The paperback Companion Guides are excellent and include Rome by Georgina Masson (revised and updated by Tim Jepson) and Venice by Hugh Honour. If you can read Italian you can't get better than the excellent red guides published by the Touring Club Italiano.
Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide is an extremely detailed guide to the ruins of Rome, with descriptions, maps. plans and photos of more than 150 sites.
Three "Grand Tour" classics are Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Italian Journey, Charles Dickens' Pictures from Italy and Henry James' Italian Hours. DH Lawerence wote three short travel books while living in Italy, now combined in one volume entitled DH Lawrence and Italy.
Other interesting travel books include: Venice by James Morris, The Stones of Florence and Venice Observed by Mary McCarthy, On Persephone's Island by Mary Taylor Simeti, Old Calabria by Norman Douglas, North of Naples, South of Rome by Paolo Tullio and A Traveller in Southern Italy by HV Morton. Although written in the 1960's, the latter remains a valuable guide to the south and its people. See also A Traveller in Italy by the same author.
A Small Place in Italy and Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby make good introductory reading, as so Lisa St Aubin de Teran's A Valley in Italy, Frances Maye's chart-topping Under the Tuscan Sun, and Night Letters, Robert Dessaid's 1990's counterpart to Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.
History & Politics
For a simple introduction to the ancient history of the country try The Oxford History of the Roman World, edited by John Boardaman, Jasper Griffin & Oswyn Murray, or A History of Rome, compiled by M Carey & HH Scullard. Daily Life in Ancient Rome, by Jerome Carcopino and Robert Graves' classics, I, Claudius andClaudius the God are on the same subject. Other interesting titles include Italy: A Short History, by Harris Hearder; The Horizon Concise History of Italy, by Vincent Cronin; History of the Italian People, by GiulianoProcacci; The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, complied by JND Kelly; and Rome: Biography of a City, Venice: Biography of a City and The house of Medici, all by Christopher Hibbert. A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943-1988, by Paul Ginsborg, is an absorbing and very well-written book that will help Italophiles place the country's modern society in perspective.
The Mafia is the subject of a number of titles, including The Honoured Society, by Norman Lewis. Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, by Alexander Stille, is a shocking and absorbing account of the Mafia in Sicily, focusing on the years leading up to the assassinations of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. Midnight in Sicily, by Peter Robb, is also recommended. In 2000, 40 years after his first in-depth examination of Sicily, Norman Lewis followed up his study of the Mafia with In Sicily.
Italian Politics Today, by Hilary Partridge (first published 1998) is a clear and accessible guide to the labyrinth of Italian politics. Essential facts on society, business and politics in Italy can be gleaned from Italy Profiled, edited by Barry Turner.
Art & Architecture.
The Penguin Book of the REnaissance, by JH Plumb, The Italian Painters of the Renaissance, by Bernard Berenson, and Giorgio Vassari's Lives of the Artist should be more than enough for people interested in the Renaissance. Other useful books include A Handbook of Roman Art, edited by Martin Henig, Roman Architecture,by Frank Sears, and Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750, by Rudolf Wittkower.
There is also a series of guides to Italian art and architecture published under the general title World of Art. These include: Palladio and Palladianism, by Robert Tavernor, Michelangelo, by Linda Murray, Italian Renaissance Sculpture, by Roberta JM Olson and Roman Art and Architecture, by Mortimer Wheeler.
For background on Italian people and their culture there is the classic, The Italians, by Luigi Bardini. Italian Labyrinth by John Haycraft looks at Italy in the 1980's. Getting it Right in Italy: Manual for the 1990's by William Ward aims, with considerable success, to provide accessible useful information about Italy while also providing a reasonable social profile of the people. An Italian Education by Tim Parks is an often hilarious account of life of an expatriate in Verona.
Food & Drink
The Food of Italy, by Waverlyl Root, is an acknowledged classic. Mitchell Beasley does a very good guide to Italian wines, Wines of Italy, and has also recently published a guide called The New Italy: A Complete Guide to Contemporary Italian Wines.
If you want to get a taste of Italy, here are a few suggestions: Roman Holiday (Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn scootering round Rome); Three Coins in the Fountain (three American women get their men at the Trevi Fountain); It Started in Naples (Sophia Loren); La Dolce Vita (Fellini's study of Roman society); Come September (Rock, Gina, Sandra and Bobby romp around the Amalfi Coast); The Pink Panther (set in Cortina and Rome); The Agony and the Ecstasy (Charlton Heston as Michelangelo); and Death in Venice (Dirk Bogarde).
More recently there's been A Room with a View (not a view in the world can beat the one from Fiesole over Florence); Cinema Paradiso (the story of a young boy living in a small Sicilian town soon after WWII); Enchanted in April (two women escape from London to a Tuscan villa); Stealing Beauty (a pretty banal film, but a great Tuscan travelogue); The Wings of the Dove (Henry James' story of love and betrayal in Venice); and The Talented Mr Ripley (filmed on the Amalfi Coast and in Rome).
And who can forget magnificent Italian films such as Il Postino, filmed on the Aeolian island of Salina, and La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful)? The early scenes of the latter were filmed in Arezzo and won Roberto Benigni a best-actor Oscar.
If you want to see what Sicily and Sardinia are like, watch the Lonely Planet dvd Corsica, Sicily & Sardinia: Mediterranean Islands.
NEWSPAPERS & MAGAZINES
The International Herald Tribune (€1.65) is available from Monday to Saturday. It has a daily four-page supplement, Italy Daily, covering Italian news.
British papers, including the Guardian (€1.85), The Times (€2.60), the Daily Telegraph (€3), the Independent (€2.30) and the Financial Times (€1.50), as well as various tabloids, are sent from London. They are available from newsstands towards lunchtime on the day of publication in major cities or the next day in smaller towns.
US newspapers such as US Today (€1.55), the Wall Street Journal Europe (€1.80) and the New York Times (€6.20) are also available (a day late). The major German, French and Spanish dailies and some Scandinavian papers can also be found in major cities.
News magazines such as Time (€2.60), Newsweek (€3.10), and The Economist (€4.15) are available weekly. Wanted in Rome (€0.75) is a fortnightly English-language news and listing magazine directed towards the foreign residents of Rome. It contains informative articles about Italian politics and bureaucracy, city news, history and culture, plus arts and entertainment listings and reviews. It also has hundreds of classified ads.
Tel:+44 (0)20 85423067. Fax:+44 (0)207 1529598