The best books about Sicily

11 authors have picked their favorite books about Sicily and why they recommend each book.

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Sicily '43

By James Holland,

Book cover of Sicily '43: The First Assault on Fortress Europe

Holland is a talented scholar who has honed his skill in providing excellent campaign-level accounts of the war. Thus, among much else, his books include Fortress Malta (2003), The Battle of Britain (2010), Burma ’44 (2016), Normandy ’44 (2019), and this excellent study of the Anglo-American invasion of Sicily in 1943. Holland is particularly good at capturing the grittiness of war, and at adding the perspective of individual combatants without being trapped by it. Reads very well and provides a superb campaign-level account that is also tactically adroit.


Who am I?

Jeremy Black is a prolific lecturer and writer, the author of over 100 books. Many concern aspects of eighteenth-century British, European, and American political, diplomatic and military history but he has also published on the history of the press, cartography, warfare, culture, and on the nature and uses of history itself.


I wrote...

A History of the Second World War in 100 Maps

By Jeremy Black,

Book cover of A History of the Second World War in 100 Maps

What is my book about?

The First World War was marked by an exceptional expansion in the use and production of military cartography. But World War II took things even further, employing maps, charts, reconnaissance, and the systematic recording and processing of geographical and topographical information on an unprecedented scale. As Jeremy Black--one of the world's leading military and cartographic historians--convincingly shows in this lavish full-color book, it is impossible to understand the events and outcomes of the Second World War without deep reference to mapping at all levels. In World War II, maps themselves became the weapons.

The Leopard

By Giuseppe Di Lampedusa,

Book cover of The Leopard

E. M. Forster famously described Lampedusa’s solitary work as “one of the great lonely books.” It is a masterpiece that simultaneously captures both the peculiarity of Sicily within the experience of the wars of Italian Unification while brilliantly portraying characters confronting universal human emotions of love, loss, and struggle in times of momentous change. Lampedusa based the book’s protagonist, the Prince of Salina, on his own grandfather. The story, told in a series of episodes across half a century, while fictionalized, captures the essential elements of the birth of the modern Italian state, the rise of a new class of elites at the expense of the old, landed aristocracy, and the often-fraught attempt to create a unified Italian identity. There is a well-known film with Burt Lancaster in the starring role along with Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale that really evokes the visual power of the subject, but the book…


Who am I?

I'm a historian who teaches strategic studies at the National Defense University and Georgetown University in Washington, DC. I'm fascinated by how we write and teach history, how we interpret it, and how we use it. To use history, we have to “get it right,” but we also have to think about how the past impacts the present. One of the foremost challenges confronting historians is how to write the history of their particular subject well while making it applicable (and interesting) more universally. The following books are all particular to the region I study most closely—the Eastern Mediterranean—but their grasp of humanity is profound. Their power and perspectives ring true across millennia.


I wrote...

Restoring Thucydides: Testing Familiar Lessons and Deriving New Ones

By Andrew R. Novo, Jay M. Parker,

Book cover of Restoring Thucydides: Testing Familiar Lessons and Deriving New Ones

What is my book about?

In the world of strategic studies, there are few books more widely studied than Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides’ work is difficult to teach and study because it's long, dense, and substantive. Thucydides was ambitious in hoping that his work would be a “possession for all time.” My co-author, Jay Parker, and I tried to peel away the layers of cliché and oversimplification to get at the “real” Thucydides. Our approach was simple: read the whole book and explore Thucydides’s own time to understand both his historical context and the context of his History. The result is a book that tries to challenge preconceptions and simplified interpretations of Thucydides’s work, but also how we read any “great book” with lessons meant to satisfy existing agendas.

To Each His Own

By Leonardo Sciascia, Adrienne Foulke (translator),

Book cover of To Each His Own

A double homicide in Sicily. Innocent, eccentric, small-town characters. The Mafia, the church, and a stifling, frightening nightmare world portrayed with humor, humanity, and a diamond-tipped eye for detail: that’s Leonardo Sciascia’s 1960s detective novel classic, To Each His Own (A ciascuno il suo). The writing is clean, clear, nervy, and seductive—some of the best crime writing, period. It even survives translation. This book is at least as good as The Godfather and better than anything by Andrea Camilleri. As you turn the pages, you’re not only transported to off-the-beaten-track, real-deal Sicily. You feel the grit. You smell it. You enter the heads and hearts of Sicilians. Written over 50 years ago, To Each His Own needs no refreshing. That world never changes.


Who am I?

I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s watching Alfred Hitchcock movies and reading Dashiell Hammett—I’m from San Francisco. Then opera got hold of me. So, I dropped out of my PhD program, left Dante’s Inferno behind, and moved to Paris to live a modern-day La Bohème. Because I’m half-Italian, I decided I had to divide my life between Paris and Italy. Mystery, murder, romance, longing, and betrayal were what fueled my passions and still do. To earn a living, I became a travel, food, and arts reporter. These interests and the locales of my life come together in my own crime and mystery novels.


I wrote...

Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

By David Downie,

Book cover of Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

What is my book about?

Red Riviera is a gripping detective novel set on the Italian Riviera, featuring female sleuth Daria Vinci. 

Its jaws open wide, a firefighting seaplane skims the Gulf of Portofino on Italy’s jagged Ligurian coast, scooping up lone swimmer Joe Gary. The super-rich Italian-American has mob connections and a dirty political past. Is it an accident or murder? It is a wild ride from the tangled trails of the Cinque Terre to glamorous Portofino and roistering Genoa. It’s a Riviera made red by riotous bougainvillea and spilled blood. Half-American, Daria Vinci is an outsider, the rising star of Genoa’s secretive Special Operations Directorate DIGOS. To solve her case, Daria must face down a Fascist police chief, the CIA’s local mastermind, a former World War Two Spitfire fighter pilot, and a plucky hundred-year-old marquise whose memory is as long as it is vengeful.

The Shape of Water

By Andrea Camilleri, Stephen Sartarelli (translator),

Book cover of The Shape of Water

Until his death in 2019, the Sicilian-born Camilleri was the king of the Italian mystery novel scene. His detective, Inspector Montalbano, became a beloved fixture in Italy thanks to a TV series based on his adventures. I love Montalbano because a) he’s a decent man trapped in an often-corrupt Sicilian environment, and b) boy, does he love great Italian food! The series is 28 books long; it’s worth starting with the first one to see if you love this world.



Who am I?

As a kid, Joseph D’Agnese did not feel quite normal unless he’d devoured at least two mystery novels in a weekend. Today he’s a journalist and author. His mystery fiction has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He’s a past recipient of the Derringer Award for Short Mystery Fiction, and a contributor to the prestigious annual anthology, Best American Mystery Stories. D’Agnese lives in North Carolina with his wife, the New York Times Bestselling author Denise Kiernan.


I wrote...

The Marshal of the Borgo

By Joseph D'Agnese,

Book cover of The Marshal of the Borgo

What is my book about?

An unusual mystery novel with a fiendish twist lying beneath the surface. A troubled carabinieri officer is exiled to the rural Italian countryside after botching a case in Rome. He’s trying to forget the past, but the murder of an immigrant vineyard worker pits him against a cynical killer who may well have gotten away with five murders. Jump in to enjoy great food, wine, sun-drenched olive groves, and murder!

Pomp and Sustenance

By Mary Taylor Simeti,

Book cover of Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-Five Centuries of Sicilian Food

This book immediately swept me up in its glorious evocation of Sicily: the island's ancient history, the ways of its people, and above all the flavors of the sun-kissed land. In gorgeous prose, American-born Mary Taylor Simeti combines the illuminating insights of an outside observer with a passion for her adopted homeland. The recipes range from the cucina povera that sustained most of Sicily's inhabitants over the centuries to the ornate court cuisine that developed in the 16th century. We also journey to Sicily's convents, where the nuns became famous for their wondrous confections with fanciful names like "Virgins' Breasts" and "Chancellor's Buttocks."


Who am I?

I've been thinking and writing about food ever since I spent a year in the Soviet Union many decades ago and discovered that food is a wonderfully immediate way to enter into another culture. My first cookbook led to a stint as a spokesperson for Stolichnaya vodka when it was first introduced to the US—a fascinating exercise in cross-cultural communication during the Cold War. In 2001 I founded Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, which deepened my interest in culinary cultures around the world. Cookbooks aren't just about recipes. For me, the best ones include personal stories and history that transport you to other realms.


I wrote...

Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

By Darra Goldstein,

Book cover of Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

What is my book about?

I love the icy beauty of cold climates, which I've written about in several of my cookbooks. For Beyond the North Wind, I traveled to remote regions of the Russian North to explore the true heart of Russian food and show how foods from a harsh climate can be surprisingly sophisticated. The book celebrates whole grains, preserved and fermented foods, and straightforward but robust flavors, with recipes for a dazzling array of pickles and preserves; infused vodkas; homemade dairy products and baked cultured milk; a pantheon of pies; large, lacy blini; and seasonal vegetable soups.

Beyond the North Wind is a home-style cookbook with a strong sense of place that offers a rarely seen portrait of Russia, its people, and its palate.

Siciliana

By Gaetano Cipolla,

Book cover of Siciliana: Studies on the Sicilian Ethos and Literature

Dr. Gaetano Cipolla is the retired head of the Foreign Language Department at St. John’s University, New York. He has spent his academic career researching and writing about the Sicilian culture and its people in order to counteract the stereotypical image of Sicilians and Italians as primarily spaghetti eaters and mafia. Dr. Cipolla understands the many dialects of the Sicilian language and, through his writings, has reclaimed the literary greatness of forgotten Sicilian writers by translating their poetry and other works. To overcome the pending extinction of Sicilian, he has written and developed a two-part course that teaches the language. His course is steadily being adopted in a number of universities


Who am I?

I grew up in New Orleans around Cajun French and Italians. My father spoke Cajun French, English, and Sicilian. I grew up thinking his Sicilian was Italian mixed with Cajun French. We considered ourselves Italian, never aware that my grandparents, paternal and maternal, emigrated from Sicily and were born just after Sicily became part of Italy (1861). Knowing nothing of Sicily, including the Sicilian spelling of my own surname and my father’s Sicilian first name, I used the computer to contact distant relatives in Sicily, discover records online, and eventually visited Sicily to find actual documents. My research led to my passion and my first book, After Laughing Comes Crying.


I wrote...

Not for Self: A Sicilian Life and Death in Marion

By Joseph L. Cacibauda,

Book cover of Not for Self: A Sicilian Life and Death in Marion

What is my book about?

This is a novel that details the life and death of a Sicilian immigrant, Jake Valenti, who came to the United States and became involved in the social upheavals of the 1920s in Illinois, encountering prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan, corrupt politicians, and law enforcement officers, bootleggers and finally meeting his death in what became known as "bloody Williamson." This is a creative fiction novel based on an actual person. 

A Hidden Sicilian History

By Ettore Grillo,

Book cover of A Hidden Sicilian History

Ettore Grillo is a retired criminal attorney from Enna, Sicily, who spends his time writing and traveling. This is the second edition of his first book. I am drawn to historical fiction and creative fiction writing. They are wonderfully entertaining ways to learn about cultures and history within the story’s setting and plot. Grillo teaches about life in Enna, Sicily including the feasts, the traditions, and the people who are held together by customs while trying to solve a family mystery. 


Who am I?

I grew up in New Orleans around Cajun French and Italians. My father spoke Cajun French, English, and Sicilian. I grew up thinking his Sicilian was Italian mixed with Cajun French. We considered ourselves Italian, never aware that my grandparents, paternal and maternal, emigrated from Sicily and were born just after Sicily became part of Italy (1861). Knowing nothing of Sicily, including the Sicilian spelling of my own surname and my father’s Sicilian first name, I used the computer to contact distant relatives in Sicily, discover records online, and eventually visited Sicily to find actual documents. My research led to my passion and my first book, After Laughing Comes Crying.


I wrote...

Not for Self: A Sicilian Life and Death in Marion

By Joseph L. Cacibauda,

Book cover of Not for Self: A Sicilian Life and Death in Marion

What is my book about?

This is a novel that details the life and death of a Sicilian immigrant, Jake Valenti, who came to the United States and became involved in the social upheavals of the 1920s in Illinois, encountering prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan, corrupt politicians, and law enforcement officers, bootleggers and finally meeting his death in what became known as "bloody Williamson." This is a creative fiction novel based on an actual person. 

Ameri-Sicula

By Mark Hehl (editor),

Book cover of Ameri-Sicula: Sicilian Culture in America

Mark Hehl gathered a bunch of Sicilian American writers to contribute pieces about their remembrances of their grandparents, those 1st or 2nd waves of immigrants that came to this country. American readers can relate better to the settings of Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston, and New Orleans than to the small Sicilian villages like Bisacquino, Sant’Anna, Chiusa Sclafani, the towns from which many immigrants embarked, and the towns from which these customs were carried into American cities.


Who am I?

I grew up in New Orleans around Cajun French and Italians. My father spoke Cajun French, English, and Sicilian. I grew up thinking his Sicilian was Italian mixed with Cajun French. We considered ourselves Italian, never aware that my grandparents, paternal and maternal, emigrated from Sicily and were born just after Sicily became part of Italy (1861). Knowing nothing of Sicily, including the Sicilian spelling of my own surname and my father’s Sicilian first name, I used the computer to contact distant relatives in Sicily, discover records online, and eventually visited Sicily to find actual documents. My research led to my passion and my first book, After Laughing Comes Crying.


I wrote...

Not for Self: A Sicilian Life and Death in Marion

By Joseph L. Cacibauda,

Book cover of Not for Self: A Sicilian Life and Death in Marion

What is my book about?

This is a novel that details the life and death of a Sicilian immigrant, Jake Valenti, who came to the United States and became involved in the social upheavals of the 1920s in Illinois, encountering prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan, corrupt politicians, and law enforcement officers, bootleggers and finally meeting his death in what became known as "bloody Williamson." This is a creative fiction novel based on an actual person. 

There's No Home

By Alexander Baron,

Book cover of There's No Home

This is an unusual novel in that it shows the lives of British soldiers in Sicily during World War Two, but there is no actual fighting. Instead we see the soldiers’ lives from the inside as they struggle with boredom, frustration, and try to interact with the locals. There are no heroics or sentimental patriotism, instead we see the soldiers in all their humanity, including their weaknesses. Above all it does what all good writing should do, takes you into a vividly believable world of emotion and behavior.  


Who am I?

My novel Nourishment is loosely based on stories I was told about the war by my parents who lived through it. My mother was a firewoman during the Blitz and my father was in Normandy after the D-Day landings. They married during the war. I wish now I’d written down the stories my parents used to tell me. There was always humour in their stories. My parents could both see the absurdity and the dark comedy that can sometimes be present in wartime situations, especially on the home front, and I hope some of that comes through in Nourishment.


I wrote...

Nourishment

By Gerard Woodward,

Book cover of Nourishment

What is my book about?

Nourishment is set during the Blitz and is the story of Tory Pace, who lives with her elderly mother in southeast London. Her husband Donald has been missing in action for several months and is assumed to be dead. When a letter from him arrives from a prisoner of war camp, she is thrown into turmoil by the unusual request he makes. Her mother has always strongly disapproved of Donald, but this request of his is beyond the pale. No decent woman would comply, and certainly not her daughter. Or would she?

The Sicilian Vespers

By Steven Runciman,

Book cover of The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century

This is perhaps the best book by this prolific historian, because of the way in which he successfully weaves together the histories of lands right across the Mediterranean and beyond: Aragon in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and the Levant, focussing on a successful rebellion in Sicily in 1282 that permanently changed the face of the Mediterranean.


Who am I?

We live in an increasingly connected world. But human beings have always made connections with one another across space, and the space I find especially exciting is water - whether the narrow space of seas such as the Mediterranean and the Baltic, or the broader and wilder spaces of the great oceans. These are spaces that link distant countries and continents, across which people have brought objects, ideas and religions as well as themselves - a history of migrants, merchants, mercenaries, missionaries, and many others that can be recovered from shipwrecks, travellers' tales, cargo manifests, and many other sources, a history, ultimately, of the origins of our globalized world.


I wrote...

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans

By David Abulafia,

Book cover of The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans

What is my book about?

This book brings together the history of the different oceans into what became, after Columbus, a closely inter-connected story of movement across the seas by merchants, migrants, missionaries, mercenaries, and of course slaves; and for me to it was a journey in imagination across space and time from ancient Polynesia to the present day.

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