After every tour I lead, I share with my group a list of my favorite books and websites about the countries we’ve visited. On a 10-day or two-week tour we can only scratch the surface of a country’s history and culture; I always hope that our visit has whetted my travelers’ desire to learn and see even more, and that my resources will help them do that.
For the foreseeable future—until the US gets our tragic coronavirus rate under control—we Americans are forbidden from entering the European Union. So I’m sharing my resource lists with all of you here, in hopes that they can also help and inspire you to learn and dream until the day when it’s safe for the wider world to welcome us travelers back.
So, while we bide our time, and do our best to keep ourselves and our communities healthy, let’s start by taking a virtual dive into Italy. It’s a big pool; this is my own random, selective, admittedly biased list. Please comment—tell me what you think of these, and share your own favorites!
- iamnotmakingthisup.net (my friend, an American author married to a Venetian, gives fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses of Venetian lifestyle, politics, history, food, traditions, etc.)
- lisasdolceitalia.com (my fellow Rick Steves guide, an American married to an Italian, raising her family, cooking, exploring, and explaining life in the Piedmont region)
- realtuscanlife.com (a local guide in Volterra who has entertained and informed many Rick Steves travelers, this American offers current and historical insight into Tuscany; and with her Italian husband leads town and winery tours and plans destination weddings in Tuscany)
- italyexplained.com (travel tips, ebooks on trains and gelati)
- tomrankinarchitect.com (American architect in Rome designs eco-conscious buildings, leads Roman architecture-focused tours, and has written a book and blogs about Rome’s design and sustainability through the ages)
- bleedingespresso.com (American attorney turned writer embraced a simpler life in her ancestral Italian hometown)
- italymagazine.com (news, events, Italian language insights, travel tips, property for sale–we can dream!)
- rickzullo.com (blog, podcast, ebooks for tours, cultural observations, travel tips, language lessons by an American expat married to an Italian)
- “Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture” by Ross King (the background, ingenious design, and construction of the Florence cathedral dome)
- “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling” by Ross King (the painting of the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s technical difficulties, personality conflicts, and money troubles)
- “Working IX to V: Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns, and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World” by Vicki Leon (a well-researched, illuminating, and fun look at the day-to-day life of ancient Romans through their work)
- “Florence: Just Add Water…” by AMF (Amici dei Musei Fiorentini), Simone Frasca, Andrea Paoletti et al (kids’ introduction to Florence, but interesting for all ages)
- “Venice Walks” by Jo-Ann Titmarsh (fascinating backstreet walks with aerial-view mapping, with historical, shopping, and eating notes; vicarious enjoyment and discovery even when you can’t be there)
- “A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome” by Alberto Angela (You will feel like you are there! Really gives you a feel for daily life—even the smells and sounds)
- “Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces” by Robert Clark (the catastrophic Florence flood of 1966 and the international effort by the “mud angels” to save its art)
- “Venice is a Fish: A Sensual Guide” by Tiziano Scarpa (with lyrical writing, this conveys the feel of Venice)
- “A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance” by Marlena de Blasi (memoir of American chef who falls in love with a Venetian man and gradually discovers the real heart of the city and its people)
- “As the Romans Do: An American Family’s Italian Odyssey” by Alan Epstein (American dad’s perspective on current Roman culture after moving there with his family)
- “Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter’s” by R. A. Scotti (The history of its construction is a window into the times: over 120 years involving some of the most famous names of the Renaissance, and helping incite Martin Luther and the Reformation)
- “Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis” by Robert Edsel (by the “Monuments Men” author, the story of American art experts protecting and rescuing Italian art treasures from the Nazis)