Last Updated on June 25, 2023 by Louisa
Italy is a country that I have always enjoyed travelling to.
Although a small country, it has so many different landscapes and settings, from the rocky mountains of the Dolomites to the stunning riviera of the Almafi Coast, to Rome’s fascinating wonder of the world.
It’s no wonder that it has been an inspirational backdrop to many authors.
Though we may not be able to travel to Italy ourselves right now, one of the greatest ways to experience the country is by reading books set in Italy.
In this guide, I have listed all the best Italian books that will transform you from your sofa into a romance story set in the hills of Tuscany, or maybe even an action-packed mystery.
It will have you running through the streets of Florence while escaping a police chase, or through the ruins of Pompeii where you’ll learn about the travesty that happened there.
Whatever genre you prefer, these are the best books about Italy for any bookworm. Enjoy!
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Best Fiction Books Set in Italy
If you’re a lover of fiction and want to be transformed from reality into a story that has you completely enticed, then it’s no wonder you’re searching for the best books about Italy.
These are the absolute best fiction novels set in Italy.
1. Inferno – Dan Brown
Of course, I must begin my list with Dan Brown’s Inferno, which is a fast-paced, action-packed novel set in Italy that is my absolute favorite of the Robert Langdon series.
It follows symbologist and intellect Robert Langdon as he is taken from the University of Harvard where he works and wakes up in a hospital in Florence. When he wakes up, he has no idea where he is or why he’s there.
Suddenly, the hospital is attacked by what seems to be hordes of people with masks on, and soon after, Langdon realizes that he’s in the middle of an epic battle between good and evil.
The novel follows his journey as he tries to find out who is behind the attack and why.
Inferno is an incredibly captivating read that will have you on the edge of your seat the entire way through. Also made into a motion picture starring Tom Hanks – but the book is WAYYYY better.
Another popular book set in Italy by Dan Brown is Angels and Demons, which is also excellent, but I personally prefer Inferno.
2. Romeo And Juliet – William Shakespeare
A classic, and of course a must-read for anyone who wasn’t forced to study William Shakespeare in high school.
If you don’t know the story, Romeo and Juliet is a forbidden romance book about two lovers who fall in love but are forbidden to marry by their families.
Unable to bear the thought of living without each other, they kill themselves rather than be parted. The story is incredibly tragic, but also incredibly romantic and heart-wrenching.
If you’re a lover of Shakespeare, or just want to read a great story, Romeo and Juliette is a must-read.
3. The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri
If you love classic literature and poetry, you must read The Divine Comedy, written by Italian poet Dante Alighieri.
The Divine Comedy is an epic poem that tells the journey of Dante’s journey through the nine circles of hell, purgatory, and heaven.
Along the way, Dante meets a variety of characters and experiences many different emotions, including happiness, sadness, and anger.
If you’re a fan of great literature or just want to read an interesting and captivating story, The Divine Comedy is a must-read.
4. The Shape of Water – Andrea Camilleri
The Shape of Water is the first in a series of Italy books by Andrea Camilleri, that follow Inspector Montalbano through a series of mysteries.
Montalbano is a likable and well-intentioned detective, who often gets caught up in complex and difficult cases.
The Shape of Water is an exciting and fast-paced mystery, set in an Italian coastal town during the 1960s.
If you’re a fan of crime fiction or just want to read an interesting and suspenseful story, The Shape of Water is for you.
5. A Room with a View – E. M. Forster
A Room With A View is about a young woman who travels to Italy with her sister.
Upon checking into their hotel, they were promised a room with a view of the River Arno, but instead, receive a room facing the courtyard.
When Mr. Emerson and his son George offer their room to the two ladies, one of which has a desirable view, our story begins.
This hilarious and romantic novel set in Italy and England is not only well-written and captivating but tells us what life was like living amongst the proprieties of Edwardian-era society.
6. Almost Blue – Carlo Lucarelli
When a serial killer targets students in the city of Bologna, female detective Grazia Negro is tasked with solving the case.
Almost Blue is a suspenseful and terrifying thriller with surprising twists and turns.
In this Italian novel, Detective Grazia Negro must rely on her skills of observation, deduction, and problem-solving in order to catch the killer.
This beautifully written crime novel will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
7. My Italian Bulldozer – Alexander McCall Smith
Paul Stewart is a writer who decides to escape the stress of city life and heads to the Italian town of Montalcino to finish his already late book.
However, upon arrival at the airport, he discovers his hire car is nowhere to be found. Just when all hope was lost, a man offers him an alternative: a bulldozer.
With no other alternative, Paul accepts, and so begins a hilarious and captivating adventure of one man and his bulldozer through the Italian countryside.
This heartwarming story set in Italy will be sure to put a smile on your face.
8. The Enchanted April – Elizabeth Von Armin
Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot are avid churchgoers, dutiful wives, and never do anything wrong.
That is until they decide to rent a castle together in Italy for one month. When they arrive, they are instantly unhappy.
In this beautiful novel set in Italy, you are taken on a journey of self-discovery, of learning to overcome obstacles and finding happiness with what you have.
9. The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
Tom Ripley is a casual extortionist from New York City, who meets Herbert Greenleaf, the father of one of Tom’s acquaintances, who pays Tom to travel to Europe to persuade his son, Dickie, to come home.
When Tom and Dickie meet, and Tom reveals his true intentions for traveling to Italy, the two become friends and begin to travel around Italy together.
However, Tom sees that Dickie has a good life here in Italy, and he wants in…and he will do anything to get it, including murder.
After assuming Dickie’s identity, Mr Tom Ripley finds keeping his new life undercover is not as easy as he thought.
10. The Dressmaker’s Secret – Charlotte Betts
This stunning romance novel set in Italy in 1819 tells the story of Emilia Barton and her mother Sarah, who live a nomadic life, traveling from place to place as dressmakers.
When they settle in the gorgeous coastal town of Pesaro, Emilia desperately hopes that it will be their permanent home. But when her mother is brutally attacked, a deathbed confession changes everything.
Emilia seeks refuge as a dressmaker in the household of Princess Caroline of Brunswick, where she experiences her first love with the charming Alessandro.
But her past troubles her. When the Princess sends her to London for an assignment, she intends to unravel the truth along the way.
Best Non-Fiction Books Set in Italy
If you’re a sucker for a true love story, a gripping tale from the past or you just want to learn about the land of Italy, then these non-fiction novels set in Italy are for you.
11. Italy for the Gourmet Traveller – Fred Plotkin
Are you a foodie who loves to travel? Then you will absolutely need to read Italy for the Gourmet Traveler by Fred Plotkin before you go.
This inspiring Italian book showcases some of the best culinary delights of Italy, from cheese and wines to finding the best bakeries and olive oil, you’ll learn everything there is to know about Italian food in one neat little book.
This is one of the best Italian books for foodies.
12. Piera: A True Story of Love and Survival in World War II Italy – Piera Bernardini and Ellen Bernardini
This is the story of Piera, a Tuscan girl who escapes World War II by boat to live in Tuscany and Northern Italy.
Faced with the brutality of war, not just from the Nazi invasion but through the civil war in Italy, Piera learns the harsh truth that the good is not always good.
After the war, she finds love with an exiled nobleman. Forbidden by his aristocratic parents, this is the story of sacrifice and triumph in the face of war.
13. The Things Our Fathers Saw: The Untold Stories of the World War II (Book 4) – Matthew Rozell
The Things Our Fathers Saw is a series of books telling real-life, personal stories of war. Volume IV brings to life the struggles of men and women who fought in Sicily and Italy.
These incredible stories set in Italy during WWII are both poignant and important, showcasing the true horrors that were endured during this horrific moment in our past.
For lovers of history, this novel should be on your reading list.
14. The Agony and the Ecstasy: The Biographical Novel of Michelangelo – Irving Stone
The Agony and the Ecstasy is a powerful biography of Michaelangelo, the famous painter, sculptor, and Renaissance artist.
Michelangelo is one of the most well-known and highly regarded artists of all time, but his life is full of drama and heartache.
From his difficult childhood to his struggles as an artist, Stone paints a vivid picture of the life and times of Michelangelo.
If you’re interested in art or just want to learn more about one of history’s most famous figures, The Agony and the Ecstasy is a must-read.
15. Lilia: a true story of love, courage, and survival in the shadow of war – Linda Ganzini
Set in Italy, against the backdrop of fascism during World War II and the Holocaust, this is the true story of Lilia, whose family must overcome a war that’s been tearing them apart.
It is an emotional coming-of-age story full of family drama. Lilia resigns herself to a life of misery, poverty, and grief.
The burden of war, unsurpassable loneliness, and the responsibilities that robbed her of her childhood are just some of the hardships Lillia faced.
Lilia is a compelling and powerful story, and it’s one that will stay with you long after you finish reading.
It’s an unforgettable novel set in Italy that will make you appreciate the strength of the human spirit even more.
16. The Venice Experiment: A Year of Trial and Error Living Abroad – Barry Frangipane
Barry and Debbie Frangipane are a middle-class couple who were tired of the rat race lives and gave it all up for the idealistic life of Venice.
This hilarious book set in Italy shows how moving to a foreign land isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
With many twists and turns and a few obstacles thrown in for good measure, The Venice Experiment is a wonderful tale about fulfilling your dreams no matter what.
17. A Thousand Days in Venice – Marlena De Blasi
A Thousand Days in Venice is the story of a divorced American chef and food writer, Marlena, who meets a man on vacation in Italy, Fernando, whom she falls in love with.
Though he speaks little English, and she very little Italian, the two find a romance that is full of passion and possibility. She quits her job, sells her house, says goodbye to her adult children, and moves to Venice to marry Fernando.
This is a true memoir of how she fell in love with a man and a city, plus some incredible recipes too.
18. Midnight in Sicily – Peter Robb
If you’re dreaming of Italy travel adventures, then you’ll enjoy reading Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb.
This book recounts Peter Robb’s time spent in southern Italy, where he reveals how he fit into its culture, as well as learns about the region’s history, art, literature, and politics.
There is also some information on organized crime (Mafia) culture from the post-World War II era until the 1990s.
It’s an interesting account of an Australian man’s perspective of this unique country and its culture.
Best Historical Fiction Books Set in Italy
Italy has a long and rich history that has been well documented over the years in some of the best Italian books.
From the epic Roman Empire to the emergence of the Renaissance artists, to the horrors of WWII – there are a ton of poignant historical fiction books set in Italy to enjoy.
19. A Farewell To Arms – Ernest Hemingway
Set during WWI, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is the incredible story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front who falls in love with a beautiful English nurse.
Not only does it account for the looming horrors of the battlefield, but it follows the profound struggle between loyalty, love, and desertion.
Written when Hemingway was a thirty-something bestselling Author, A Farewell To Arms is a gripping, semi-autobiographical book set in Italy that captures the harsh reality of war and the pain of falling in love on the battlefield.
20. Master & God – Lindsey Davis
Set in AD 81 when Roman Emperor, Domitian, seizes power. Confronted with paranoia, the Emporer sees enemies everywhere.
The Senate loathes him, and his advisers are afraid of him, he fears he cannot trust his wife, and the barbarians flag the frontiers. As he vents his suspicions, no one is safe.
Master and God is the story of a man who was written out of history by his contemporaries, but who is remembered in Lindsey Davis’ sardonic style. It is an intimate portrait of resilience, friendship, and love.
21. Letters from the Palazzo Barbaro – Henry James
In Letters from the Palazzo Barbaro, Henry James brings to life a selection of letters that provide a unique insight into the life of the great writer from the period 1869-1907.
At the time, Palazzo Barbaro was the home of the expatriate American family, the Curtises, who loved the arts.
They were painted by Sargent. The letters are primarily written by Henry James, but some are written by members of the Curtis family.
While a collection of letters may seem trivial, they are less about “today I did this” and more an opportunity to get a glimpse into the life of fin-de-siécle Venice.
22. Still Life – Sarah Winman
It is Tuscany in 1944, and Allied troops advance into the hills and bombs fall around deserted villages.
That is when a young English soldier, Ulysses Temper, ends up in the wine cellar of a deserted villa.
Purely by chance, he encounters a middle-aged art historian, Evelyn Skinner, who came to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins.
Ulysses and Evelyn find they are kindred spirits in a war-torn Italy and through a series of events, the pair begin an adventure that will shape Ulysses’s life for the next 40 years.
23. The Leopard – Giuseppe Di Lampedusa
The Leopard is an Italian novel set in the 1860s, that tells a story of a decadent, and yet dying Sicilian aristocracy, headed by Prince Fabrizio, that’s being threatened by democracy and revolution.
Fabrizio is a womanizer and is about to see the downfall of his family and his status.
Giuseppe di Lampedusa is one of the best Italian authors of our time. He had planned to write The Leopard for a long time and began writing it in his late fifties.
Sadly, he died at age sixty, and soon after, publishers deemed the manuscript unpublishable.
However, thanks to the hard work of his Nephew, Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, an introduction was written that gives a detailed history of the initial publication and the editions that followed.
In this copy, he includes passages that Lampedusa originally wrote for the book but was rejected by the original Italian editors.
24. City of Vengeance – D.V. Bishop
City of Vengeance is the first novel by D.V. Bishop and takes place in Renaissance Florence.
This mystery-thriller novel set in Italy in 1536, is about a prominent Jewish moneylender who is murdered in his home.
The death leads to prominent implications for the city’s power structure and the ensuing search for the killer leads to a complex web of secrets and lies.
D.V. Bishop is an American author who has written many mysteries set in Italy, including the City of Vengeance.
Best YA Books Set in Italy
If you’re looking for a captivating coming-of-age story that really grabs your attention, then I highly recommend these young adult books set in Italy.
25. Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman
Call Me by Your Name is a coming-of-age novel by André Aciman, which tells the story of a blossoming romantic relationship between a smart, precocious, and curious 17-year-old American-Italian Jewish boy.
Elio Perlman, and a 24-year-old American Jewish doctoral student, Oliver, who is visiting their house over the summer.
Set in the 1980s, this book has been praised for its portrayal of Elio’s interior life and the complexities of same-sex relationships in the 80s. Winner of the Gay Fiction category at the 20th Lambda Literary Awards.
26. Love and Gelato – Jenna Evans Welch
Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch is both a romance novel and a coming-of-age novel set in Florence, Southern Italy.
It tells the story of a teen, Lina, who loses her mother to cancer and is sent to live in Florence with a man named Howard, who her grandmother says is her real father.
She meets a young American, Ren Ferrara, who is living in Florence and studying at an American school.
When they both read Lina’s mother’s diary, they learn about how she fell in love with a man she met at Art School, written only as X, who she assumed was Howard.
Later she reads her mother refers to Howard by his name, and then suspects that Howard is not her father after all.
And so begins the search for her real father.
27. Arturo’s Island – Elsa Morante
Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante is about a semi-orphaned boy, named Arturo, in the years just before World War II. It’s a coming-of-age story, set on the isolated island of Procida, near Naples, Italy.
Arturo’s mother passed away and his dad is seldom around, leaving him and his dog to wander the womanless island, through the countryside and along the beaches, or around his dilapidated mansion.
Until one day, his father brings home Nunziatella, a beautiful 16-year-old whom his father hopes to marry.
Elsa’s writing is evocative, lyrical, and sometimes poetic. This young adult novel set in Italy showcases themes of incest, misogyny, narcissism, and homosexuality.
28. Blood Water Paint – Joy McCullough
Blood, Water, Paint is the retelling of the true story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a female painter of the 16th century.
In it, Artemisia is frustrated by a male-dominated society, the injustices of her father, and a sexist court system.
She rebels by painting provocative and powerful works of art, which eventually leads to her imprisonment and death.
McCullough’s lyrical writing is reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s, and the descriptions of Artemisia’s paintings are mesmerizing.
Blood, Water, Paint is a story about one woman’s fight for recognition and her place in history.
29. An Italian Adventure: It will all make (less) sense when you grow up (The Italian Saga) – Gaia B. Amman
This epic novel by Italian author, Gaia Amman, tells a tale of the very real-life issues of divorce and its effects on children.
This book tells the story of a young girl, Marina, who is suddenly thrust into the middle of her parent’s divorce.
Marina must make sense of adult decisions that she is too young to understand, and she does so by recalling her childhood in Italy.
An Italian Adventure highlights how children are more aware of life’s challenges than they are given credit for.
This delightful story is filled with humor, family dynamics, and an appreciation for Italian culture.
Best Romance Books Set in Italy
Sucker for a romance novel? I hear you. Italians are known for their romantic tendencies, so it wouldn’t be right to miss these incredible romance books set in Italy off my list.
30. The Shoemaker’s Wife – Adriana Trigiani
Written by New York Times bestselling author, Adriana Trigiani has created a breathtaking multigenerational love story set in Italy that spans two continents and two World Wars.
In a quest of two star-crossed lovers, both Italian immigrants, who initially immigrate under dire circumstances, but eventually build beautiful lives alongside a friends, and eventually their own family.
There is heartbreak and happiness, good times and hard times, but eventually, the story will leave you gasping for the tissues.
31. The Blind Contessa’s New Machine – Carey Wallace
Set in the early 1800s, Carolina Fantoni, a young Italian contessa discovers she is going blind shortly before marrying the town’s most sought-after bachelor. In desperation, Carolina turns to an inventor to find the cure.
When given the gift of a typewriter, Carolina finds she has the ability to express herself in a new way. The novel follows Carolina’s journey as she writes about her life, love, and revolution.
A fast-paced, romantic mystery set in Italy filled with intrigue, mystery, and humor, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is a captivating read that will leave you wanting more.
32. Under The Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes
Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes is the story of Frances Mayes, who impulsively buys a villa in Tuscany.
She is a professor in San Francisco as well as a reviewer and author, who was struggling in writing her latest book.
After her husband unexpectedly files for divorce, her life takes a new turn.
She meets Ed, her new lifetime partner, and they decide to take a trip to Italy and renovate the villa. What she finds is more than she ever imagined. This true story of how she renovated a Tuscan house spent two and a half years on the bestseller list.
Though it’s not a romance novel full of passion and fire, it tells a story of how love can be found in travel and opening your mind and heart to Italian culture and new challenges.
33. Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is a romance novel about a different kind of love, self love.
When Gilbert finds her seemingly perfect life isn’t making her happy, she leaves her husband, her house, and everything, to travel around the world and find true joy. She travels to India, Indonesia, and of course, Italy.
This is the memoir of her journey, where she finds peace and love in the people and cultures she interacts with throughout the course of her travels. It is a book about self discovery and travel, as well as passion and love.
Eat, Pray, Love is also one of my top-recommended novels to read after a break up.
34. Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter
Yo-yo-ing between 1960s Italy and modern-day Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is a timeless novel about memory and nostalgia.
It tells the story of a young man named Pasquale, who manages his family’s hotel, Adequate View, in Porto Vergogna, Italy.
When his mother falls ill, he travels to Rome to take care of her. There, he meets a young American woman, Elle, who has just arrived in Italy to work on a movie.
The two of them fall in love, but Elle tells Pasquale she is sick and must travel to Switzerland to receive treatment.
After that, a series of events and the meeting of other characters push them apart. This incredible Italy book showcases the many ways in which one person can impact the lives of others.
35. The Venice Sketchbook – Rhys Bowen
This enthralling romance novel set in Venice during WWII tells a tale of brief encounters and lasting romance.
Recent divorcee Caroline Grant is struggling to come to terms with the end of her marriage, only to receive the news that her great-aunt Lettie will not last much longer.
On her deathbed, she leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a whisper, “Venice”. And so Caroline embarks on a journey to Venice to scatter her aunt’s ashes in the city she loved.
With the sketchbook and three keys, Caroline unlocks the mystery of her aunt’s time in the city. It is a story of impossible love, loss, self-discovery, and courage.
36. Rosamanti – Noelle Clark
After the death of her husband, Sarah Halliman has lost the desire for just about everything.
Desperate to revive herself, she answers a newspaper advertisement leasing an isolated villa in Capri, Italy.
She locates Villa Rosamanti, a charming 400-year-old villa on the hillside of Monte Tiberio.
Sarah soon discovers a love for Rosamanti and its gardens. She also feels a connection to Elena Lombardi, the deceased owner of the villa.
But it’s not just the villa she has fallen for. Elena’s grandson, Pietro, is the epitome of the passionate Italian, who dreams of opening a restaurant but does not have the funds to do so.
One day, while searching through Elena’s library, she finds notes from a child, which sends Sarah on a mystery that could make or break everything.
37. My Brilliant Friend (L’amica geniale) – Elena Ferrante
Elena Ferrante was once referred to as one of the most influential Italian authors of all time by TIME Magazine, so it would be rude not to include one of her most beloved works on this list.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is the first of a four-part series, Neapolitan Novels, in which we follow the coming-of-age story of two perceptive and intelligent girls.
Elena Greco and Raffaella Cerullo, who grow from childhood to adulthood and eventually to old age.
Throughout the novels, they try to create lives for themselves in a violent and stultifying culture. Growing up in a poor neighborhood outside Naples, Italy, the two girls dream of a good life that is far from their reach.
The novels are narrated in first person by Elena Greco.
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Final Words on the Best Books Set in Italy
So there you have it, those are the best books set in Italy for every type of reader.
I hope that you were able to find the perfect Italian book from this list for your next read.
Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments.