10 Books on Florence, Italy You Will Love

For centuries, Florence has inspired artists and thinkers, dreamers and travellers. The rich history, artistic legacy and culture of the Birthplace of the Renaissance have also generated countless fictional and non-fictional novels.

But what are the best books on Florence, Italy?

Whether you are looking for a literary companion for your next trip or simply want to find out more about one of the most fascinating cities in the world, here are my favourite books about Florence.

panoramic view of the famous bridges of florence otaly across the river arno

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Best Fiction Books Set in Florence, Italy

A Room with a View, E.M. Forster (1908)

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This classic novel set in Florence is one of my favourite books of all time.

Lucy Honeychurch, a sheltered Edwardian English lady who has travelled to Florence with her chaperone, is faced with a choice. Should she marry safe but dull Cecil waiting at home, or take a chance on the charismatic but socially unsuitable George whom she has met at the pensione?

This small miracle of a novel explores themes of love, self-discovery, and societal expectations. It captures the essence of Florence so skillfully that it becomes a character in its own right, influencing the actions and decisions of the book’s protagonists.

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Still Life, Sarah Winman (2021)

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Referencing A Room with a View – one of its protagonists meets E.M. Forster at her pensione –  Still Life is one of my favourite books of the last few years.  

This award-winning novel switches between Florence and post-war London and centres on Ulysses Temper, a young British soldier when we first meet him, and Evelyn Skinner, an art historian. What makes this book so special is that its characters are so skilfully drawn that you cannot help but root for them. One of the most important characters is the city of Florence itself.

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statue of david outside the entrance to the palazzo vecchio in florence italy

The Marriage Portrait, Maggie O’Farrell (2022)

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Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favourite authors and her latest historical fiction brings 16th Century Florence vividly to life

Its central character is Lucrezia, the third daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici, who is forced to marry Alfonso d’Este, ruler of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio. As she navigates an unfamiliar and troubled court, is Alfonso all he seems to be?   Basing her book on a real-life character, O’Farrell’s rich prose paints a vivid picture of Renaissance Florence, with its art, politics and class divisions.

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The Light in the Piazza, Elizabeth Spencer (1960)

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In the summer of 1953, 26-year-old Clara is touring Tuscany with her mother (Margaret) when she meets and falls in love with a young Florentine man named Fabrizio.

Fearing cultural differences, Margaret tries to keep the young lovers apart. But is there a family secret to be revealed?

At some points this is a comedy of manners, reminding me of E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread. The Light in the Piazza was adapted for the screen in 1962 and a musical inspired by the book played at New York’s Lincoln Centre.

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The Birth of Venus, Sarah Dunant (2003)

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For a fictional romp through Renaissance Florence, Sarah Dunant’s 2003 novel is hard to beat.

Named after Botticelli’s famous painting hanging in the Uffizi Galleries, The Birth of Venus follows a young woman named Alessandra as she navigates the restrictive social norms of 15th-century Florence and struggles to pursue her passion for painting. Her journey is complicated by the political turmoil of the era – it is set during the last days of Lorenzo de Medici – and her struggles with love, family and the role of women in society.

Ultimately, this novel creates a vivid and believable picture of Renaissance Florence and speaks of the power of beauty to inspire and transform us.

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Inferno, Dan Brown (2013)

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Dan Brown’s books are a guilty pleasure for me. They may not be literary masterpieces, but they sure are page-turners.

Inferno is no different. Robert Langdon, a Harvard Professor of Symbology, awakes in a hospital bed in Florence with no memory of how he got there. Unlocking secrets concealed within Florence’s most famous artworks, he is drawn into a race against time to save the world from a deadly virus.

The novel features so many of Florence’s landmarks and historical figures, you could almost use it as a travel guide.

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Non-fiction Books About Florence and the Renaissance

The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone (1961)

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Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the man, his paintings and his sculptures are synonymous with the city of Florence itself. Countless pages of print have been dedicated to Michelangelo, but my favourite book is The Agony and the Ecstasy.

Although this is not strictly a biographical novel, it is closely based on history. Irving Stone lived in Italy for several years, visiting many of the locations where Michelangelo lived and worked and translating all 495 of the artist’s letters.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a dry biography. Instead, it’s a rollercoaster of a read and a compelling portrait of a complex man.

Part of the book was made into a 1965 film starring Charlton Heston.

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marble statue of David by Michelangelo whi is the subject of some of the best books on Florence

The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art, Noah Charney  and Ingrid Rowland (2017)

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Born in Arezzo in 1511, Giorgio Vasari was a painter, architect and art historian, best known for his book The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. Although this is the definitive text on artists from Giotto through to the High Renaissance, I can’t see myself curling up with hefty biographies written in 16th-century prose.   

This more digestible volume explores Vasari’s life and career, and the role he played in shaping how we think about art and artists.

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The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, Christopher Hibbert (1979)

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It’s impossible to separate Renaissance Florence from the lives of the powerful and influential Medici family.

They rose to power in the 1430s and were known for their patronage of the arts. The Medici family produced four popes and numerous rulers of Florence and dominated the city’s economic, political, and cultural life for generations.

The family’s power and influence began to decline in the 16th Century and died out in the 18th Century, leaving a lasting legacy as one of the most powerful and influential families in Italian history.

Christopher Hibbert’s excellent book does what it says on the tin, tracing The Medici’s rise and fall and their patronage of the arts.

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Florence: The Biography of a City, Christopher Hibbert (1994)

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The last of my books on Florence is also from Christopher Hibbert (I’m a fan!).

If you are after a comprehensive history of Florence, from the Roman era to the present day, this is the one to pick.  Skilfully weaving political, art, social and history, this fascinating book is both a history and a travel guide.

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