Books about Italy

Books about Italy

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Books - Italy

The First & Second Italian Wars 1494-1504, Julian Romane.A detailed history of the first two Italian Wars, both triggered by unsuccessful French attempts to conquer Naples, and which triggered a series of wars that disrupted Italy for almost seventy years, and largely ended the independence of most Italian powers, as well as failing to gain the French any of their initial objectives. A fascinating look at this period, which saw last the last vestiges of medieval chivalry come up against the Spanish infantry armies, against the backdrop of the high renaissance (Read Full Review)

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia – Brother and Sister of History’s most vilified family, Samantha Morris.A fairly convincing attempt to restore the reputation of the most famous and most notorious of the Borgias, the brother and sister Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. Does a good job of redeeming Lucrezia’s reputation, although Cesare still emerges as unusually bloodthirsty and treacherous even for the period, so much so that he attracted the special interest of Machiavelli (although most of the more scandalous stories are easily disproved)! Overall this is an entertaining account of the lives of one of the most infamous families of European history(Read Full Review)

Renaissance Armies in Italy 1450-1550, Gabriele Esposito.Looks at the main eight armies of the Italian Wars, a series of major conflicts that dominated Italy during the first half of the sixteenth century, and ended with the country largely dominated by Spain. Traces the development of each these armies during a period that saw the emergence of the first recognisably ‘modern’ infantry, the Spanish ‘tercios’(Read Full Review)

Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896, Sean McLachlan. More than just a look at the armies that fought at the battle, this book also includes a history of the Italian involvement in East Africa and the Ethiopian victory at Adowa that ended Italian ambitions for the next four decades. [read full review]

The Second War of Italian Unification 1859-61, Frederick C. Schneid. Focuses on the three separate conflicts that made up the Second War of Italian Unification (the Franco-Austrian War, Garibaldi's invasion of the kingdom of Naples and the invasion of the Papal State), the conflict that saw the creation of the Kingdom of Italy. [read full review]

Solferino 1859: The Battle for Italy's Freedom, Richard Brooks. The battle of Solferino was the main event in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, a key moment in the unification of Italy, and the first battle to be decided at least partly by the extensive use of the railway and steamships and rifled artillery. It also led directly to the foundation of the Red Cross, but despite these claims to fame it has since been overshadowed by the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. Brooks' volume is an excellent single-volume account of the entire campaign, and will be of value to anyone with an interest in nineteenth century warfare [see more].

‘That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana’ by Carlo Emilio Gadda (1957)

A masterpiece of Italian literature, That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana was first published as episodes and later as a volume in 1957. The ‘mess’ refers to an intricate double criminal case involving a robbery and the murder of a young woman in an apartment building on the Via Merulana in central Rome, during the years of the Fascist regime. Detective Ciccio Ingravallo is called to lead the investigation, only to find that almost everyone in the building seems to be involved. With multilayered language that is often compared to James Joyce’s, and sublime irony, Gadda draws together different strands of Roman life in a detective story that ultimately gravitates around the elusiveness of truth.

The Two Mafias: A Transatlantic History, 1888-2008

By Salvatore Lupo

Let’s turn to the books you’ve recommended for understanding what the mafia is really like (other than your own of course!) Why don’t we start with Salvatore Lupo, whom you’ve described as ‘the pioneer’ of mafia history. Could you say a bit about him and what the state of mafia history was before he came along?

Salvatore Lupo is Sicilian and now a professor of history at Palermo University. He’s a friend of mine. In some sense Lupo’s research is the unifying thread of my book, Cosa Nostra, although it does draw on many other sources as well. I was trying to make his research—as well as a lot of other stuff—accessible to an English-speaking audience of non-specialists.

Lupo began by writing a book on the lemon industry in Sicily, which is significant because that’s where the mafia began. But his historical investigations moved in parallel with the story of the Palermo Maxi trial. That’s the trial that began with the first confession of a mafia boss, Tommaso Buscetta, who turned state’s evidence in 1984, and ended with the final verdict of Italy’s supreme court in 1992. Over the course of those eight years, we found out what the mafia was, legally. A whole new precedent was set for treating the mafia as an organization, and not as a sort of loose archipelago of gangs, or—still worse—a sort of diffuse Sicilian mentality. The shocking thing is that this really was the first time that had been proved. Then, of course, it was in 1992 that both the magistrates who pioneered that Maxi trial prosecution—Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino—were murdered by the mafia in revenge.

“Lupo began by writing a book on the lemon industry in Sicily, which is significant because that’s where the mafia began”

Lupo’s historical investigations were triggered by the judicial findings. As the mafia’s existence was mapped out and Cosa Nostra was shown to exist in the 1980s, historians began to ask, ‘When did it begin? How did it begin? When did it become what it is now? Has it always been the same?’ Lupo was really the first to write a credible history of the mafia. He started by investigating certain key moments in its history and then sewed all the research together for the first time in a small, very dense book. A lot more research has been done since then, but his book still stands up really well. It was the first proper history of the Sicilian mafia and it was only published in 1993, the year after Falcone and Borsellino were murdered. So it was a hugely important book.

In terms of the book you’re recommending by Salvatore Lupo, it’s called The Two Mafias: A Transatlantic History, 1888-2008. How does it fit in?

That’s a more recent book. Lupo’s original book was, unfortunately, really badly translated—so badly translated, in fact, that it’s almost not worth reading in English. This book, The Two Mafias, was much better translated, partly because I corrected it and talked in depth to Lupo about it while it was being translated into English, to make sure that we got everything straight.

The breakthrough of this book is that he treats the American and the Sicilian mafia as part of the same criminal system. American historians had focused exclusively on the American side of the story and had dismissed the Sicilian side as an antiquated, primitive mafia. Sicilian writers had focused exclusively on the Sicilian side. What he argues is that since the 1980s there has been a constant traffic in ideas, in criminal personnel and criminal commodities (like drugs), backwards and forwards across the Atlantic. There really have been transatlantic mafia bosses who have operated in both spheres and we cannot conceive of how the mafia became so powerful on both shores without examining the dynamic relationship between the organization’s two branches. Neither one nor the other is more sophisticated or powerful or more businesslike than the other. They’re both part of the same system.

It’s an extraordinary insight and it allows Lupo to explain an awful lot that’s new about the mafia. It’s an international perspective and that’s why it’s so exciting.

So there’s no senior or junior partner, head office versus a satellite?

No. And there are fascinating insights—for example, how mafiosi argue whether being a member of the Sicilian mafia automatically entitles you to the status of mafioso in the United States or not. They argue about that sort of thing. It gives you a sense that they’re in the same world, the same system.

The Two Mafias is an extraordinary work of scholarship. People tend to forget how tricky it is to write reliable history when some of the sources are mafiosi themselves—many of whom are born liars. Lupo shows real forensic skill in sifting out the lies from the truth, and in showing how the lies can still be very significant in their own way.

Glam Italia! Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget)

If you’re an anxious traveler, a first-time traveler, a tourist on a shoestring budget, or just someone who wants a guide to making authentic connections during their time in Italy, this guide from Corinna Cooke lays out how you can do Italy without breaking the bank—or your sanity. Cooke is a blogger and travel guide who’s curated private vacations throughout the country, so you can bet she has the real-talk tips and insider knowledge you need for a stress-free, easy-on-the-wallet time. Glam Italia! approaches Italy in a way that lets you use her information to create the dream itinerary you want, whether you’re focusing on foodie experiences, history, or shopping. She provides handy tools like regional lists of wine and even flight-booking advice so you get the best possible deals.

Guicciardini, Francesco Alexander, Sidney (Tr.)

Published by The MacMillan Company, U.S.A., 1969

Used - Hardcover
Condition: Very Good Plus

Hardcover. Condition: Very Good Plus. Dust Jacket Condition: Fair. 1st Edition. Stated 1st Printing of the 1969 MacMillan 1st English-language US Edition, translated and edited, with notes and introduction, by Sidney Alexander. Book is straight, square, securely bound, mildly and uniformly age toned and free of markings and blemishes dyed top edge is uniformly lilac. Cover is clean and bright, with sharp corners, gently bumped joints, bumped headcap and tail, and crisply legible, clearly distinct gilt stamped lettering and design. Dust Jacket is price clipped, age toned and fragile, with rubbing at and thinning to wraps and hinges, chipping to corners, edges, joints, 2"and 3" losses to backstrip and 1" loss to front panel at the wrap. (Please see Seller images). Pre-ISBN. ShiroBooks, independent bookseller, takes pride in accurate descriptions, careful wrapping and safe shipping. ADDITIONAL CHARGE (DUE TO SHIPPING WEIGHT) WILL APPLY IF SHIPPED OUTSIDE CONTINENTAL US CONTACT SHIROBOOKS PRIOR TO ORDERING or for more information, details or photos.

Italy’s Colonial History in Africa Reframed

The first photograph in the series of installation shots I received shows two rectangular plinths, placed a handbreadth apart. Each plinth, measuring forty-eight inches on the long side, bears a framed serigraph, a silk-screened image with three words: in the first, &ldquoLa questione Italianna,&rdquo and in the second, &ldquoLa questione Affricana.&rdquo This is the entryway to a multimedia exhibition of Dawit L. Petros, an Eritrean-born Canadian artist, guest-curated by Irene Campolmi at the Power Plant, a contemporary art gallery in Toronto (now temporarily closed to the public due to the pandemic). The title of the show, &ldquoSpazio Disponibile,&rdquo is an Italian phrase that translates as &ldquoAvailable Space&rdquo it refers to the advertisement spaces offered by a government magazine to businesses during the heyday of Italian colonialism. Together, the exhibition title and the words on the serigraphs show an artist concerned with Italy&rsquos historical relationship with Africa.

This focus on Eritrea&rsquos former colonial power is clearer when considering the thirty-eight prints mounted on a long dividing wall, each of which is a page from the journal Rivista Coloniale, the widely circulated official mouthpiece of the Italian colonial government published between 1906 and 1943, informing Italians living in the colonies or abroad about the economy of their country. One series of monochrome pigment prints, titled &ldquoThe constant re-telling of the future in the past&rdquo (2020), is a cluster of archival images&mdashmachines, farmhands, processions, a city center full of new cars, a Fiat factory&mdashtaken in Asmara, Eritrea&rsquos capital city, sometime during the Italian occupation. These images of Asmara, taken between the mid-Twenties and the late Fifties, when it was described as piccola Roma, show Italians filling the city&rsquos roads with Fiat cars, Italian bakeries, butchers, clothes shops, hairdressers, theaters, and cinemas. Indeed, a central preoccupation of Petros&rsquos is how we choose to engage with the archive. He is interested in &ldquometaphorical possibilities,&rdquo as he says in a video posted on the website of the gallery, in how histories are &ldquoeither suppressed, are displaced, or are unexamined.&rdquo And specifically, in this exhibition, &ldquothe extent to which Italy has never confronted its colonial history.&rdquo

&ldquoIt&rsquos alarming how these histories of colonial encounter have been repressed within the Italian subconscious into an almost inaccessible space,&rdquo Petros said to Ethiopian-born novelist Maaza Mengiste in a conversation published in Recent Histories: Contemporary African Photography and Video Art (2016), edited by Joshua Chuang, Daniela Baumann, and Oluremi C. Onabanjo. &ldquoSo when a stranger appears,&rdquo Petros continued, &ldquothe question of &lsquoFrom whence they came?&rsquo arises. But we&rsquove been here. We&rsquove always been here! Part of the material I worked with&mdashin which Italians perish in the Mediterranean, or Italians move to Libya&mdashlooks the other way. The contemporary departure point is the historical destination. Distance shrinks, and that refusal to remember becomes precarious.&rdquo

Dawit L. Petros/Tiwani Contemporary, London

Detail 2: 1940 - Preoccupations (Rivista Coloniale, 1906-1943)

Dawit L. Petros/Tiwani Contemporary, London

Spazio Disponible II, archival color pigment print

Dawit L. Petros/Tiwani Contemporary, London

"Spazio Disponibile" installation view, The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto, 2020

Dawit L. Petros/Tiwani Contemporary, London

"Spazio Disponibile" installation view, The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto, 2020

By the mid-Thirties, Italy&rsquos colonial enterprise was known as the Empire of Oriental Africa, comprising the Horn of Africa, Libya, the Dodecanese Islands, and Albania. Most of these colonies were lost during or soon after World War II. Yet the effect on the imagination of the people of those former colonies remains today. In All at One Point (Casa, Study I) (2020), a two-channel video by Petros, the voice of a man in Asmara is juxtaposed with footage of Casa d&rsquoItalia, a community center built in Montreal by the Italian Consul General with funds from thirty-seven Italian organizations. Eritreans, including Petros&rsquos family, began to enter Canada in significant numbers in the mid-Eighties. In 1936, the year the Montreal Casa d&rsquoItalia opened, several others were built around the world. Geometra Petros (no relation to the artist), the Eritrean man who narrates the video, is a surveyor and specialist in Italian colonial architecture. He speaks in Italian, with English subtitles: &ldquoWhen they went back to Italy, they totally forgot about us. They were homesick and thought of Eritrea. But they lost hope and totally abandoned the idea of Eritrea&hellip. Italians had a close relationship with Eritrea because some of them were born here. Here, Italians lived in luxury they had houses, industries, cinemas for their amusement&hellipthey lived well. It was their city, their little Rome.&rdquo

Later in the film, the artist&rsquos namesake responds to a photograph of Casa d&rsquoItalia. It reminds him, he says, of the mosque of Asmara, built in 1938 on the initiative of Benito Mussolini. The mosque&rsquos shutters are fascist symbols&mdashan allusion to the &ldquoM&rdquo in Mussolini. The Italian leader had preferred architectural emphasis, not on minor aesthetic details, but on a modernist classicism that became the signature of Italian fascism. As the surveyor argues, both Montreal&rsquos Casa d&rsquoItalia and Asmara&rsquos old mosque are evidence of the reach of Italian fascism at the time.

Dawit L. Petros/Tiwani Contemporary, London

Untitled (Epilogue IV), 2019, and Untitled (Epilogue II), 2019

&ldquoSpazio Disponibile,&rdquo for Petros, is a continuation of &ldquoThe Stranger&rsquos Notebook&rdquo (2014&ndashpresent), his photo-based project that resulted from a thirteen-month exploration of migration within Africa and across the Mediterranean. During those journeys&mdashwhether in Tangier, Yamoussoukro, Lampedusa, Nouakchott, or Catania&mdashPetros took photographs of men holding mirrors in front of their faces: a man standing on desert sand, a man overlooking the sea, a man on a beach, a man on a rock, a man in front of a train track. That they hold these reflective surfaces in place of their faces is symbolic of the experience of migrants, who are generally without legal identification and often perceived as the worst possible versions of themselves by their myopic hosts.

But Petros&rsquos mirrors also challenge those hosts to appraise themselves. It is as though Petros is asking that they look at themselves while looking at those they designate as strangers. One photograph, Untitled (Overlapping and intertwined territories that fall from view II) (2019), shows the outstretched arm of Sammy&mdasha young Eritrean in Catania, Sicily&mdashas he faces the Mediterranean Sea holding a reproduction from Rivista Coloniale, two empty pages bearing the header &ldquoSpazio Disponibile.&rdquo Petros has paired it with Untitled (Overlapping and intertwined territories that fall from view I) (2019) to create a diptych the second photograph shows the outstretched arm of another Eritrean man, Adil, who holds up a photograph of an Italian family with their backs to the camera, bearing suitcases. They are likely settlers from Sicily, and have arrived at Villaggio Olivetti, one of the agricultural villages built in Libya by Italy from 1927 onward and populated by poor farmers from southern Italy. Here are the hands of African men who are routinely decried as unwanted in Italy they hold up evidence of a time, barely a century ago, when Italians (out of economic necessity, and as part of a colonizing project) were incentivized to take up residence in countries on the African side of the Mediterranean.

Dawit L. Petros/Tiwani Contemporary, London

Untitled (Overlapping and intertwined territories that fall from view I), 2019, and Untitled (Overlapping and intertwined territories that fall from view II), 2019

In another diptych, Untitled (Epilogue IV) (2019) and Untitled (Epilogue II) (2019), a man is pictured on the left standing on a tall, square concrete block, a range of hills undulating in the background he holds a mirror at arm&rsquos length, in front of his face. On the right, there is a close-up of the concrete blocks, totaling four, and a litter of stones. These photographs were taken in Nefasit, Eritrea, where those four concrete blocks formed a base for the Teleferica, once the world&rsquos longest cable car&mdashextending seventy-two kilometers to an elevation of 2,325 meters, when it connected the port town of Massawa to Asmara (it was dismantled in the Fifties when Italy lost its sovereign claim to Eritrea).

By juxtaposing the photographs taken in both Catania and Nefasit, Petros suggests a connection between the migration of East Africans to Italy and the legacy of colonialism. The logic of this connection shows how ahistorical it is for native Italians to consider the migration of Africans to Italy as an aberration&mdashconveniently labeling them &ldquoillegal,&rdquo or denying entry to migrants or refugees arriving from the shores of Africa&mdashsince they, too, by imperial force and of necessity, had earlier made the reverse journey. Ethnonationalism here involves the deliberate attempt to repress the past.

That the camera is a subjugating tool is a familiar charge. What&rsquos peculiar in the cases of Eritrea and Ethiopia is the relatively short period, compared to other African nations, of colonial rule&mdashthanks largely to Italy&rsquos defeats in World War II. The brevity of that dominion is one reason for the diminished colonial memory of many Italians today, ignorant of the fact that that their forebears built little Romes in the Horn of Africa.

Maaza Mengiste&rsquos two novels have taken her country&rsquos official history to task, whether in relation to the revolution that led to the ouster of Emperor Haile Selassie or in its account of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. In her second novel, The Shadow King (2019), shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the story is an epic retelling of the war fought during Mussolini&rsquos 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, a story of the heroism of Ethiopian women who took up arms alongside their husbands or masters, of the villainy of the men on both sides, and of a weapon as formidable as any other&mdashthe camera, an apparatus used to make images that could sustain Italian propaganda and keep the soldiers titillated on the battlefield.

The History of Italian Cuisine

When you love food, there are two things you really want to do: eat it and make it. That’s why it’s nice to have a well-furnished kitchen, and plenty of interesting recipes to try, as well as a gang of good friends, to invite over to justify your spending every single weekend surrounded by pots and pans, making your best impression of a domestic goddess/god.

But you know what, there’s something we barely stop thinking about when in the kitchen, the history behind what we’re making and eating. Have you ever thought of it? You guys, on the other side of the pond, are usually more aware of it, as your cuisine is a delicious melting pot of flavors and cultures hailing from every corner of the Earth, the heritage and history of which is usually well rooted into the community.

In Italy, things are a bit different: we usually care deeply and lovingly about our family’s cooking history. Grandmas and moms’ recipes are passed on with care and pride, a symbol itself of one’s own heritage and roots. Some of us are more aware than others of regional characteristics typical of each dish. It is not usual though, when it comes to the kitchen, to look further back than a couple of generations. Our knowledge of why we cook in a certain way and why we eat certain things is normally based on oral sources (our elders) and therefore has a limited time span.

The history of Italian cuisine, however, is as long and rich as the country’s history itself, its origins laying deep into the ancestral history of Rome, its people, and its political, cultural, and social power. Italian cuisine has evolved and changed following the evolution and the changes of Italy itself throughout centuries of wars, cultural mutations, and contacts: it’s a history as rich, colorful, and fascinating as the most amazing of recipes.

This is what we’re going to tell you today: a tale of food, traditions, kings and warriors, the centuries-long tale of Italian kitchens. The history of Italian cuisine.

BOOKS: The Feuding Families of Medieval and Renaissance Italy

The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall

Author: Christopher Hibbert

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 19, 1999)

At its height Renaissance Florence was a centre of enormous wealth, power and influence. A republican city-state funded by trade and banking, its often bloody political scene was dominated by rich mercantile families, the most famous of which were the Medici. This enthralling book charts the family’s huge influence on the political, economic and cultural history of Florence. Beginning in the early 1430s with the rise of the dynasty under the near-legendary Cosimo de Medici, it moves through their golden era as patrons of some of the most remarkable artists and architects of the Renaissance, to the era of the Medici Popes and Grand Dukes, Florence’s slide into decay and bankruptcy, and the end, in 1737, of the Medici line.

Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici

Author: Miles Unger

Publisher: Simon & Schuster(May 6, 2008)

Magnifico is a vividly colorful portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the uncrowned ruler of Florence during its golden age. A true “Renaissance man,” Lorenzo dazzled contemporaries with his prodigious talents and magnetic personality. Known to history as Il Magnifico (the Magnificent), Lorenzo was not only the foremost patron of his day but also a renowned poet, equally adept at composing philosophical verses and obscene rhymes to be sung at Carnival. He befriended the greatest artists and writers of the time — Leonardo, Botticelli, Poliziano, and, especially, Michelangelo, whom he discovered as a young boy and invited to live at his palace — turning Florence into the cultural capital of Europe. He was the leading statesman of the age, the fulcrum of Italy, but also a cunning and ruthless political operative. Miles Unger’s biography of this complex figure draws on primary research in Italian sources and on his intimate knowledge of Florence, where he lived for several years. Lorenzo’s grandfather Cosimo had converted the vast wealth of the family bank into political power, but from his earliest days Lorenzo’s position was precarious. Bitter rivalries among the leading Florentine families and competition among the squabbling Italian states meant that Lorenzo’s life was under constant threat. Those who plotted his death included a pope, a king, and a duke, but Lorenzo used his legendary charm and diplomatic skill — as well as occasional acts of violence — to navigate the murderous labyrinth of Italian politics. Against all odds he managed not only to survive but to preside over one of the great moments in the history of civilization. Florence in the age of Lorenzo was a city of contrasts, of unparalleled artistic brilliance and unimaginable squalor in the city’s crowded tenements of both pagan excess and the fire-and-brimstone sermons of the Dominican preacher Savonarola. Florence gave birpth to both the otherworldly perfection of Botticelli’s Primavera and the gritty realism of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Nowhere was this world of contrasts more perfectly embodied than in the life and character of the man who ruled this most fascinating city.

The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici

Author: Elizabeth Lev

Publisher: Mariner Books (October 16, 2012)

A strategist to match Machiavelli a warrior who stood toe to toe with the Borgias a wife whose three marriages would end in bloodshed and heartbreak and a mother determined to maintain her family’s honor, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici was a true Renaissance celebrity, beloved and vilified in equal measure. In this dazzling biography, Elizabeth Lev illuminates her extraordinary life and accomplishments. Raised in the court of Milan and wed at age ten to the pope’s corrupt nephew, Caterina was ensnared in Italy’s political intrigues early in life. After turbulent years in Rome’s papal court, she moved to the Romagnol province of Forlì. Following her husband’s assassination, she ruled Italy’s crossroads with iron will, martial strength, political savvy, and an icon’s fashion sense. In finally losing her lands to the Borgia family, she put up a resistance that inspired all of Europe and set the stage for her progeny—including Cosimo de’ Medici—to follow her example to greatness. A rich evocation of Renaissance life, The Tigress of Forlì reveals Caterina Riario Sforza as a brilliant and fearless ruler, and a tragic but unbowed figure.

The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519

Author: Christopher Hibbert

Publisher: Mariner Books (September 16, 2009)

Acclaimed British historian Hibbert’s latest work focuses on three members of the notorious Borgia family of Spain, who came to power in Rome with the election of Alfonso de Borgia (1378–1458), the scholarly bishop of Valencia, to the papacy as Calixtus III. Calixtus’s nephew Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (1431–1503) was known for decadence as well as keen administrative skills. Cardinal Rodrigo played a key role in electing Pope Sixtus IV, had a lucrative career as vice chancellor under five popes, fathered several children and bribed his way to becoming pope himself, as Alexander VI, in 1492. His children were infamous, including the unscrupulous military leader and politician Cesare (1475–1507), who inspired Machiavelli’s The Prince and murdered his own brother and brother-in-law to achieve his goals, while his daughter Lucrezia (1480–1519) overcame an incestuous reputation to become a respected patron of the arts as duchess of Ferrara. The book is a heavily researched and generally engrossing account of a famous dynasty, but readers may wish Hibbert (The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici) had used a more assertive and analytical voice to accompany the detailed descriptions of Renaissance life.

Absolutism in Renaissance Milan: Plenitude of Power under the Visconti and the Sforza 1329-1535

Author: Jane Black

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (December 20, 2009)

Absolutism in Renaissance Milan shows how authority above the law, once the preserve of pope and emperor, was claimed by the ruling Milanese dynasties, the Visconti and the Sforza, and why this privilege was finally abandoned by Francesco II Sforza (d. 1535), the last duke. As new rulers, the Visconti and the Sforza had had to impose their regime by rewarding supporters at the expense of opponents. That process required absolute power, also known as “plenitude of power,” meaning the capacity to overrule even fundamental laws and rights, including titles to property. The basis for such power reflected the changing status of Milanese rulers, first as signori and then as dukes. Contemporary lawyers, schooled in the sanctity of fundamental laws, were at first prepared to overturn established doctrines in support of the free use of absolute power: even the leading jurist of the day, Baldo degli Ubaldi (d. 1400), accepted the new teaching. However, lawyers came eventually to regret the new approach and to reassert the principle that laws could not be set aside without compelling justification. The Visconti and the Sforza too saw the dangers of absolute power: as legitimate princes they were meant to champion law and justice, not condone arbitrary acts that disregarded basic rights. Jane Black traces these developments in Milan over the course of two centuries, showing how the Visconti and Sforza regimes seized, exploited and finally relinquished absolute power.

The Italian Wars 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe (Modern Wars In Perspective)

Authors: Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw

Publisher: Routledge (April 26, 2012)

The Italian Wars of 1494-1559 had a major impact on the whole of Renaissance Europe. In this important text, Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw place the conflict within the political and economic context of the wars. Emphasising the gap between aims and strategies of the political masters and what their commanders and troops could actually accomplish on the ground, they analyse developments in military tactics and the tactical use of firearms and examine how Italians of all sectors of society reacted to the wars and the inevitable political and social change that they brought about. The history of Renaissance Italy is currently being radically rethought by historians. This book is a major contribution to this re-evaluation, and will be essential reading for all students of Renaissance and military history.

The Families Who Made Rome: A History and a Guide

Author: Anthony Majanlahti

Publisher: Random House UK (June 6, 2006)

Rome is famous for its buildings and architecture, but just who built its noted and beautiful structures? This distinctive account—part history and part travel guide—explores the families and individuals who built Rome from the ground up. Each of the districts dominated by the fabulously rich families of the Popes—including the Colonna, della Rovere, Farnese, Borghese, Barberini and others—are explored and paired with a vivid account of the family’s history, including their scandals and intrigues as well as their relationships with artists like Bernini and Michelangelo. An itinerary with maps and engravings provides a detailed guide to each family’s monuments. Famous sites such as the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and St. Peter’s Cathedral take on new significance as the history of the Roman nobles who placed their stamp on the city is unveiled.


Author: Robert Black

Publisher: Routledge (September 18, 2013)

Machiavelli is history’s most startling political commentator. Recent interpreters have minimised his originality, but this book restores his radicalism. Robert Black shows a clear development in Machiavelli’s thought. In his most subversive works The Prince, the Discourses on Livy, The Ass and Mandragola he rejected the moral and political values inherited by the Renaissance from antiquity and the middle ages. These outrageous compositions were all written in mid-life, when Machiavelli was a political outcast in his native Florence. Later he was reconciled with the Florentine establishment, and as a result his final compositions including his famous Florentine Histories represent a return to more conventional norms. This lucid work is perfect for students of Medieval and Early Modern History, Renaissance Studies and Italian Literature, or anyone keen to learn more about one of history’s most potent, influential and arresting writers.

The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427-1527

Author: Leonie Frieda

Publisher: Harper (April 2, 2013)

From Leonie Frieda, critically acclaimed biographer of Catherine de Medici, comes The Deadly Sisterhood: an epic tale of eight women whose lives—marked by fortune and poverty, power and powerlessness—encompass the spectacle, opportunity, and depravity of Italy’s Renaissance. Lucrezia Turnabuoni, Clarice Orsini, Beatrice d’Este, Isabella d’Este, Caterina Sforza, Giulia Farnese, Isabella d’Aragona, and Lucrezia Borgia shared the riches of their birthright: wealth, political influence, and friendship, but none were not exempt from personal tragedies, exile, and poverty. With riveting narrative, Leonie Frieda’s The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427–1527 brings to life a long-gone era filled with intrigue, corruption, and passion.

The Medicean Succession: Monarchy and Sacral Politics in Duke Cosimo dei Medici’s Florence (I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History)

Author: Gregory Murray

Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 3, 2014)

In 1537, Florentine Duke Alessandro dei Medici was murdered by his cousin and would-be successor, Lorenzino dei Medici. Lorenzino’s treachery forced him into exile, however, and the Florentine senate accepted a compromise candidate, seventeen-year-old Cosimo dei Medici. The senate hoped Cosimo would act as figurehead, leaving the senate to manage political affairs. But Cosimo never acted as a puppet. Instead, by the time of his death in 1574, he had stabilized ducal finances, secured his borders while doubling his territory, attracted an array of scholars and artists to his court, academy, and universities, and, most importantly, dissipated the perennially fractious politics of Florentine life. Gregory Murry argues that these triumphs were far from a foregone conclusion. Drawing on a wide variety of archival and published sources, he examines how Cosimo and his propagandists successfully crafted an image of Cosimo as a legitimate sacral monarch. Murry posits that both the propaganda and practice of sacral monarchy in Cosimo’s Florence channeled preexisting local religious assumptions as a way to establish continuities with the city’s republican and renaissance past. In The Medicean Succession, Murry elucidates the models of sacral monarchy that Cosimo chose to utilize as he deftly balanced his ambition with the political sensitivities arising from existing religious and secular traditions.

5 Books to Read Before Visiting Italy

Planning for a dream vacation is almost as fun as the vacation itself! Creating your Pinterest board, picking out your outfits, and, of course, figuring out which book will get you into proper vacation mode. When thinking about books to read before visiting Italy, you’ve probably heard of all of the obvious ones: Eat, Pray, Love Angels & Demons Under the Tuscan Sun. Well, we’re here to tell you that there’s more to Italy than Rome, and there’s more to Italian-inspired literature than Dan Brown. So sit back, brew a cup of tea, and settle in with our list of books to read before visiting Italy!

For the Trendsetters: The Neapolitan Novels, by Elena Ferrante

A certain Italian book series has taken the world by storm in the past several years: the Neapolitan Novels, by Elena Ferrante. The story follows two childhood friends — Elena and Lila — from their school years together, all the way through their teenage years and into adulthood. The book grew to popularity mostly for its engrossing portrayal of female friendship, but it’s also notable for its realistic, gritty, and graphic portrayal of Naples — a city that has been overshadowed in literature by its more famous siblings Rome, Florence, and Venice.

If you’re visiting Naples, you can now take a tour based on the book series! All the more reason to dig into those books before your trip.

If You Want a Thriller: The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

One of the classic books to read before visiting Italy: it’s got obsession and a love triangle, not to mention the 1990s movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, and Jude Law. Between all the plot twists and betrayals, there’s plenty of laying around on Italian beaches, riding mopeds through quaint little Italian streets, and a few charming boat rides (and maybe some less charming boat rides… no spoilers!) on stunning Italian coasts. The Italian beach town in the story, Mongibello, is fictional, however most of the movie was filmed on location in Positano, Rome, Ischia, and Anzio (near Rome).

The closest you’ll get in real life to the fictional setting of this book is along the Amalfi Coast. If you want a central base to explore the coast, try the Luna Villa (one block from the coast) or the Villa Mare directly on the coast (the ocean views from this one are almost as dramatic as the plot of Ripley, and that is saying A LOT). Also, if you’ve seen the film version then you might be interested to know that two of our apartments in Rome are in the palazzo where Ripley’s apartment was located: Landini and Cavaliere. In fact, several scenes in the movie were filmed in this palazzo.

For Art History Lovers: The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant

This is the story of a young woman from a wealthy family, living in Florence during the reign of the Medicis. Her family hires a young artist to stay with them and paint their chapel, and slowly Alessandra begins to fall for him. Though this book was written in 2003 and takes place in the 15th century, many of its themes and issues are relevant today: a woman’s place in society, art’s place in society, political power struggles, and gay rights, to name a few. It’s a bit of a romance mixed with some thriller-esque elements, with a healthy dose of Florentine history throughout. And if you’re headed to Florence, make sure to visit the famous Botticelli painting The Birth of Venus in the Uffizi Gallery.

We have a great selection of centrally located apartments in Florence, perfect for exploring the art scene. Don’t hesitate to book the one you want — these fill up fast during spring and summer!

For the Food Lovers: The Land Where Lemons Grow, by Helene Atlee

We couldn’t create a list of books to read before visiting Italy without mentioning something for the foodies out there. This book will convince you that lemons have been at the root of everything that has ever happened. This non-fiction book traces the history of the lemon in Italy and its use/historical importance in everything from perfumes to cocktails, from the Mafia to the Battle of the Oranges, from personal household gardens to matters of international politics. It’s an engrossing look at the history of Italy through the lens of this one fruit, and we guarantee you’ll never look at limoncello or marmalade the same way ever again!

For History Buffs: SPQR, by Mary Beard

You may know that Ancient Rome was one of the most powerful civilizations of all time, but do you know why or how it got to be that way, and then why or how it ended? Beard tells the history of Rome through the lens of certain demographics that don’t usually get much airtime: women, children, the poor. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and at 500+ pages, this book probably can’t be read in one either. Best to get started well before departing for the Eternal City.

If you’re staying in Rome, fear not: the city may be ancient, but the accommodations are modern paradises! Check out our list of popular apartments in some of Rome’s best neighborhoods.

What do you think of our list of books to read before visiting Italy? Once you have finished one or more of these page-turners, Contact Italy Perfect and we can help find the best apartment or villa for you and your whole family to create an Italian fairy tale story of your own. Email us at [email protected] or call toll free in North America at 1-888-308-6123.

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