on the brilliance of the Italian Renaissance

Peter Elbling Why did Peter love 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.

By Benvenuto Cellini,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Benvenuto Cellini was a celebrated Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith - a passionate craftsman who was admired and resented by the most powerful political and artistic personalities in sixteenth-century Florence, Rome and Paris. He was also a murderer and a braggart, a shameless adventurer who at different times experienced both papal persecution and imprisonment, and the adulation of the royal court. Inn-keepers and prostitutes, kings and cardinals, artists and soldiers rub shoulders in the pages of his notorious autobiography: a vivid portrait of the manners and morals of both the rulers of the day and of their subjects. Written with supreme…


Book cover of De honesta voluptate

Peter Elbling Author Of The Food Taster

From my list on the brilliance of the Italian Renaissance.

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.

Peter's book list on the brilliance of the Italian Renaissance

Peter Elbling Why did Peter love 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.

By Platina,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked De honesta voluptate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of Aretino's Dialogues

Peter Elbling Author Of The Food Taster

From my list on the brilliance of the Italian Renaissance.

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.

Peter's book list on the brilliance of the Italian Renaissance

Peter Elbling Why did Peter love 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.

By Pietro Aretino,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aretino's Dialogues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

tales from Counter-Renaissance Rome


Book cover of The Renaissance in Italy: A Social and Cultural History of the Rinascimento

Celeste McNamara Author Of The Bishop's Burden: Reforming the Catholic Church in Early Modern Italy

From my list on Renaissance Italy.

Who am I?

I teach medieval and early modern European history at Dublin City University, with a particular interest in 16th-18th century Italian history. My own research focuses on the religious, legal, and popular culture of northern Italy, particularly Venice and the Veneto region. I became fascinated with Renaissance Italian history as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, and then went on to do a masters and a PhD at Northwestern University. I have taught at Northwestern, the College of William and Mary, the University of Warwick/Warwick in Venice, and the State University of New York at Cortland.

Celeste's book list on Renaissance Italy

Celeste McNamara Why did Celeste love this book?

This book is a fantastic, broad overview of the Italian Renaissance (or rinascimento, the term Ruggiero prefers and which his subjects would have recognized). The Italian Rinascimento was a period, according to Ruggiero, of vibrant cities, social change, and cultural expression, in which intellectuals, politicians, and artists both looked back to an idealized classical past and forward to uncharted territory.

I love the way this book focuses on issues that preoccupied the people he studies and incorporates topics often absent from works on the Renaissance, including women, sexuality, economics, disease and death, and religion, among others. Even more important, perhaps, is that it is clear, accessible, and engaging, and demonstrates a wealth of knowledge developed over an illustrious career as a historian of early modern Italy.

By Guido Ruggiero,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Renaissance in Italy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book offers a rich and exciting new way of thinking about the Italian Renaissance as both a historical period and a historical movement. Guido Ruggiero's work is based on archival research and new insights of social and cultural history and literary criticism, with a special emphasis on everyday culture, gender, violence and sexuality. The book offers a vibrant and relevant critical study of a period too long burdened by anachronistic and outdated ways of thinking about the past. Familiar, yet alien; pre-modern, but suggestively post-modern; attractive and troubling, this book returns the Italian Renaissance to center stage in our…


Book cover of The Italian Renaissance and the Origins of the Modern Humanities: An Intellectual History, 1400-1800

Herman Paul Author Of Writing the History of the Humanities

From my list on the history of the humanities.

Who am I?

I started my career as a historian of historiography and now hold a chair in the history of the humanities at Leiden University. What I like about this field is its comparative agenda. How does art history relate to media studies, and what do Arabists have in common with musicologists? Even more intriguing, as far as I’m concerned, is the question of what holds the humanities together. I think that history can help us understand how the humanities have developed as they have, differently in different parts of the world. As the field called history of the humanities has only recently emerged, there is plenty of work to do!

Herman's book list on the history of the humanities

Herman Paul Why did Herman love this book?

Whether or not one wants to make a case for the modern humanities deriving from the studia humanitatis in Renaissance Italy, it is undeniable that Renaissance humanism has been a source of endless fascination for humanities scholars. I enjoyed this book partly because it shows how this fascination led seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scholars to “recapitulate practices and mentalities that Italian Renaissance humanists pioneered.” It is such borrowing and reapplying that explains how a “humanistic tradition” could take shape. Another intriguing point is Celenza’s argument that this tradition has historically revolved as much around wisdom as about knowledge. While we modern academics know very well how to produce knowledge, what has happened to the wisdom part? Can the humanities survive, Celenza asks, without “reflection on the self and on life”?

By Christopher S. Celenza,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Italian Renaissance and the Origins of the Modern Humanities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Christopher Celenza is one of the foremost contemporary scholars of the Renaissance. His ambitious new book focuses on the body of knowledge which we now call the humanities, charting its roots in the Italian Renaissance and exploring its development up to the Enlightenment. Beginning in the fifteenth century, the author shows how thinkers like Lorenzo Valla and Angelo Poliziano developed innovative ways to read texts closely, paying attention to historical context, developing methods to determine a text's authenticity, and taking the humanities seriously as a means of bettering human life. Alongside such novel reading practices, technology - the invention of…


Book cover of Love and Death in Renaissance Italy

Nicholas Scott Baker Author Of In Fortune's Theater: Financial Risk and the Future in Renaissance Italy

From my list on exploring what what Renaissance Italy was really like.

Who am I?

I teach the histories of early modern Europe and European worlds at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. I developed a fascination for the period and, especially, for the Italian Renaissance as an undergraduate before going on to complete a PhD at Northwestern University in the United States. I love the contradictions and tensions of the period: a society and culture in transition from what we call medieval understandings and worldviews to what we see as more modern ones. These are some of the books that helped to fuel my passion for Renaissance Italian history and to answer some of my questions about what life was really like in Renaissance Italy.

Nicholas' book list on exploring what what Renaissance Italy was really like

Nicholas Scott Baker Why did Nicholas love this book?

This book presents six vignettes of sex and violence plucked by Thomas Cohen from the archives of the papal governor of sixteenth-century Rome.

I love Cohen’s passion for telling a good story without losing sight of its broader historical significance. Examining the everyday lives of people in the streets, Cohen reveals how a clash between the contradictory currents of Italian Renaissance society fueled much of its conflicts and discontents.

On the one hand, Christian religion preached mercy, forgiveness, and community, on the other the compelling codes of honor, familial loyalty, and unwritten social rules promoted violence and vengeance.

The book also reveals how women and other socially marginalized figures could navigate and manipulate these codes to find space and freedom in a world dominated by powerful men. 

By Thomas V. Cohen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Love and Death in Renaissance Italy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gratuitous sex. Graphic violence. Lies, revenge, and murder. Before there was digital cable or reality television, there was Renaissance Italy and the courts in which Italian magistrates meted out justice to the vicious and the villainous, the scabrous and the scandalous. As dramatic and as moving as the television show The Borgias, and a lot more true to life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy retells six piquant episodes from the Italian court just after 1550, as the Renaissance gave way to an era of Catholic reformation. Each of the chapters in this history chronicles a domestic drama around which…


Book cover of The Art of Executing Well: Rituals of Execution in Renaissance Italy

Una McIlvenna Author Of Singing the News of Death: Execution Ballads in Europe 1500-1900

From my list on the history of capital punishment.

Who am I?

When I started researching the history of early modern public execution, I read a few eyewitness accounts in which people behaved so strangely that I realised I understood nothing about the realities of this once-common historical practice. By reading the books on this list, I quickly discovered that the ceremony of capital punishment was a performance in which the entire community participated, filled with rituals and behaviours that had enormous emotional and spiritual significance for everyone involved, not just the ‘poor sinner’ on the scaffold. I also discovered that music and singing were crucial parts of the performance, with ballads being sung about the event for years afterwards. 

Una's book list on the history of capital punishment

Una McIlvenna Why did Una love this book?

It’s not often I’m moved to tears by an academic book, but this book did it for me by putting me in the shoes of a Florentine patrician trying to comfort his friend the night before his execution. The main historical source of the book is an extraordinary ‘how-to’ manual: the one used by the ‘comforting confraternities’ of 16th-century Bologna, men who volunteered to spiritually prepare condemned criminals for their final moments on earth and, in so doing, hopefully increase their chances of salvation. The book explains the various methods and tools that the comforter could use, including prayers, songs, and pictures, and reveals the complex rituals of execution that began long before the prisoner’s arrival at the scaffold. A moving account of the realities of historical capital punishment.

By Nicholas Terpstra (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Executing Well as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Renaissance Italy a good execution was both public and peaceful―at least in the eyes of authorities. In a feature unique to Italy, the people who prepared a condemned man or woman spiritually and psychologically for execution were not priests or friars, but laymen. This volume includes some of the songs, stories, poems, and images that they used, together with first-person accounts and ballads describing particular executions. Leading scholars expand on these accounts explaining aspects of the theater, psychology, and politics of execution.

The main text is a manual, translated in English for the first time, on how to comfort…


Book cover of Cosimo De' Medici and the Florentine Renaissance: The Patron's Oeuvre

Francesca Fiorani Author Of The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo How to Paint

From my list on the art and culture of Renaissance Florence.

Who am I?

I am an art historian from Rome and a professor at the University of Virginia, where I also served as associate dean for the arts and humanities and chair of the art department. Ever since as an undergraduate I heard a lecture from a professor on how important science was for Renaissance artists, I have been fascinated with this topic. I look at scientific images, such as maps and diagrams, as works of art, and interpret famous paintings, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, as scientific experiments. Among my books are The Marvel of Maps: Art, Cartography and Politics in the Renaissance, The Shadow Drawing. How Science Taught Leonardo How to Paint, and the digital publication Leonardo da Vinci and His Treatise on Painting.

Francesca's book list on the art and culture of Renaissance Florence

Francesca Fiorani Why did Francesca love this book?

Most art in the Renaissance was commissioned by specific patrons and this book superbly illustrates the complex interaction among patron, artist, and society by focusing on the greatest patron of art and architecture in fifteenth-century Florence. Cosimo de’ Medici was the most powerful figure in the city’s political and economic life, a fabulously wealthy banker, a devout Christian, but he had also an impeccable nose for great art. With the help of about 200 images, the book examines the religious, personal, and dynastic motivations behind Cosimo’s artistic patronage, both his direct commissions for the Medici palaces, villas, and chapels as well as his active involvement in the works officially commissioned by the republic. What you’ll get out of this book is a profound understanding of how art was commissioned, created, and viewed in Renaissance Florence.

By Dale Kent,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cosimo De' Medici and the Florentine Renaissance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cosimo de' Medici (1389-1464), the fabulously wealthy banker who became the leading citizen of Florence in the fifteenth century, spent lavishly as the city's most important patron of art and literature. This remarkable book is the first comprehensive examination of the whole body of works of art and architecture commissioned by Cosimo and his sons. By looking closely at this spectacular group of commissions, we gain an entirely new picture of their patron and of the patron's point of view. Recurrent themes in the commissions-from Fra Angelico's San Marco altarpiece to the Medici Palace-indicate the main interests to which Cosimo's…


Book cover of The Marriage Portrait

Gill Paul Author Of A Beautiful Rival: A Novel Of Helena Rubinstein And Elizabeth Arden

From my list on historical novels based on real people.

Who am I?

I’ve written fourteen historical novels now and most of them include real historical characters. I particularly like writing about women I feel have been misjudged or ignored by historians, and trying to reassess them in the modern age. Fiction allows me to imagine what they were thinking and feeling as they lived through dramatic, life-changing experiences, giving more insight than facts alone could do. Sitting at my desk in the morning and pretending to be someone else is a strange way to earn a living but it’s terrific fun! 

Gill's book list on historical novels based on real people

Gill Paul Why did Gill love this book?

I was delighted when Maggie O’Farrell started writing historical fiction, and this one is a masterclass in novel writing.

It opens as teenaged Lucrezia is taken to a remote hunting lodge by her husband Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara. He has ordered all her personal servants to remain behind and as they eat dinner, she realizes he is planning to kill her. What a beginning! The writing is lush and colorful, the characterizations subtle, and the story utterly gripping.

By Maggie O'Farrell,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Marriage Portrait as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION FINALIST • REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK • NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • The author of award-winning Hamnet brings the world of Renaissance Italy to jewel-bright life in this unforgettable fictional portrait of the captivating young duchess Lucrezia de' Medici as she makes her way in a troubled court.

“I could not stop reading this incredible true story.” —Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club Pick)

"O’Farrell pulls out little threads of historical detail to weave this story of a precocious girl sensitive to the contradictions of her station...You may know the history, and you may think you…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Italy, the Renaissance, and civilization?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Italy, the Renaissance, and civilization.

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