Today I'm continuing my Italian reading list with the second part of my series of books about Italy. Last time I listed the memoirs; this time around I'm highlighting nonfiction and guidebooks.
Guidebooks are difficult to quantify as they are very subjective depending on the reader's taste as well as the destination. One guidebook publisher might offer an excellent book about Rome but fall short on another region. I've also found that most guides focus on the well-known destinations, creating a glut of overused information. They end up echoing each other, covering all the same sights and restaurants (while ignoring the wonderful places that are lesser known, for which people really need a guide!)
I've not found a single guidebook publisher that I can say I recommend across the board...it depends on the locale. I rarely purchase guides online; I want to look it over thoroughly before buying.
NONFICTION and GUIDEBOOKS
La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales
A fun and informative romp through the history, culture, art and sensuality of the beautiful Italian language.
Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World by Peter D’Epiro
Character sketches and historical background on famous and not-so-famous Italians who contributed to society, culture, art and technology.
Christ Stopped At Eboli by Carlo Levi
An Italian classic written by an anti-fascist doctor and artist exiled to Basilicata for his opposition to Mussolini. His chronicle of the poverty and neglect he found helped forge change in post-war southern Italy.
Under the Southern Sun: Stories of the Real Italy and the Americans It Created by Paul Paolicelli
A wonderful, researched and well-written look at the little known history and culture of southern Italy, and how they impacted those who immigrated to America.
The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
A vivid and colorful story of the discovery of a masterpiece by Caravaggio that was forgotten about and hidden in plain sight. Interspersed with background on Caravaggio, this book reads like a novel.
Eating & Drinking in Italy: Italian Menu Translator and Restaurant Guide by Andy Herbach
Called a ‘menu translator’ it is an indispensable guide to the different dishes around the varied regions of Italy. Small and packable with lots of information packed into it.
Eyewitness Travel Guide
They won’t get you very far off the beaten path, but as far as general guides go, these are good. They have good neighborhood maps, basic background, and a nice visual layout. They Eyewitness Guide to Rome is particularly good.
Blue Guide The Marche
The only English language guide devoted solely to this wonderful region. Much of the restaurant information is outdated, but it covers the sights and towns of Le Marche in detail.
TCI – The Touring Club Italiano books
If you read Italian, these are the best guides to grab. Good historical sketches, detailed descriptions and fairly extensive coverage. I rely heavily on the TCI guide gialle (yellow guides) and guide verdi (green guides). The yellow guides have more attractive and logical layouts, but the green guides are more indepth.
One Hundred & One Beautiful Small Towns of Italy
Lovely coffee table book that I was drawn to merely because Ascoli Piceno is featured on the cover (ciao amici!) It contains some predictable entries and some nice, lesser-known spots, as well.
In Love in Italy: A Traveler's Guide to the Most Romantic Destinations in the Country of Amore by Monica Larner
If you’re planning a honeymoon or romantic trip to the land of amore then this is the book for you! Included are destinations, hotels and restaurants, along with regional stories and recipes.
Guidebooks I Hated: Cadogan Guide - Southern Italy (insulting); Baedecker guides (ultra-dry).
Italian Reading List, Part I - Memoirs
Italian Reading List, Part III - Fiction