Of all the best books about Florence, many of which were influenced by or based on this iconic Italian city, there are few that are must-reads before visiting.
While not every book on this list is based solely on the Renaissance city, they will give you a deeper understanding of the essential historical facts, cultural aspects, and unique social elements that can only be found in Florence. From E.M. Forster to Boccaccio, these writers give us insight into the city’s rich history and diverse backdrop.
You’ll no doubt be ready for your own Florence adventure after reading these top 12 books.
A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster
A Room With a View is a story about the resulting violence of the new world fighting against the assumptions and values of the old. Wildest same tale has played post to many cultures worldwide, it is an all too familiar drama in Florence.
The young and impressionable Lucy Honeychurch acts as the story’s heroine, who is thrust from her complacent life when she bears witness to what seems like a casual murder in the Piazza Signoria.
The author reveals the violent act and Lucy’s experience through a portal, giving readers insight into an escape from the repressive Edwardian English life.
A Room With a View
Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, by Ross King
Filippo Brunelleschi was the famed designer and engineer of what many call the jewel of Florence — the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Most of Brunelleschi’s life was dedicated to working on the cathedral’s dome roof.
Ross King tells the story in great detail in this excellent book about Florence history, Brunelleschi’s Dome. The story discusses how a man achieved such an incredible technological design 600 years prior to modern-day technology.
Many regard the dome as one of Italy’s greatest architectural feats. And it is certainly one of, if not the most, outstanding monument in the city.
Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture
The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone
Many people have an interest in Renaissance period art, though reading dry and unexciting textbooks about the subject can feel mundane. This is where a book like The Agony and Ecstasy comes into play.
Irving Stone has written this biography of Michelangelo in the style of a fictional novel. The book follows the artist from the time he was a child throughout his experiences in life. The Agony and Ecstasy almost makes you feel like you experienced his life alongside him.
While it is far from a textbook biography you may have read in high school, you’ll finish this book having felt like you just received a master class on Michelangelo himself.
The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo
The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall, by Christopher Hibbert
Florence’s history has many twists and turns, especially from the viewpoint of the brilliant yet ruthless Medici family that dominated the city for more than three centuries and drove it into the prominence we know it by today.
The history that Hibbert provides in The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall, is both exciting and informative. Hibbert delivers vivid sketches of characters, along with their experiences in art, architecture, sex, poisonings, pageantry, and more.
Reading this book before visiting Florence will add a new sense of dimension as you casually stroll through the city streets.
The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall
Inferno, by Dan Brown
There’s a reason why Inferno is a #1 bestseller worldwide. Many say it is one of the best mystery books set in Florence.
The story follows Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor, who awaits in the hospital in Florence without the ability to recall the events of the day before or the mysterious item he is now in possession of.
He embarks on a fast-paced journey through the city after narrowly escaping an assassination, unraveling a vast series of codes given to him by an apocalypse- scientist.
This book may be one of the most influential stories ever written, combining classical Italian culture with suspense.
The Bookseller of Florence, by Ross King
Another masterpiece by Ross King is a thrilling chronicle taken from a number of manuscripts, which illuminated the Renaissance period.
The book is set against the dramatic backdrop of religious and political turmoil during the colorful era. It details the life of an important Renaissance figure who was lost to the bowels of history.
If nothing else, The Bookseller of Florence acts as an ode to bookmakers worldwide, and how the act of writing and printing can help immortalize history.
The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance
The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant
Though many might see The Birth of Venus as a love story at first glance, it is truly a cover-up for a tumultuous political and historical story about 15th-century Florence. It beautifully captures the mystery, romance, history, and drama occurring in this great Italian city during the height of the Renaissance.
The book is written in first-person by a fictional woman named Alessandra, who writes it like a memoir with relatable experiences in her familial duties, romantic attractions, and major life decisions.
Readers get to take a deep dive into what it was like for a young woman to grow up in Florence during this period.
The Birth of Venus
Florence: The Biography of a City, by Christopher Hibbert
Hibbert is an absolute gift to the world as a divulger of Florence’s history and has written several books about Florence. Many readers say Florence: The Biography of a City, is about as captivating as visiting the actual city.
The elegantly weaves art history, social history, and political history into a marvelous book that takes you back to the city’s most important and influential time period. Not only can readers use it as a historical reference, but with detailed illustrations and photographs, it also comes in handy as a guidebook for those who want to visit.
Florence: The Biography of a City
Love and Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch
Jenna Evans Welch’s Love and Gelato became a New York Times bestseller and one of the top Young Adult Books about the city of Florence. The story follows a young teenage girl who decides to go to Florence on a summer adventure. Throughout her time visiting, she experiences mystery, romance, and a fling with a gorgeous Italian boy.
Looking to pursue the dying wish of her mother, her main goal in Florence is to find her father. Upon finding her mother’s secret journal, she learned something that changes her life forever.
It’s one of the best books about Florence for any young fiction enthusiast.
Love and Gelato
Jenna Evans Welch
The Florentines, by Paul Strathern
The Florentines provides an informative yet succinct tour of Florence’s history, diving into some of the city’s most significant figures. Strathern begins the book in the Middle Ages of Dante and takes readers all the way through to the Scientific Revolution, where Galileo made some of his greatest discoveries.
The Florentines provide an unparalleled yet digestible insight into some of the most recognizable names throughout Italian history. Including Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Savonarola.
If a deep dive into the lives of these figures is what you’re looking for, there are better books out there. However, it’s an excellent choice if you want a versatile overview of Italian history and the characters that made this country what it is today.
The Florentines: From Dante to Galileo, the Transformation of Western Civilization
Romola, by George Eliot
George Eliot is one of our favorite fiction writers, and her story of a girl living during the turbulent years following the Medici family’s fall is unlike anything we’ve read before.
The book’s main character is Romola, the daughter of a blind scholar. Throughout the story, we learn of her marriage to a treacherous man named Tito, who involves her in a mishmash of romantic and political turmoil that threatens to eradicate what she values most.
Romola follows a young girl’s attempt to find her own path in life. In many ways, this novel set in Florence is a story about spiritual awakening.
The Drowning River: A Mystery in Florence, by Christobel Kent
The Drowning River: A Mystery in Florence, follows a new limited detective, Sandro Cellini, who is moving into a new profession after several years in the Italian police force. It’s a multi-layered-fictional story that takes us through the darker Florentine streets as Sandro tries to connect the dots to determine whether or not a prominent city architect committed suicide in the dark waters of the River Arno.
When Sandro stumbles upon another body, the mystery goes deeper. Saying anymore might spoil the book for you. But it’s an absolutely impressive story in an incredible series set in one of Italy’s most prominent cities.
The Drowning River: A Mystery in Florence
There you have it, some of the best books about Florence, from fictional mysteries to biographical deep dives.
Reading these books can provide deeper insight to those planning on visiting this fascinating Tuscan city. Even if you have already visited and enjoyed the many spectacles Florence has to offer, these books can provide a deeper sense of appreciation for your prior experiences.