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Books About Italy: The Best Ones to Give and to Get for 2020

Italy always inspires a bounty of books, and this year has been no different.

Here are some of the books that I have read or put on my wish list for 2020. They include novels, travelogues, cookbooks, and books about Italian history. Note that a few of these books were not published this year, but are included on this list for personal reasons or timeliness. 

See also my list of coffee table books and my bookshelf for even more ideas.

Literature

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere

Travel writer Jan Morris passed away in 2020, spurring many to revisit her extensive catalog. One of Morris’s most acclaimed books is “Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere,” which The Boston Globe called “the best book written in the 21st century.”


The Lying Life of Adults

I wrote about Elena Ferrante’s latest book when the English version was published in September 2020. Then, I read it hungrily. This book is not part of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, but it feels like a related episode from the world of Naples that has inspired all of Ferrante’s other books.


Neapolitan Chronicles

If you have read everything that Elena Ferrante has published, why not go back to the book that inspired her? Ferrante was heavily influenced by writer Anna Maria Ortese, whose Neapolitan Chronicles has been re-translated by Ferrante translator Ann Goldstein.

Cookbooks

The Roads to Rome

Chef and food writer Jarrett Wrisley and his business partner photographer Paolo Vitaletti spent five years compiling this elegant cookbook and travelogue about the food of Rome. The pair own Appia, an authentic Roman restaurant in Bangkok (which I visited and loved in 2019).


The Sicily Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from a Mediterranean Island

Published in March 2020, this beautiful cookbook got overlooked because of the pandemic. The Sicily Cookbook covers all types of Sicilian cooking, including Cucina Povera (peasant food), Cibo di Strada (street food), and Cucina dei Monsù (sophisticated food).


Beppina and the Kitchens of Arezzo: Life & Culinary History in an Ancient Tuscan City

Part cookbook, part historical mystery, this book puts together southern Tuscan recipes that were found at the back of an antique copy of an influential Italian cookbook from the 19th century.

Nonfiction

Venice: The Lion, the City and the Water

Renowned Dutch travel writer Cees Nooteboom recounts his lifetime of visits to Venice. Per reviewer Alberto Manguel, Nooteboom “has achieved the impossible: to say something new about the ageless city about which everything has been said.”


The Hero’s Way: Walking with Garibaldi from Rome to Ravenna

Tim Parks consistently writes engaging books about Italy, examining its history and traditions in clever ways. This book follows in the footsteps of Garibaldi, putting the journey into a modern context.


The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps

Cartophiles and lovers of Rome will want to add this beautiful book, with over 140 color images, to their collection. Author Jessica Maier “considers Rome through the eyes of mapmakers and artists who have managed to capture something of its essence over the centuries.”


Story of My People: Essays and Social Criticism on Italy’s Economy

I began reading this short memoir at the beginning of 2020 and couldn’t put it down. Winner of the 2011 Strega Prize, Edoardo Nesi’s book discusses his life in Prato and how his family textile business has changed in the wake of globalization.


The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo How to Paint

When it comes to Leonardo da Vinci, science and art are a natural pair. This book pieces together Leonardo’s life and exposes how his interest in science ultimately informed his artistic abilities.


Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe

Written by world-renowned British archaeologist Judith Herrin, this book is a comprehensive look at the history of Ravenna during its golden age. You can read more here.

Last Updated: February 9, 2021

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