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Essential reading: 10 books to get to know Rome

Published on November 22, 2018 by C. P.

Essential reading guide Rome

Whether you’re an “old school” kind of person and prefer the feeling of paper and pages rustling under your fingers, or you’re more practical and love to carry just a small amount of “entertainment weight” in your luggage, there is no denying that the holidays are a perfect time to do some catching up on one’s reading, reconnecting with an activity that one tends to neglect at home. Even better is getting more in depth information on your travel destination by reading about it, either beforehand or while you’re here in the city, using your sources as maps to navigate the city or the country you’re visiting.

This is why we’ve come up with a list of essential books on Rome. They’re not necessarily the best books to come out on the Eternal City, but it’s the ones we always recommend when getting to know our customers. They’re a mix of essays (not boring ones, we promise!), or more generally non-fiction as well as novels that will get you acquainted with the Roman lifestyle in no time.

Feel free to join us in the comments section for more suggestions, questions or “how-could-you-forget-abouts” – in the meantime, happy reading!

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

by Mary Beard

Of course plenty of historians have spent their careers studying the ancient civilisation and its end, but also of course… one would be remiss not to pick at least one of Mary Beard’s excellent tomes. She’s a refreshing voice in the world of history studies, and we like her no-nonsense attitude and sharp tone. You can consider this a crash course on all things ancient Rome and proceed from here should you want to investigate the subject further.

Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio: A Novel

books on Rome

A detail from the cover of Amara Lakhous’ novel

by Amara Lakhous

Forget about the polished, picturesque scenes of such books as “Eat, Pray, Love” – that version of Rome may have been good in the Fifties. This novel has the merit of telling the often untold story of a multicultural, conflicted city which is still getting used to its new inhabitants.

Rome Noir

edited by Chiara Stangalino and Maxim Jakubowski

Part of a series devoted to the relationship between the most important cities of the world and crime, this is an anthology with noir short stories by some of Italy’s most important living authors, among them Marcello Fois, Gianrico Carofiglio, Carlo Lucarelli or Nicola Lagioia, whose other books you can explore should you be encountering a writer you enjoy!

Saints & Sinners

by Eamon Duffy

A couple of years ago Italians went wild about a funny little book called “Vite efferate di papi”, with true, surreal stories actually happened during the lives of some of the most important pontiffs in history. This one tome by Eamon Duffy may not be as odd, but it is packed with many facts often overlooked about the enclave country and its rulers.

A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome

by Alberto Angela

Alberto Angela is one of Italy’s national treasures, a TV host who’s famous for his scientific shows and doubles as an author of wildly popular history books. With this particular work of his, he goes in to tell a part of Roman history that is often unknown, such as everyday habits, quirks and secrets.

The 500 Hidden Secrets of Rome

by Luisa Grigoletto and Christopher Livesay

There is plenty of travel books of Rome, but this is the one that locals read too. The reason is that it is a not a traditional type of guide. Actually, it completely ignores the suggested restaurants, stores or cafes that you will find on those. Instead, using the knowledge of an expert like Luisa Grigoletto, it succeeds in listing actual interesting places in the city, from off the beaten path landmarks to vintage shops, from vegetarian places to vinyl hangouts, and it does so while succeeding in telling the story, often ignored by tourists, of an ever-changing city, where history and future collide everyday.

In other words

by Jhumpa Lahiri

The acclaimed Indian-Rhode Islander author wrote this book directly in Italian – the consequence of falling in love with the language. You’ll get to read the whole story as translated by Ann Goldstein, known for her work on Elena Ferrante’s novels. While it not may be a book on Rome per se, we suggest it like nothing else it perfectly “photographs” an experience that is now common for so many expats – deciding to leave your home for a foreign country, just out of the love for its culture.

Quiet Corners of Rome

by David Downie, with pictures by Alison Harris

For a hustle-and-bustle kind of city, Rome often gifts you the prize of silence. It can be found around turning the corner of an otherwise chaotic alley, entering the botanical gardens, venturing inside a cloister… David Downie and his photo cohort Alison Harris gather these surprising places in one beautiful book – plenty of tips in here for doing more explorations.

My Kitchen in Rome

by Rachel Roddy

A much-loved presence on The Guardian pages thanks to her food column, Ms. Roddy is now a staple of the Testaccio district exactly like the trapizzino or the Pyramid of Cestius. A great writer in addition to being a great cook, she manages to tell the story of ordinary, everyday Roman and Italian dishes making you fall in love with the food each time. Not a small feat!

The Families Who Made Rome: A History and Guide

by Anthony Majanlahti 

The mansions and palaces of the rich and powerful in Rome are one of the city’s great sources of overwhelmingness – the sheer amount of noble families who have dominated the city can confuse and even enrage a first-time traveller. This book tells the story of those families rather than the city, through the rise and fall of its most famous citizens. A different way to explore the city.

Category: Rome 101
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