The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy’s Art During World War II – Ilaria Dagnini Brey.
One morning, my husband found me sobbing on the sofa. And, by sobbing, I mean deep, loud, can’t-catch-my-breath-sobs. He was immediately alarmed and asked me what had happened. I said that THEY had blown up the bridges in Florence, Italy. Shocked, he asked, “Who? When?” Through my tears, I sadly said, “It happened during World War II, but I didn’t know about it until today.” I continued to cry, and he left the room shaking his head at his crazy wife. After reading The Venus Fixers, I truly understood for the first time that our collective cultural heritage is worth more than the life of any one individual.
Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim (Fiction)
You know how the movie never matches up to the book? That’s not the case for Enchanted April. Both beautifully tell the story of four London women who seek respite from their unsatisfying lives in a peaceful castle in Italy. There is no action or suspense in either the book or the movie, and, yet, both are food for the soul. Travel Inspiration: My husband and I hiked a breath-taking trail on the Portofino Peninsula to reach Castello Brown, which was the movie filming location.
Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat, Pray, Love is another delightful book and movie combo. Ms. Gilbert’s “journey of self-discovery” takes her to Italy, Bali, and India. Travel Inspiration: Me (and thousands of other fans like me) ate pizza in Naples, just like Julia Roberts did in the movie. It was delicious.
Extra Virgin – Annie Hawes
In this memoir, Annie Hawes buys a home in the Liguria region of Italy. Her heart-warming description of adapting to the local culture made me laugh out loud. Many times. She also helped me to understand why I couldn’t order a cappuccino after noon in Liguria. Travel Inspiration: My husband and I spent a week in Liguria, and it was spectacular.
Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera – David Downie
This book will make you very, very hungry. It will also prepare you to enjoy the food and drink specialities in the Liguria region of Italy, such as limoncello, olive oil, farinata (chick-pea) bread, and pesto. Travel Inspiration: I went to the world pesto championship in Genoa, Italy. No, really, I did.
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome – Mary Beard
Ms. Beard tells the story of the founding of Rome until approximately 212 AD. Let’s face it, you really should know more about this period of history. Sometimes, you feel really bad for not paying more attention in high school. This interesting, non-fiction account of the life and politics of Ancient Rome will help fill the gaps in your knowledge and make you feel better about yourself. Travel Inspiration: Rome. All of it. Too broad a reference point? OK, I will narrow it down to the Roman Forum.
The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church – John Thavis
Thavis is a journalist who covered the Vatican for many years. He provides thought-provoking insights into the history, culture, and politics of the Vatican. Travel Inspiration: I scored a coveted reservation for the Vatican Scavi tour, which is a tour of the necropolis that lies below St. Peter’s Basilica. The tour is led by an archaeologist and highlights the most well-preserved remains of ancient Rome that I have ever seen, including the tomb of St. Peter.
Pompeii: The Living City – Alex Butterworth, Ray Laurence
This book alternates between non-fiction and historical fiction accounts of life in Pompeii. It provides a window into the lives of the rulers, merchants, slaves and other inhabitants of Pompeii, and leaves the reader with a deeper understanding of the volcanic eruption that buried both Pompeii and the nearby town of Herculaneum. Travel Inspiration: Need I say that I visited Pompeii and Herculaneum after reading this book? Please read this book before you go!
The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance – Paul Strathern
I felt that I could not travel to Italy without learning more about the Renaissance. The Medici offers an excellent foundation for understanding this pivotal time in art and history. Travel Inspiration: I felt bad for not visiting Florence on my most recent trip to Italy. You should probably not leave it off your itinerary.
The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe – David Kertzer
David Kertzer won the Pulitzer Prize for this book , which examines the relationship between Pope Pius XI, Mussolini, and Italian society in the years leading up to World War II. Travel Inspiration: I went to Lake Como, where Mussolini was executed. My mother thought it was quite morbid to visit an execution site, but I find it fascinating to see where important events in history take place.