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Reading Up on Italy: 6 Great Books about Florence, Venice, and Rome

Venice, Florence, and Rome.  Italy's most enduring and enchanting cities: each with a unique history that has shaped the culture of their modern iterations.  To prepare for a journey to these three unforgettable cities, we've curated a short list of books we think are must-reads before and during your trip!

Venice, A New History by Thomas Madden

The history of La Serenissima is brought to colorful life in this exciting history of the enigmatic city that grew from an obscure backwater settled by Attila the Hun in 450 CE to an independent maritime powerhouse and playground for the rich and famous.  Madden is a prolific academic author with a passion for Italian history that makes this an eminently readable history of this unique city.

POPLO: A Venetian Cookbook (Of  Sorts) by Russell Norman

Russell Norman's restaurant Poplo in central London has long been a favorite for its authentic yet informal Venetian specialties.  His eponymous cookbook offers a delightful and delicious look at Venice's signature cuisine, featuring beautiful pictures, exquisite binding, and 120 mouthwatering but easy-to-execute recipes from Venice.  POPLO is an excellent primer to the culinary canon of Venice and a must-read for gourmands preparing for a trip to La Serenissima!

The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall by Christopher Hibbert

The lives of the talented and flamboyant Medici family come alive in Christopher Hibbert's excellent account of the web of money, power, and influence this Renaissance dynasty wielded in Florence and ultimately all over Italy by this powerful family.  Hibbert's history reads almost like a thriller with plenty of colorful detail about daily life in Renaissance Florence, as we meet and get to know the major Medici protagonists such as the patriarch Cosimo, his worthy successor, Lorenzo Il Magnifico, the wily Catherine de Medici who became Queen of France, and Pope Leo X, who famously quipped on his election: "God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it!"  This is a must-read book for travelers embarking on an exploration of Florence.

Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari

Vasari's contemporary account of the quattrocento art scene in Florence has stood the test of time as an invaluable resource for anyone embarking on a study of the Renaissance artists from Cimabue to Titian.  No serious student of art history should visit Florence without a copy as it remains the best guidebook to the Uffizi Gallery, which Vasari helped to design.  Lives of the Artists is renowned for its mix of witty chat and scholarly facts in a style all Vasari's own, which echoes down the centuries in this engaging account of the backgrounds, apprenticeships, personal lives, and achievements of great artists such as Giotto, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and others.  

Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich

Viscount Norwich, a prolific writer of histories as diverse and complex as The Middle Sea and A Short History of Byzantium (which is anything but) comes by his loquacity honestly.  He is the son of prominent diplomat and politician Duff Cooper and his wife Lady Diana Cooper, herself a noted diarist and socialite.  In Absolute Monarchs, the complex two-thousand year history of the papacy is a riveting blend of political and religious history that traces the development of the throne of St. Peter into both a sacred and secular power.  The book also provides a fascinating look at the personalities of the popes themselves from St. Peter to Benedict. 

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

The classical world has been abuzz since the publication in late 2015 of Mary Beard's authoritative and unapologetic look at the history of ancient Rome.  Beard traces the development of the city from an obscure backwater to an unchallenged and unrivaled empire stretching across Europe, North Africa and into the Middle East.  A Cambridge classics professor, Beard brings fresh insight to established sources and challenges our assumptions from earlier foundation texts such as Gibbon's Decline and Fall of Ancient Rome about how the Romans achieved all they did and what daily life was like in ancient Rome.

Alexander + Roberts make exploring Venice, Florence and Rome a delightful experience by linking the three cities by comfortable rail travel.  Speak to our knowledgeable reservation agents about our popular Italy By Rail itinerary.  

Posted: 1/26/2016 12:10:18 PM by Alexander + Roberts