woman reading on a stack of books at themost beautiful bookshop in Venice

Best Books Set in Italy – Novels Set in Italy

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Books Set in Italy

I originally wrote this post about the best books set in Italy when we were in Florence in 2016. We spent another three months in Italy in 2022 and it was time for an update to include more non-fiction and fiction books set in Italy.

One of the ways I try to immerse myself in Italian culture both before and during the trip is through story. Books that take place in Italy put you right there in the country (if they are well written!). 

I am using the original post about novels set in Italy as scaffolding and adding the new books in with the ones I read on that first trip to Florence, Cinque Terre, and other parts of Tuscany.


Novels set in italy, Books set in Italy fiction

Last month I started my online book club and asked for your recommendations for books set in Italy. I want to get your input on your favorite reads set in places we are visiting. I am mainly looking for fiction or creative nonfiction. While I love travelogues, I don’t need guidebooks. I want to be entertained while getting a broader picture of the place we staying.

Reading these books set in Italy while in Italy enriched my time there and made the stories more meaningful.

There are a ton of books set in Italy, of course. Some of your suggestions for fiction set in Italy (Angels and Demons; Eat, Pray, Love, Under the Tuscan Sun) I have already read. And there is only so much time – four weeks! 

I’ve compiled a list of the best books and top-selling novels set in Italy in a bunch of genres.

From stories that include the history of Italy, to Italian romance novels, to memoirs, to classic Italian fiction, to young adult books, and some hidden gems, you’ll see some of the best books about Italy. If you read them all you will have a pretty good Italian education.

Add your favorite Italy-themed books in the comments so we all have more options. 

I’ve included links to both Amazon and Bookshop.org where possible. You can see my entire Bookshop.org shop in one place.

Best Books About Italy


Tuscany and Umbria: The Collected Traveler — an Inspired Companion Guide by Barrie Kerper

Tuscany and Umbria: The Collected Traveler —an Inspired Companion Guide by Barrie Kerper, with Best books set in italyItalian Setting: Tuscany and Umbria

I bought this book at the recommendation of my friend, Mariann. In addition to having articles, interviews, recipes, and quotes from writers, visitors, residents, and experts on the region…recommendations for books, restaurants, wineries, and other suggestions were listed. This is where I got the idea to visit Fiesole from Florence and to read Birth of Venus. The book recommends novels set in Tuscany, novels set in Florence, and other books based in Italy.

This may be one of my favorite travel books. I stuck to the sections on Florence and Siena since those are the places we stayed, but would dive back in if we went to other places in Tuscany and Umbria. There are similar books for Paris and Istanbul and I’ll definitely be getting them when we get to one of those places.

See reviews or buy Tuscany and Umbria on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy Tuscany and Umbria on Bookshop.org here.


Best Classic Italian Fiction

Church in Florence Italy where you can read the best books set in Italy

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

A Room with a View by E.M. Forester, Best novels set in italy Italian Setting: Florence and Fiesole

This is such a classic that I felt I had to reread it. And I am glad I did.

Of the books I read, the ones set in Florence, Italy were my favorite, because we spent most of our time there.

 Written in 1908, this book is a social commentary – and a funny one! – about a young woman struggling against straitlaced Victorian attitudes. She meets an adventurous British man while in Italy and falls in love. The only problem is that she already has a fiance. But the young people find a way.

Seeing Florence through early 20th-century British eyes while in Florence, was a great perspective. And it was a pretty cute tale of an Italian adventure

See reviews or buy A Room with a View on Amazon here (it’s free on Kindle!)

See reviews or buy A Room with a View on Bookshop.org here. 

 


The Takeover by Muriel Sparks

The Takeover by Muriel Sparks, Best fiction books set in italyItalian Setting: Lake Nemi

This is a comedy that takes place in the 1970s in a villa on Lake Nemi. I did not find it as darkly comedic as the reviewers on Amazon, but it was entertaining.

The Takeover is a suspenseful, acidic comedy about the clash between the conventions of old wealth and the inevitable tide of modernity. It is a testament to the mind and work of ‘The most sharply original fictional imagination of our time.’” So says the Sunday Times.

I don’t know if it was the way it was written or that I didn’t know what time period it was taking place in until I went back to the copyright, but this book was a little confusing for me at first. Read the book flap before the story.

See reviews or buy The Takeover on Amazon here.


Invisible Cities by Italo CalvinoThe Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

 

cover of Italian book,Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino Italo Calvino was an Italian writer and journalist (born in Cuba, raised in Italy), best known for his Our Ancestors trilogy, the Complete Cosmicomics collection of short stories, Invisible Cities, Italian Folktales, and If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

Calvino is known for his imaginative and whimsical short stories, novels, and the Italian folktales woven into many of his stories. By reading his novels, you gain valuable insights into the Italian mind and culture.

Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities is a novel composed of a series of conversations between the fictional explorer Marco Polo and the Chinese emperor Kublai Khan. Marco Polo describes 55 different cities that he visited during his travels. The stories are allegories of different aspects of human life, such as memory, desire, and time.

See reviews or buy Invisible Cities on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy Invisible Cities on Bookshop.org here.

The Baron In The Trees (Our Ancestors Book 2)

Cover of best books about Italy The Baron in the Trees by Italo CalvinoI quite enjoyed this story of Cosimo di Rondó, a nobleman who as an adolescent boy climbs into a tree and lives the rest of his life there. In fact, it may be one of my favorite books set in Italy. It’s a fun read!

While in the tree he meets a young woman named Viola and together they have many adventures in, on, and around the trees of their 18th-century Italian village. It’s sweet, funny, and of course, allegorical.

Calvino’s writing is lyrical, his stories are often funny, and his characters are loveable. I highly recommend both of these novels to anyone interested in Italian culture or literature.

See reviews or buy The Baron in the Trees on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy The Baron in the Trees on Bookshop.org here.

The Cloven Viscount is book one of the Our Ancestors trilogy and The Nonexistent Knight is book three. They all stand alone.

Any of his books are a great choice for reading an Italian author while in Italy or as an armchair travel experience.

See other Italo Calvino books here.


A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Cover of book A Farewell To Arms by Ernest HemingwayItalian setting: Dolomites

I loved reading Ernest Hemingway but I haven’t read his work in quite a while. I had actually never read A Farewell to Arms and looked forward to reading it while in the Dolomites. 

The bulk of the story actually takes place near Slovenia and Milan, but close enough. I’d forgotten what a trance-like experience reading Hemingway can be like. His prose reads almost like a prayer or mantra. 

This work, his first big success, follows an American ambulance driver in World War I serving near Gorizia who falls in love with a British Nurse.

Frederick Henry first meets Catherine Barkley when his Italian surgeon friend asks him to accompany him to the hospital to meet her. The two fall in love almost instantly but she’s had some emotional trauma from a prior marriage and it’s a bit rocky. Later, when Henry is wounded and sent to Milan, she is at the hospital and their love affair grows and Catherine gets pregnant. He pledges to remain loyal but must return to the front just before the German/Austrian offensive of 1917 forces the Italians to retreat. 

In the chaos, Henry is accused of desertion and about to be summarily executed but he escapes and makes his way back to Milan and Catherine. They escape to Switzerland and spend a happy few months in the mountains. It ends with Catherine dying in childbirth.

I had a hard time buying into the love affair aspect and honestly, found the 1920s-era feminine helplessness fairly annoying. Hemingway apparently believed in an iceberg theory of writing where the author leaves the bulk of meaning unsaid, but still, it didn’t really engage me. 

The nihilism of the story fits in well with the Lost Generation themes of that school. If you are looking for a rollicking adventure story, look elsewhere. The book reads like a meditative mantra and has very little to make you smile. 

If you are looking for a deep, thought-provoking book on the meaninglessness of war and a tragic love story, this book is for you.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to learn more about the Italian Front of WWI, check out The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 by Mark Thompson.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway was reviewed by Henry.

See reviews or buy A Farewell to Arms on Amazon here. 

See reviews or buy A Farewell to Arms on Bookshop.org here. 


Best Italian Historical Fiction

View of Best Italian Historical Fiction church in Florence Italy

A lot of Italy books cross genres, so you will find romance in the historical fiction section. 

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, Italian romance books, historical romance Italian Setting: Florence

I haven’t read any other books by Scottish thriller writer, Sarah Dunant, and might not be drawn to this normally, but when in Florence…. I am glad I gave it a chance because I really enjoyed it. It’s not a thriller, but Italian historical fiction.

It’s the 15th century and Alessandra Cecchi is almost 15-years-old. She grew up in the Renaissance, appreciating luxury, art, and poetry – all the things Florence is so famous for. Her father brings a painter to live with them and paint a fresco on their family chapel. Of course, Alessandra falls for him before being whisked into an arranged marriage with an older man.

The story is entertaining as is getting a picture of Florence at the time the Renaissance was coming up against religious zeal. It was an interesting look into the everyday life of a wealthy family during changing times.

See reviews or buy The Birth of Venus on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy The Birth of Venus on Bookshop.org here.


The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

Italian historical novel cover for the Venice Sketchbook by Rhys BowenItaly setting: Venice

I am not sure if this should be in the Italian Historical Fiction section or Italy Romance Novels… probably both.

The general premise is Juliet ‘Lettie’ Browning visited Venice in1928 through the Second World War years and fell in love with a man she never saw again. On her deathbed in 2001, she leaves her great-niece Caroline a key and a mystery to solve. The story is told in dual timelines.

Caroline is at a low point in her life when she sets off to Venice to try to figure out Lettie’s mystery and what she was doing in the Floating City. 

The story was a little slow at times and quite rich in descriptions of Venice and the food. Maybe a little too rich in descriptions, but overall it was a fun read. 

See reviews or buy The Venice Sketchbook on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy The Venice Sketchbook on Bookshop.org here. 


The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen Italy BooksItaly setting: Tuscany

Like The Venice Sketchbook, the story takes place in dual timelines and could be considered both Historical Fiction and Italian Romance. Maybe I need a new category – Historical Romance. And like The Venice Sketchbook, and an adult child goes to Italy to uncover her relative’s past and thus discovers a life for herself.

In this case, Joanna travels to Tuscany to find out what happened to her father, a British bomber who parachuted out of a stricken plane in 1944.

The story follows Hugo, the father, who hides out above a small town and falls in love with the woman who helps care for him and nurse him back to health. In the other timeline, Joanna falls in love with the village (and one of its residents) as she works to uncover the mystery of her father’s crash and the child he left behind.

I felt the ending was a bit rushed and not quite believable, but nonetheless enjoyed the story as a whole. The descriptions of the Tuscan hill town took me there and reminded me that for historical fiction, Italy is the perfect setting.

See reviews or buy Tuscan Child on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy The Tuscan Child on Bookshop.org here. 


The Tuscan House by Angela Petch

Cover of the Italian novel, The Tuscan House by Angela PetchItaly setting: Tuscany

Set in the Tuscan countryside of Corbello, Italy in 1947, this story captures the hardships and heartbreak of ordinary citizens who found the courage to fight against the Nazis during WWII and the aftermath of the war on the people of Italy. 

The story begins with Richard Morrehouse, an Englishman who joined the Friends Ambulance Unit as an orderly where he served in Tuscany, Italy during the war. Disgruntled by post-war England, he returns to Corbello for a “thank-you” celebration and is given a warm welcome by the locals. 

While walking through town he sees an abandoned tobacco tower and decides to buy it to renovate as his new home. During the excavation process, the body of a woman wearing a brooch is found.

Meanwhile, a woman, Fosca Sentino, and her small son arrive in town to the shock of the entire community because everyone thinks that the body of the dead woman is hers. The rest of the story shares Fosca’s life during the war and pieces together her association with the dead woman and her role in the resistance including widespread corruption that may have led to the woman’s death.  I found it to be a suspenseful page-turner with plot twists that kept me captivated.

Review by Annette R. Rexroad. Find her on Instagram @the_rexroads!

See reviews or buy The Tuscan House on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy The Tuscan House on Bookshop.org here.


Best Romance Novels Set in Italy

Italian romance by a statue in Rome

A lot of books set in Italy cross genres, so you will find historical fiction in the romance section. 

A Harvest of Secrets by Roland Merullo

Book cover for Harvest of Secrets Italy bookItalian setting: Montelpuciano

This is the story of two secret lovers separated by war in Italy, in 1943. Vittoria SanAntonio, the daughter of a prominent vineyard owner in Montelpuciano, is mortified that her father forces her to deliver wine to the Nazi army as a means of eliciting favors. 

A harrowing experience with a German officer fuels her to join “la Resistenza” where she must find the courage to fight for herself, her brother, and the vineyard workers. Her lover, Carlo Conte, a poor vineyard helper who has gone off to war to fight in Mussolini’s army against his will, is badly wounded while fighting in Southern Italy. He decides that he must get back to Vittoria and embarks on a journey north through German-occupied Italy. 

The story is filled with twists and turns and captures the courage of the Italian people fighting against the Nazis during WWII. I read this while currently living in northern Italy and it has become one of my favorite WWII historical fiction books.  Seeing the Italian countryside and meeting ordinary Italians has driven home the remarkable resilience of this country.  

Review by Annette R. Rexroad. Find her on Instagram @the_rexroads!

See reviews or buy A Harvest of Secrets on Amazon here. 

See reviews or buy A Harvest of Secrets on Bookshop.org here.


Best Novels Set in Italy

sign for Liberia Acqua Alta bookshop in Venice Italy with a cat

The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti

Cover of book The Eight Mountains by Paolo CognettiItalian setting: The Dolomites and Milan

This is one of the best Italian novels I read, at least in my opinion. It’s about a boy who grows up in Milan but spends his summers in a tiny mountain village in the Dolomites. He forms a deep friendship with a local boy as they explore the mountains together. 

As Pietro’s family grows more distant, they cling to the mountains as their point of connection. And as Pietro grows up and begins to explore the larger world, he is drawn back to the mountains of his boyhood to reinforce his own connections. His relationship with Bruno, who never really leaves the mountains, grows and changes as well.

I read this partially while hiking through the Dolomites and found his descriptions of the range spot-on. 

Cognetti does a stellar job of capturing the feeling of being in the mountains – the excitement, attention to detail, and “rightness” one feels among lofty peaks, gurgling creeks, and sketchy scree slopes.

It’s always nice the read books that take place in Italy by an Italian author and this was elegantly written and translated.

See reviews or buy The Eight Mountains on Amazon here. 

See reviews or buy The Eight Mountain on Bookshop.org here.


The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani

Cover of The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani Italy BooksItalian setting: Viareggio, Italy

A saga spanning four generations of the Cabrelli family through present connections and stories of the past. The main storyline follows the spirited great-grandmother, Domenica, and her love of her small coastal town of Viareggio where grows up to become a nurse.

On the brink of World War II, Domenica is sent away as punishment for providing family planning advice under the strict Catholic rule of her town. Through the war, she works as a nurse in convents in Marseille and Scotland, facing the hardships of war, lost love, and harsh treatment for her identity as an Italian.

When the war is over she returns to her beloved town with her daughter, Matelda. Present day, her daughter knows her time left is short as she imparts wisdom, stories, and family heirlooms to both her daughter and granddaughter. A beautiful and heartbreaking story, brimming with vivid details of Italian food, catholic ritual, and coastal scenery.

Review by Lauren Cuellar. See more of her book reviews on Instagram! 

See reviews or buy The Good Left Undone on Amazon here. 

See reviews or buy The Good Left Undone on Bookshop.org here.


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Cover of book Beautiful Ruins by Jess WalterItaly Setting: Cinque Terre/Italian Riveria

Yet another dual timeline story, this time jumping between 1960s Italy and modern-day Hollywood.

Innkeeper Pasquale lives in a rocky coastline village called Porto Vergogna (Port of Shame), which later becomes part of the Cinque Terre, but at the time is visited by almost no one. Then an American actress who has a part in the Elizabeth Taylor / Richard Burton film Cleopatra comes to stay. Pasquale and Dee Moray fall in love before she disappears from his life forever.

The other timeline begins when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier. So starts this novel with a lot of characters, most of whom you wouldn’t want to know in real life. There are many people and overlapping narratives to keep track of in this story and I found it a little coarse in places, but funny or poignant in others. The descriptions of the Italian Riviera were wonderful. 

See reviews or buy Beautiful Ruins on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy Beautiful Ruins on Bookshop.org here.


The Ice-Cream Makers by Ernest van den Kwast

Cover of The Ice-Cream Makers by Ernest Van Der Kwast Italy booksItaly setting: The Dolomites and Northern Italy

The Ice-Cream Makers is a multi-generational story about a family of ice cream makers who originate in northern Italy and open a shop in the Netherlands. It bounces between the “invention” of ice cream in the Italian mountains where men would go to dig up ice and snow to create their concoctions and the family running the business in the Netherlands.

The main character, Giovanni, wishes to become a poet rather than an ice cream maker and his younger brother ends up taking over the business. He doesn’t want to be an ice cream maker either. It seems like no one other than the first family member to start the business wants to do it. 

The female characters did not ring true to me at all and the “romantic” scenes were definitely written by a man, though some were meant to be from a woman’s perspective. It kept pulling me out of the story because I could not believe the female characters were real. 

I liked the parts about old-times ice cream making most of all and it made me think a little more about all the gelato I ate in Italy (in a good way).

See reviews or buy The Ice Cream Makers on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy The Ice Cream Makers on Bookshop.org here.


Best Italian Memoirs

mountains in the back and meadow in the front with a trail leading away from camera

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Book cover for Under the Tuscan Sun and book set in ItalyItalian setting: Cortona in Tuscany 

Frances Mayes, an American writer, decides on a whim to buy and restore an abandoned villa in the Tuscan countryside. She is looking for a big change and an opportunity to shake up her life.

She falls in love with the process of renovating the property and discovers a new passion for Italian cuisine and wine while getting to know a cast of colorful characters.

This is one of the most popular books set in Italy and was made into a movie starring Diane Lane.

She also has a two-book set that includes Bella Tuscany and Under the Tuscan Sun so you can get the entire Tuscan experience.

See reviews or buy Under the Tuscan Sun on Amazon here. 

See reviews or buy Under the Tuscan Sun on Bookshop.org here.


Bella Figura: How to Live, Love, and Eat the Italian Way by Kamin Mohammadi 

Book cover of Bella Figura Italy setting: Florence

Kamin Mohammadi, a magazine editor in London, is given the opportunity to escape heartbreak and loneliness by taking up an offer to move to a friend’s apartment in Florence for a year.  She quickly learns that the Italian way of life is to make life as beautiful as it can be, otherwise known as Bella figura

She shares the many ways that Italians find joy in daily living and soon finds herself living a better life, the Italian way.  I absolutely loved this book and have even bought it as an audiobook to read again.  

Review by Annette R. Rexroad. Find her on Instagram @the_rexroads!

See reviews or buy Bella Figura: How to Live, Love, and Eat the Italian Way on Amazon here. 

See reviews or buy Bella Figura: How to Live, Love, and Eat the Italian Way on Bookshop.org here.


Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach

Italy setting: Florence

Only one chapter of Educating Alice qualifies for an Italy books list, but it’s still a fun read. Alice Steinbach takes a year to travel and learn new things – French cooking in Paris, gardening in Provence, traditional Japanese arts in Kyoto, and most importantly for this list… art in Florence. 

She visits Florence to take a class but ends up literally wandering down a small street and figuratively wandering through a small slice of Florentine history.

As much as learning new skills, Steinbach’s story is about meeting and connecting with people through travel. It’s about novel experiences and lifelong learning. You’ll wish you could take a year to explore the world!

See reviews or buy Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman on Amazon here. 

See reviews or buy Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman on Bookshop.org here. 


Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Cover of Eat, Pray, Love book an Italian memoirItaly setting: Naples and Rome

This book is surprisingly contentious. It seems you either love it or hate it.

We all know the story by now. After a divorce and serious depression, Gilbert sets out to “examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasures in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.” 

Only the first part is in Italy where Gilbert explores beauty and food. In addition to Rome and Naples, Gilbert took side trips to other regions of the country. She traveled through Parma, Bologna, and Montepulciano

I’ll admit, I loved this book when I read it in 2007. I like stories about change, hope, exploration, and self-knowledge. I think going into this book without knowing a single thing about it – it was sitting on my mom’s coffee table during a visit – helped. Now that there is so much hype (and a movie starring Julie Roberts) it’s harder not to have an opinion going in.

See reviews or buy Eat, Pray, Love on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy Eat, Pray, Love on Bookshop.org here.


Best Italian Crime Fiction

Italian Crime Fiction photo of person in dark alley

Inferno (Robert Langdon book 4) by Dan Brown

Inferno (Robert Langdon book 4) by Dan Brown, Italian books, Dante, books set in FlorenceItalian Setting: Florence and Venice

While the story is not Pulitzer material, it was fun to read a book set in Florence. It’s book four in the Robert Langdon series—you remember The Da Vinci Code. This time Robert Langdon ends up in Florence, though he doesn’t remember why. He has to follow clues left by a mad villain in time to save the world.

Henry and I both read it. We rarely read the same book, so it was nice to have someone to talk to about the story, the places in the book, and what we thought about it. Henry and I agreed that learning about Dante and Florence’s history was a highlight. We even took an Inferno Tour at the Palazzo Vecchio, which was super interesting because we got to go into the roof, through secret passageways, and visit other places not open to the general public.

We visited a lot of museums in Florence, Italy, and loved that this book got us to a couple more. 

See reviews or buy Inferno on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy Inferno on Bookshop.org here.

When we were in Italy, we toured the Inferno sites in Florence and made this video.

Another Dan Brown book, Angeles and Demons, is set partially in Italy. In this book, Robert Langdon chases down the Illuminati in Rome and Vatican City.


Death in the Dolomites (Rick Montoya Italian Mysteries Book 2) by David P. Wagner

book covers in the Rick Montoya series by David WagnerItalian setting: Campiglio in the Dolomites

This is the second book in the Rick Montoya Italian Mysteries series, but you don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy this good book.

Rick Montoya is a translator from New Mexico who now lives in Rome. He has one Italian parent and one American parent.

In this book, he visits an alpine resort in the Dolomites. When a dead body shows up, he’s pulled into investigating.

Wagner does a great job of making you feel like you’re in the Dolomites. I could picture the snow-capped mountains and quaint villages. It was just like when we hiked through the Dolomites on the Alta Via 2 trail, except in winter.

Admittedly, the dialogue seems really stilted to me and it was hard for me to get past that.

But overall, the Rick Montoya series is a fun, easy read if you’re looking for something set in Italy that isn’t too heavy.

See reviews or buy Death in the Dolomites on Amazon here.

See reviews or buy Death in the Dolomites on Bookshop.org here. 

Here are the Rick Montoya Italian Mysteries in order:


Commissario Brunetti Series by Donna Leon 

Book Covers of Commissario Brunetti Series by Donna Leon Italian setting: Venice

Guido Brunetti, Commissario of Police in Venice, Italy, is the star of Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti mystery series, all books based in Italy.

Since being introduced in Leon’s first book in 1992, Death At La Fenice, Brunetti has solved a crime in Venice each year, making for a prolific detective series and ensuring that you won’t run out of books for a while.

Brunetti is a different kind of inspector than we normally see in crime fiction. Arminta Wallace of the Irish Times wrote, unlike the typical “shambolic, hard-drinking, over-worked policeman”, he is “presentable and well-read. He gets home for dinner” and he “seems to enjoy the company of his wife Paola and their kids.” He is likable.

From the death of a transvestite prostitute who turns out to be a pillar of the community to corruption to the mafia, to murder in a convent hospital, to trade art, these books span a variety of crimes taking place in the Floating City. There are all manner of mysteries set in Italy and if thrillers are your thing, you are in for a treat.

Here are Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti books in order.


Best Italian History

man holding up a tin can from world war one on a rocky slope in the Dolomites

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 by Mark Thompson 

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 by Mark Thompson Italian setting: Gorizia

While the history of WWI most of us learned about focuses on the Western Front in France, Mark Thompson writes about one of the lesser-known fronts of the war, in Italy. 

The book covers not just the military movements and tactics but also a lot of the cultural movements and political motivations that led Italy to renounce its alliance with Germany and Austria and side with the Allies. 

It’s a long book but I found the motivations of the leaders, the role that cultural movements of the time played, and the bargaining of the politicians fascinating. History buffs will enjoy the foray into Italian politics and their role in the war.

Like other fronts on the war, the arrogance of military and political leaders coupled with the total devaluation of human lives of the lower classes disgusted me, but the book does a good job of making sure to cover the view of the soldiers on the ground as well.

I also liked the fact that the book talks about some of the smaller things I wouldn’t have thought about that affected the war, such as the fact that because Italy was relatively recently unified and still a fairly poor country, much of the southern peasants conscripted into the army could not understand their high born officers, or many times, other people in their units. The patchwork quilt aspect of the soldiery serves as a reminder of a pre-nationalist era. When empires were formed by conquest began to devolve into nations, mostly, built on cultural identity. 

While the bulk of the heavy fighting took place on the Isonzo around Gorizia, we were able to see remnants of the war on our recent Alta Via 2 trek in the South Tyrol. On our last day, we found significant amounts of barbed wire and old rusty tin cans from the war fought at over 8,000 feet and over 100 hundred years ago. It was a stark reminder that the history I was reading about on a page was real for all the people who suffered while taking part.

The White War was reviewed by Henry.

See reviews or buy The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 from Amazon here.

See reviews or buy The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 from Bookshop.org here.


Join the Book Club!

Don’t miss these other book reviews and suggestions perfect for both the armchair traveler and those who like to read books set in the country in which they are traveling.


These books set in Italy are great reading for a trip to Italy, even if it's from your armchair. #bookclub #italy

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10 thoughts on “Best Books Set in Italy – Novels Set in Italy”

  1. I have read all the Donna Leon books, but they are based in Venice, not Florence but have found them to all be good reads!
    Thanks for the book list—many will go onto my “to read” list!!

  2. I like this idea of an online book club set in different locations! Maybe I’ll pick up one of these on one of my longer trips. I don’t have much time to read anymore at home unfortunately!

  3. Having a travel book club is such a unique idea! As you said, it would be truly enriching to be reading a book set in the location you are visiting. I think the only book you mentioned that I’ve read is the Da Vinci Code and I have yet to read Eat, Pray Love!

  4. I left my heart and soul in the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Ravello. Books I have read on Italy ITALIAN LESSONS by Peter Pezzelli, LIVING IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE by Michael Tucker, THE LIGHT I N T HE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian, UP AT THE VILLA Somerset Maugham,, THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, A HOUSE IN SICILY by Daphne Phelps THE TUSCAN CHILD by Rhys Bowen,TRAVELING IN ITALY WITH HENRY JAMES -just to name a few.

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