The best books about Italy 📚

Browse the best books on Italy as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Italians

The Italians

By Luigi Barzini

Why this book?

Want to know what really makes Italians tick? Why they’re so obsessed with la bella figura? What family means to them? Where the good side of the mindset morphs into the bad? The afia. Corruption. Barzini was the son of a journalist close to Mussolini, but went to high school and university in New York. This book, which he wrote in English in 1965 is as at once hilarious and essential reading.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the Italian mindset

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Book cover of Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

By Gabrielle Hamilton

Why this book?

Hamilton’s memoir recalls her turbulent family history, her sexual ambiguity, her love of Italy, and more unexpectedly, her Italian mother-in-law, who nurtured her passion for cooking. It doesn’t hurt that outside the kitchen, Hamilton earned her M.F.A in fiction writing from the University of Michigan and can write about the devastating fallout from her parents’ divorce with the same acuity and poetry she deploys about cooking an egg. In the waiting room, where her galloping curiosity and generosity of spirit suffuse you, be reminded that there is a whole world out there, and that past this unhappy day, there…

From the list:

The best books to read in the waiting room

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Book cover of Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)

Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)

By Daniel Nayeri

Why this book?

Like the tornado on the book’s cover, Khosrou, the 12-year-old narrator of this autobiographical novel, storms in and sweeps you away with his stories. Khosrou (known as Daniel at his American middle school) spins tales for his classmates of Persian culture and history, his childhood in Iran, and most significantly why his family fled Iran and become refugees in Oklahoma. Khosrou tells stories to woo his middle school detractors — and to survive being the refugee kid in the back of the class. Nayeri offers an unforgettable character in Khosrou. His “patchwork story” shouldn’t be missed. 

From the list:

The best middle grade books for understanding what it’s like to be a refugee

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Book cover of Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style

Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style

By Michael Baxandall

Why this book?

This is a classic study that for me—and countless others— changed the way we look at Renaissance art, the artists who made it, the patrons who commissioned it, the people who used it, and the Renaissance authors who wrote about it. Everybody knows that Masaccio, Uccello, Angelico, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci were great painters. But only after reading this short and compelling essay by one of the twentieth-century most insightful art historians you understand how these great artists mirrored in their works daily life experiences and activities of Renaissance society, such as preaching, dancing, and gauging barrels.

After your…

From the list:

The best books to understand the art and culture of Renaissance Florence

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Book cover of Abortion in Early Modern Italy

Abortion in Early Modern Italy

By John Christopoulos

Why this book?

Who would have thought Catholic Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have tolerated widespread abortion? John Christopoulos brilliantly shows that, despite the moral proscription and legal prohibition of abortion from church and state leadership, women across the social spectrum from elites to peasants practiced abortion with the tacit or explicit support of key people in their communities. Compelling mini-narratives about individual women’s abortion stories are interwoven with an expert analysis of the legal, religious, and scientific knowledge and attitudes.

From the list:

The best books on the history of sex to understand where we are now

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Book cover of The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit

The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit

By Helena Attlee

Why this book?

When it’s cold and dreary outside and you long for sunnier climes, this book is just the tonic. Helena delves into the story of Italian history through the country’s citrus fruits, combining history, recipes, horticulture, and art. The Land Where Lemons Grow left me with the jasminy smell of orange blossom fixed to my nostrils long after I put the book down. 

From the list:

The best books to immerse you in plants

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