The best books about the Mediterranean

8 authors have picked their favorite books about the Mediterranean and why they recommend each book.

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Pagan Holiday

By Tony Perrottet,

Book cover of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists

This travelogue looks at the Mediterranean with dual vision: one ancient eye and one modern. Perrottet retraces the route taken by the wealthy Romans who were, in a sense, the world’s first tourists, living with enough safety and comfort to travel for leisure rather than necessity. He begins in Italy, then the Greek mainland and some island-hopping, makes a necessary stop in Troy, then moves down the Turkish coast and finally into Egypt. In doing so, he provides perspective both on what the Romans would have expected and discovered along the journey as well as what a modern-day traveller would find 2000 years later. The similarities are as surprising as the differences!

Pagan Holiday

By Tony Perrottet,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Pagan Holiday as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The ancient Romans were responsible for many remarkable achievements—Roman numerals, straight roads—but one of their lesser-known contributions was the creation of the tourist industry. The first people in history to enjoy safe and easy travel, Romans embarked on the original Grand Tour, journeying from the lost city of Troy to the Acropolis, from the Colossus at Rhodes to Egypt, for the obligatory Nile cruise to the very edge of the empire. And, as Tony Perrottet discovers, the popularity of this route has only increased with time.

Intrigued by the possibility of re-creating the tour, Perrottet, accompanied by his pregnant girlfriend,…

Who am I?

I’m a writer and educator working in central Virginia, and I’ve been in love with the ancient world since my first Latin class back in the seventh grade. I’ve always been interested in social history more than just the chronology of battles and the deeds of famous men, so my research looks for sources that can illuminate daily life and the viewpoints of marginalized populations. I hold a BA in English and History from the College of William and Mary and an MLitt from Mary Baldwin University.


I wrote...

From Unseen Fire

By Cass Morris,

Book cover of From Unseen Fire

What is my book about?

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic. But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people—if only she can find the courage to try.

Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history. As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love?

Book cover of That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500

That Most Precious Merchandise offers a much needed and evocatively-written reassessment of the experience of slavery in the late medieval Mediterranean. Tracing the networks of the slave trade from the Black Sea to Genoa, Venice, and Cairo, it argues that the Italian maritime powers and the Mamluk sultanate shared a similar approach to slavery. By re-assessing Black Sea slavery from the vantage point of both Italy and Egypt, Barker discerns commonalities in systems and approaches to slavery across cultures—she calls this a common culture of slavery. She presents as the principal themes of the book a series of conceptions and practices of slavery that cut across confessional and cultural lines, upending a number of fundamental paradigms that have shaped, and limited, the scholarly terrain. 

That Most Precious Merchandise

By Hannah Barker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked That Most Precious Merchandise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The history of the Black Sea as a source of Mediterranean slaves stretches from ancient Greek colonies to human trafficking networks in the present day. At its height during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the Black Sea slave trade was not the sole source of Mediterranean slaves; Genoese, Venetian, and Egyptian merchants bought captives taken in conflicts throughout the region, from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, and the Aegean Sea. Yet the trade in Black Sea slaves provided merchants with profit and prestige; states with military recruits, tax revenue, and diplomatic influence; and households with the service of…


Who am I?

Having lived in North America, Europe, and the Middle East, and visited many, many more countries, I am a traveler first and foremost. I travel because I like getting to know different types of people and seeing how they live and how they think about the world and about their place in it. As a historian, I can travel back in time to places even more exotic than one can visit today. My favorite place is the Mediterranean world in the Middle Ages – an exciting environment where Christians, Muslims, and Jews from Africa, Europe, and Asia, came together sometimes in conflict, but as often as not in collaboration or friendship.


I wrote...

Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad

By Brian Catlos,

Book cover of Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad

What is my book about?

The Mediterranean world of 1050–1200 is usually seen as an age of intractable conflict between Christians, Muslims, and Jews – of holy war, Crusades, and religious violence. Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors takes from Christian and Muslim Spain, through North Africa and Italy and on to Egypt, the Holy Land, and Byzantium, surveying the politics and society of this period from the ground up and showing that despite warfare and rhetoric of religious violence members of the three religious communities were deeply embroiled in each other’s affairs.

We find Jews and Christians wielding power in Muslim kingdoms and Muslims and Jews in positions of power in Crusader Europe, and Crusaders and Muslims launching alliances to battle their own co-religionists. Religion may have been the language of conflict but it was pragmatism and personal ambition that drove politics.

The Rebellious Tide

By Eddy Boudel Tan,

Book cover of The Rebellious Tide

The setup of The Rebellious Tide instantly made me want to read it. A man abandons his pregnant wife, and thirty years later Sebastien, their son, seeks him out, wanting an explanation and revenge. The father is the captain of a luxury liner cruising the Mediterranean, and Sebastien joins the crew to secretly stalk his father to find out what kind of person he is. The story is full of mystery and disturbing elements, not to mention fluid sexuality. Ultimately, Sebastien discovers something his father has hidden in the belly of the ship that makes him confront what he’s feared about his own identity. A new twist on a high seas mystery!  

The Rebellious Tide

By Eddy Boudel Tan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sebastien's search for his father leads him to a ship harbouring a dangerous secret.

Sebastien has heard only stories about his father, a mysterious sailor who abandoned his pregnant mother thirty years ago. But when his mother dies after a lifetime of struggle, he becomes obsessed with finding an explanation - perhaps even revenge.

The father he's never met is Kostas, the commanding officer of a luxury liner sailing the Mediterranean. Posing as a member of the ship's crew, Sebastien stalks his unwitting father in search of answers as to why he disappeared so many years ago.

After a public…

Who am I?

Raised crisscrossing America, I developed a ceaseless wanderlust that took me around the world many times. En route, I collected the stories and characters that make up my work. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists: I hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that had me smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-day crossing from Cape Verde that landed me in an African jail. Greece, where I’ve spent some seven years total, stole my heart 50 years ago. Fire on the Island is my homage to it. 


I wrote...

Fire on the Island: A Romantic Thriller

By Timothy Jay Smith,

Book cover of Fire on the Island: A Romantic Thriller

What is my book about?

Fire on the Island is a playful, romantic thriller set in contemporary Greece, with a gay Greek-American FBI agent, who is undercover on the island to investigate a series of mysterious fires. Set against the very real refugee crisis on the beautiful, sun-drenched Greek islands, this novel paints a loving portrait of a community in crisis. As the island residents grapple with declining tourism, poverty, refugees, family feuds, and a perilously damaged church, an arsonist invades their midst. Having all the charm of Zorba the Greek, it sheds a bright light on the very real challenges of life in contemporary Greece. For lovers of crime fiction and the allure of the Greek islands, Fire on the Island is the perfect summer read.

Book cover of Captain Horatio Hornblower

This was published as three separate novels that tell one coherent story (I. Beat to Quarters, II. Ship of the Line, III. Flying Colours). I spent a lot of time in the Hornblower world as an adolescent, an imaginary reality I sensed wasn't wholly imaginary—The Napoleonic Wars were real—although Hornblower is fictional. But we're all heroes of our own stories. What especially appealed is the portrait of a hero divided between alternating bursts of confident action and moments of intense self-doubt. That accords almost exactly with how I was made to feel as a child, at once supremely able and a second later, consumed by doubt and a sense of inadequacy.

Captain Horatio Hornblower

By C.S. Forester,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Captain Horatio Hornblower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Quite young, I realized my life was based on the fantasies and wish-fulfillments of my parents. As a teenager I turned to science fiction and fantasy whose stories so often engaged imaginatively and decisively with fundamental issues of good and evil, truth and falsity, courage and deception, unlike my reality. In my struggle to portray that reality and its transformation something Freud wondered about proved helpful, whether our careful effort to reconstruct the past was wholly true or in part illusory. If it was effective as an explanation, then he felt it was valid, and I have written in the same spirit.


I wrote...

Family Matters

By Lance Lee,

Book cover of Family Matters

What is my book about?

Family Matters is a generations-long reckoning with family myth, loss, and transformation from 1865 to the 1970s, showing how family suffering metamorphosized into comedy on an abiding public, cultural scale in the original The Addams Family television series of 1964-1966 created by the author's father, David Levy, from the original Charles Addams New Yorker cartoons. It is also the story of how the author's parents though drawn from widely divergent backgrounds strove to realize the American Dream. Levy's ancestors derived from Jewish Eastern Europe, Lucille Wilds' from Anglo-Welsh aristocratic, and German roots. The breakdown of that effort both as a slow ebbing and with an abrupt jolt provides the narrative drive and climax of Family Matters.

Leo Africanus

By Amin Maalouf,

Book cover of Leo Africanus

The memoirs of Hasan al-Wazzan, merchant and traveller. Born in the last years of Moslem Spain, exiled to Morocco, he wandered the Mediterranean world, and beyond, encountering sultans, slaves, bandits, fortune tellers, pirates, madmen, scholars, ambassadors, kings, emperors, and popes. In Rome, he was baptised as Leo, then taught and studied, writing several books about Africa and Islam, before returning to Morocco. 

This novel reminds us of the complexities of culture, language, and religion in a tumultuous, war-torn world, not unlike our own. It is also a very good read.

Leo Africanus

By Amin Maalouf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leo Africanus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From his chlidhood in Fez, having fled the Christian Inquisition, through his many journeys to the East as an itinerant merhcant, Hasans story is a quixotic catalogue of pirates, slave girls and princesses, encompassing the complexities of a world in a state of religious flux. Hasan too is touched by the instability of the era, performing his hadj to Mecca, then converting to Christianity, only to relapse back to the Muslim faith later in life. In re-creating his extraordinary experiences, Amin Maalouf sketches an irrisistible portrait of the Mediterranea world as it was nearly five centuries ago - the fall…

Who am I?

I am the author of the Byzantine Trilogy (in 4 parts). These books depict the difficult beginning, decadent apogee, and sad end of the Byzantine empire. I think it is important to make historical fiction vivid, to immerse the reader in a distant time and place, with all its sights, smells, sounds, and tastes, as experienced by someone who was really there. I am also interested in what people believed, and why. For that reason, my historical novels are all first-person narratives, stories told by the people who lived through them. Here are some of the fictional memoirs that inspired me to start writing.


I wrote...

Mappamundi

By Christopher Harris,

Book cover of Mappamundi

What is my book about?

Thomas Deerham has survived the Hundred Years War and the Fall of Constantinople, but is trapped in Rome, serving the Pope. Trying to get back to England, he falls in with vagabond-poet François Villon, whose expertise in theft and trickery fails to save them from starvation. Desperate, they join forces with the aged mystic, Christian Rosenkreutz. Armed with a stolen map and esoteric knowledge culled from antique books, the three set off on a search for Paradise.

Through Thomas’s eyes, we see the decadence of Rome, the squalor of Paris, the confusion of war-torn England, the torments of thwarted desire, the folly of scholars, the miseries of a sea voyage, and the strangeness of an unsuspected new world. But, has he reached Paradise?

Book cover of 1177 BC The Year Civilization Collapsed

The Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age. What caused this epochal shift? Eric Cline outlines just how cataclysmic the 12th and 13th centuries BC really were. Be prepared for fire, earthquakes, and a tide of war!

1177 BC The Year Civilization Collapsed

By Eric Cline,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1177 BC The Year Civilization Collapsed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bold reassessment of what caused the Late Bronze Age collapse

In 1177 B.C., marauding groups known only as the "Sea Peoples" invaded Egypt. The pharaoh's army and navy managed to defeat them, but the victory so weakened Egypt that it soon slid into decline, as did most of the surrounding civilizations. After centuries of brilliance, the civilized world of the Bronze Age came to an abrupt and cataclysmic end. Kingdoms fell like dominoes over the course of just a few decades. No more Minoans or Mycenaeans. No more Trojans, Hittites, or Babylonians. The thriving economy and cultures of the…


Who am I?

I'm a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction. My love of history was first kindled by visits to the misty Roman ruins of Britain and the sun-baked antiquities of Turkey and Greece. My expeditions since have taken me all over the world and back and forth through time (metaphorically, at least), allowing me to write tales of the later Roman Empire, Byzantium, Classical Greece and even the distant Bronze Age.


I wrote...

Empires of Bronze: Son of Ishtar

By Gordon Doherty,

Book cover of Empires of Bronze: Son of Ishtar

What is my book about?

Four sons. One throne. A world on the precipice. Set in 1315 BC, and with tensions soaring between the great powers of the Late Bronze Age. The Hittites stand toe-to-toe with Egypt, Assyria and Mycenaean Ahhiyawa, and war seems inevitable. More, the fierce Kaskan tribes – age-old enemies of the Hittites – amass at the northern borders.

When Prince Hattu is born, it should be a rare joyous moment for all the Hittite people. But when the Goddess Ishtar comes to King Mursili in a dream, she warns that the boy is no blessing, telling of a dark future where he will stain Mursili’s throne with blood and bring destruction upon the world. Thus, Hattu endures a solitary boyhood in the shadow of his siblings, spurned by his father and shunned by the Hittite people. But when the Kaskans invade, Hattu is drawn into the fray. It is a savage journey in which he strives to show his worth and valour. Yet with his every step, the shadow of Ishtar’s prophecy darkens…

Book cover of The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. 1

This is a big read but quite simply a classic, one of the great works of historical scholarship. I’ve found it invaluable. Its two-volume coverage of what sounds like a highly specialist topic belies its depth, panoramic sweep, and sheer interest to anyone fascinated by Mediterranean history and its setting. Braudel links events and historical personages to geography, climate, economics, natural history, population sizes, you name it – a multi-factorial analysis of the middle sea resonant far beyond the period it claims to cover.

The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. 1

By Fernand Braudel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The focus of Fernand Braudel's great work is the Mediterranean world in the second half of the sixteenth century, but Braudel ranges back in history to the world of Odysseus and forward to our time, moving out from the Mediterranean area to the New World and other destinations of Mediterranean traders. Braudel's scope embraces the natural world and material life, economics, demography, politics, and diplomacy.

Who am I?

The Mediterranean is in my family’s history. My dad was a naval officer who worked in the sea in peace and war and took us to Malta when I was nine. I was entranced by the island’s history, by an evocative sensory world of sunlight, brilliant seas, and antiquity. I’ve been travelling in this sea ever since, including a spell living in Turkey, and delved deep into its past, its empires, and its maritime activity. I’m the author of three books on the subject: Constantinople: the Last Great Siege, Empires of the Sea, and Venice: City of Fortune.


I wrote...

Book cover of Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580

What is my book about?

Empires of the Sea is the history of the great sixteenth-century contest for the Mediterranean between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe. It opens with the Ottoman capture of Rhodes in 1521 and concludes with the shattering sea battle at Lepanto half a century later. It’s an epic of military crusading, holy war, piracy, oared galleys, and bloody sieges orchestrated by the two great figures of the age, Suleiman the Magnificent and Charles II of Spain, both vying for a claim to world empire.

The Venetian Empire

By Jan Morris,

Book cover of The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage

Jan Morris, who writes as elegantly as anyone about Venice, conducts us on a historical cruise through its maritime empire – both a history and a travelogue. It’s a beguiling evocation of the Mediterranean that we all dream of. Venice at one time or another held Constantinople, Crete, Cyprus, the dotted islands of the Aegean and the coast of Dalmatia – an empire of forts, harbours, and naval bases, all badged with Venice’s corporate logo – the winged lion. In Morris’s hands it’s an invitation to sail immediately. Her book on Venice itself is excellent too.

The Venetian Empire

By Jan Morris,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For six centuries the Republic of Venice was a maritime empire, its sovereign power extending throughout much of the eastern Mediterranean - an empire of coasts, islands and isolated fortresses by which, as Wordsworth wrote, the mercantile Venetians 'held the gorgeous east in fee'.

Jan Morris reconstructs the whole of this glittering dominion in the form of a sea-voyage, travelling along the historic Venetian trade routes from Venice itself to Greece, Crete and Cyprus. It is a traveller's book, geographically arranged but wandering at will from the past to the present, evoking not only contemporary landscapes and sensations but also…


Who am I?

The Mediterranean is in my family’s history. My dad was a naval officer who worked in the sea in peace and war and took us to Malta when I was nine. I was entranced by the island’s history, by an evocative sensory world of sunlight, brilliant seas, and antiquity. I’ve been travelling in this sea ever since, including a spell living in Turkey, and delved deep into its past, its empires, and its maritime activity. I’m the author of three books on the subject: Constantinople: the Last Great Siege, Empires of the Sea, and Venice: City of Fortune.


I wrote...

Book cover of Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580

What is my book about?

Empires of the Sea is the history of the great sixteenth-century contest for the Mediterranean between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe. It opens with the Ottoman capture of Rhodes in 1521 and concludes with the shattering sea battle at Lepanto half a century later. It’s an epic of military crusading, holy war, piracy, oared galleys, and bloody sieges orchestrated by the two great figures of the age, Suleiman the Magnificent and Charles II of Spain, both vying for a claim to world empire.

California Native Plants for the Garden

By Carol Bornstein, David Fross, Bart O’Brien

Book cover of California Native Plants for the Garden

Historically, California native plants were often grown in European gardens before they were accepted into California gardens. Now they are being grown in California for their beauty and frequent drought tolerance. Here you will see photos of plants in garden landscapes with information about the regions in which they will grow, their needs, and their care. 

California Native Plants for the Garden

By Carol Bornstein, David Fross, Bart O’Brien

Why should I read it?

1 author picked California Native Plants for the Garden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you know that its climate is unique in the U.S. and that there are many microclimates within the region. It’s all mediterranean, as you can tell by its dry summers and mild, wet winters. But near the coast, summer fog carpets the land for weeks and winter is rarely frosty, while inland summers are hot, winter frosts are frequent. I live here and use my academic and first-hand experience with plants to help regional gardeners create year-round beauty and harvests in all of our wonderful, often perplexing microclimates.


I wrote...

Golden Gate Gardening, The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California

By Pam Peirce,

Book cover of Golden Gate Gardening,  The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California

What is my book about?

Now in its third, revised edition, Golden Gate Gardening introduces readers to food gardening in California from Eureka to San Luis Obispo, and from the coast inland to the edge of the Central Valley. This mediterranean-climate region is like no other in the U. S. Summers vary from cool at the coast to hot inland, with rain only in winters. The whole region allows year-round production of vegetables, herbs, fruits, edible, and cutting flowers.

This book is an indispensable source of information on all the topics you need for success: what to plant and when, how to start seed, prepare the soil, conserve water, control weeds, and manage pests in less-toxic ways. It is a clear, friendly book that will guide you to garden success and enjoyment.

The Stuffed Coffin

By Dieter Moitzi,

Book cover of The Stuffed Coffin

I’m a gay writer living in France, so of course, I had to read The Stuffed Coffin when it won France’s national 2019 Prize for Gay Thriller. And as a bonus, it’s set in Greece, the country which stole my heart long ago. After breaking up with his boyfriend, Damien needs to get away and chooses a bucolic Greek village next to the sea. His first night there, he falls for a handsome youth, Nikos, but their relationship is anything but simple. Meanwhile, bodies start appearing: drowned, run over, whatever. It’s hardly the calm respite Damien envisioned but readers will definitely enjoy this sometimes-quirky and definitely entertaining read.

The Stuffed Coffin

By Dieter Moitzi,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

Raised crisscrossing America, I developed a ceaseless wanderlust that took me around the world many times. En route, I collected the stories and characters that make up my work. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists: I hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that had me smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-day crossing from Cape Verde that landed me in an African jail. Greece, where I’ve spent some seven years total, stole my heart 50 years ago. Fire on the Island is my homage to it. 


I wrote...

Fire on the Island: A Romantic Thriller

By Timothy Jay Smith,

Book cover of Fire on the Island: A Romantic Thriller

What is my book about?

Fire on the Island is a playful, romantic thriller set in contemporary Greece, with a gay Greek-American FBI agent, who is undercover on the island to investigate a series of mysterious fires. Set against the very real refugee crisis on the beautiful, sun-drenched Greek islands, this novel paints a loving portrait of a community in crisis. As the island residents grapple with declining tourism, poverty, refugees, family feuds, and a perilously damaged church, an arsonist invades their midst. Having all the charm of Zorba the Greek, it sheds a bright light on the very real challenges of life in contemporary Greece. For lovers of crime fiction and the allure of the Greek islands, Fire on the Island is the perfect summer read.

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