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Welcome to the web's best Sicily reading list (we also have a page dedicated to Sicilian literature). If you're looking for real information and not just "tourist stuff" or the superficial, you've come to the right page. This is the real deal - accurate, reliable information about the world's most eclectic island. These books treat subjects presented on this site in far greater detail than we can. Links will take you to Amazon's US-based site but most titles are also available in Britain (amazon.co.uk) and from other Amazon sites. Amazon is fast, easy and secure. All you need is an email address, postal address and credit card. Select a password and you're on your way. It's that simple. Some of these titles are available for Kindle® too (viewable on iPad® with a Kindle app). We present only brief descriptions here (some from Amazon or the publishers) because the Amazon sites offer so many reader reviews, but our selections are the best books in print on these subjects, authored by experts who know Sicily. Prices vary based on edition: hardcover, paperback, Kindle. Some categories overlap a bit, and on the Amazon sites you'll find a few Kindle books which are not published in "hard copy." If you were to read all the books recommended in the history, literature and biography sections, you would be a virtual expert on Sicily. Benvenuti in Sicilia!
Travel & Touring Guides
Sicily Blue Guide. Wouldn't it be nice to have a travel guide that could be useful as a planning tool even before you set foot in Sicily? This is it. Ellen Grady lives here and knows what she's talking about. Read more.
Michelin Green Guide To Sicily. In typical Michelin Guide fashion, this useful book's authors are anonymous, but their very traditional British "Oxbridge" education in Greek classics shows through anyway. Read more.
Sicily: The Rough Guide Lots of user-friendly information on Sicilian restaurants and hotels - more than Michelin which has the red guides for that. Here the authors provide details on a whole range of places, and of course descriptions of the most important sights. Read more.
Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel Guide: Sicily. We love competition, and as long as there are entries like this series, the authors of the other guides shouldn't plan on resting on their literary laurels. At 240 pages, full of practical information of every kind: Descriptions, history, culture, food, lodging. Read more.
A History of Sicily by Moses Finley, Christopher Duggan and Denis Mack Smith. Absolutely THE definitive general history of Sicily, and no author has matched it though many have tried. Rarely in print but available used. Buy it if you can. There is also a lengthier two-volume edition (dividing Sicily's history at 1713). Every book by Denis Mack Smith or Christopher Duggan is superlative and highly recommended; this was an early collaboration. Read more.
The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples by David Gilmour. Insightful general history of Italy and its regions, equally divided between the periods before and after 1800, with ample attention given to Sicily. Highly readable and very revealing, a must if you want to understand Italian history and the complex nation that exists today. Read more.
The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean by John Julius Norwich. Norwich's wide range includes books on Venice, Byzantium and the Normans in Sicily (see below). This one is required reading if you seek to understand Sicily's complex, multicultural history - and especially its Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Arab periods. Every civilization covered here touched Sicily in some way, whether it was the Egyptians (via the Phoenicians), the Jews (who settled in Syracuse), the Spanish peoples or the Ottoman Turks (who raided the island's coasts beginning in the 16th century). The Middle Sea is the ideal book for context, and the island at the center of it all figures prominently. Read more.
The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia. Like Norwich's book (above), a lengthy general survey by a highly popular author. While the topics and emphasis differ somewhat, Sicily is very present. An accomplished scholar, Abulafia wrote the definitive biography of Emperor Frederick II (see below), among other well-received works dealing with medieval Italy and Spain. Read more.
Sicily: A Cultural History by Joseph Farrell. A solid work which, though presented as a very general series of historical and cultural facts and observations, is a very good complement to guide books and even to more detailed histories of Sicily (see the following sections). It is also a useful historiography if you are seeking an outline indicating information relative to various historians, visitors and expert commentators. Read more.
Ancient & Medieval History (pre-1500)
Phoenician Secrets: Exploring the Ancient Mediterranean by Sanford Holst. A fine, pragmatic introduction to this unique civilization and its extensive influences on many societies, including an early presence in Sicily. An enjoyable history. Read more.
Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles. For centuries, the Phoenicians and their descendants the Carthaginians ruled half of Sicily, a region contested by Greeks and then Romans. The Carthaginians nearly defeated Rome. Here is the story of the conflict that changed the course of ancient Mediterranean history, and the reason why the words you are reading are written in Latin characters rather than Phoenician ones. Read more.
Syracuse - City of Legends by Jeremy Dummett. This is a splendid, readable, illustrated overview of Siracusa, which rivalled Athens as the most important city of the ancient Greek world. Read more.
The Normans in Sicily: The Normans in the South 1016-1130 and the Kingdom in the Sun 1130-1194 by John Julius Norwich. If you thought the Norman conquerors of Sicily and England were long buried, this landmark work will bring them to life in vivid detail. Actually a recent omnibus edition combining two of Norwich's books written in the 1960s, The Normans in Sicily chronicles the Conquest of Sicily ("The Other Conquest") in breathtaking detail. Read more. The two separate volumes are usually in print: The Normans in the South and The Kingdom in the Sun.
The Norman Kingdom of Sicily by Donald Matthew. Published by Cambridge University Press, this book is a useful complementary work to the Norwich and Runciman books reviewed here (and Houben's too). In just over 400 pages, Professor Matthew describes the economic, political and social development of the Kingdom of Sicily under the Normans. Read more.
Roger II of Sicily: A Ruler Between East and West by Hubert Houben. Best biography in print of the Norman king who led Sicily into its multicultural Golden Age. Read more.
Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor by David Abulafia. His death in the middle of the thirteenth century signalled the end of an era in Sicily. Frederick, grandson of Roger II, was the greatest monarch of the 13th century. This defining work, the best biography ever written of this unique monarch, is great but not always in print. Nevertheless, the only book you should think about reading if you want to learn more about Sicily's most famous monarch. Read more.
The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century by Steven Runciman. Classic, defining work on the medieval revolution that changed European history. This erudite author's fluid prose style, at once scholarly and literary, makes this unique book as entertaining as it is informative, a measure by which other medieval studies are judged. Its sweeping European and Mediterranean context leaves nothing to be desired. Read more.
Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone. Fascinating parallel biographies of four 13th-century sisters who married the kings of France, England, Germany and Sicily (the island was then ruled from Naples). This very readable history traces many of the events leading to the Sicilian Vespers while providing a realistic glimpse of the Middle Ages. Frederick II, Manfred of Sicily, Peter of Aragon, France's saintly Louis IX (whose heart reposes in Monreale Abbey) and his nasty little brother Charles Anjou of Naples all play a role in a magnificent tapestry that shatters the stereotype of medieval women as helpless damsels. A fine complement to Runciman's book. If Ms Goldstone didn't exist, we'd probably have to invent her. Read more.
Joanna: The Notorious Queen of Naples & Sicily by Nancy Goldstone. Also published as The Lady Queen, this is the story of brave, brillaint Joan Anjou of Naples (1326-1382), generally considered the first woman in Europe to rule in her own right. The title of book and queen are slightly misleading; for the most part Joanna claimed Sicily without ruling it, because the island was actually ruled by the House of Aragon after 1282. However, the text does describe the contested island kingdom's chaotic interregnum of the 14th century and the intrigues of the so-called "Four Vicars" including the cunning Chiaramonte clan. Joanna's foray onto the island, at Messina in 1356, led to her brief control of a small piece of it. Read more.
A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Medieval Spain by Chris Lowney. Sicily was ruled by the kings of Aragon beginning with the Vespers in 1282 (see Runciman's book above) and subsequently from Madrid. Its centuries-long status as an outpost of the Spanish world resulted in the infamous edict of expulsion of the Jews in 1492 being effected in Sicily. That makes this history relevant to Sicily - which had a Muslim population into the 13th century. Read more.
Modern History (post-1500)
The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples by David Gilmour. Superlative history of Italy and its regions, with half the book dedicated to the centuries since 1800. Revealing. Read more.
The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796 by Christopher Duggan. Detailed, sometimes disturbing, look at Italian unification, the controversial Risorgimento, by an eminent historian. Read more.
Italy and Its Monarchy by Denis Mack Smith. This masterful, eloquent account of who Italy's monarchs were and what they got up to (usually something not very edifying) demonstrates once again why Mack Smith is widely viewed as the leading authority on Italy writing in the English language. Read more.
Under the Volcano: Revolution in a Sicilian Town by Lucy Riall. This opus details the ruthless massacre at Bronte, in eastern Sicily, by Nino Bixio in 1860. Based on masterful research, Professor Riall's book covers enough history to provide ample context. Published in 2012 by Oxford University Press (there is also an Italian edition), this is a sober – and sobering – account of what actually took place. Read more.
Terroni: All that has been done to ensure that the Italians of the South became 'southerners' by Pino Aprile. Italian bestseller that confronts the realities of (and reasons for) Italy's regionalism. Read more.
The Dark Heart of Italy: An incisive portrait of Europe's most beautiful, most disconcerting country by Tobias Jones. Fascinating look at today's Italy, though Sicily figures very little in this candid portrait of life in this fascinating country. Read more.
Bitter Victory: The Battle for Sicily 1943 by Carlo d'Este. Detailed, definitive history of the Allied invasion of 1943 and the events leading up to it. A magnificent work. Read more.
The Day of Battle: The war in Sicily and Italy 1943-1944 by Rick Atkinson. A more general history than Carlo d'Este's, but Atkinson places the war in a slightly larger context. Candid, insightful and a good complement to other books on the subject. Highly recommended. Read more.
Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre. Military history at its best. As lively as a spy novel, this book recounts the secret mission that preceded the invasion of Sicily in 1943 and inspired a young Ian Fleming, one of the naval officers who masterminded it, to create James Bond. Read more.
The Battle of Sicily: How the Allies lost their chance for total victory by Samuel Mitcham and Friedrich von Stauffenberg. A fine analysis which supplements other histories of this subject, this work considers the strategy of the Allies and the effective defensive tactics of the German forces. Good military history. Read more.
Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb. The title of this debut book by an Australian author who lived and taught in Italy for 14 years refers to the events which open and close its time frame - the hour the Allies landed on the Sicilian coast on a night in July 1943, and the sober trial of former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti for Mafia association in Palermo from 1997 to 1999. The Andreotti prosecution was less successful than the Allies' efforts; the lifetime politician was acquitted following this book's publication. Insightful, even revealing, and Italian politics hasn't changed much in recent years. Read more.
Octopus: The long reach of the international Sicilian Mafia by Claire Sterling. Slightly dated (it was published in 1990) but a good general survey of organized crime in Sicily. Read more.
Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Republic by Alexander Stille. Solid work dealing with organized crime and its connections to the Italian government into the mid-1990s (a few such connections probably remain and the government is still infamously corrupt). Good English treatment of the Mafia during that period and the murders of judges Falcone and Borsellino. At almost 500 pages, quite detailed. Read more.
The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection by Diego Gambetta. Here the focus is on the Mafia's commercial side, which is becoming increasingly important. A sound analysis though slightly dated (1996). Read more.
The Last Godfathers by John Follian. A very good overview, some biographies and up-to-date information, published in 2009. Follian does an exceptional job at analysis and explanation. This is one of the better studies of the Mafia as it is today, with a more-or-less complete cast of criminal characters, including a few infamous fugitives. Read more.
Sicilian Literature, Mythology & Contemporary Fiction
The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Translated by Archibald Colquhoun. (Fiction) Published in Italy in 1958 following its author's death, The Leopard rapidly climbed the international bestseller lists in 1961. The author, a Sicilian nobleman, weaves a fabulously rich tapestry of Sicilian aristocratic life around 1860, when the unification movement interrupts more than a century of Bourbon rule by the Kings of Naples. As the Kingdom of Naples (or the Two Sicilies) comes to an end, a new order arrives, but is it nothing more than the Old Order in new clothes? Read our special review of this classic novel. (Read about the author's biography in the following section.) Read more on Amazon.
Cavalleria Rusticana and Other Stories by Giovanni Verga. Translated by G. H. McWilliam. A new translation of the greatest Italian short story writer since Boccaccio. Born into a well-to-do Sicilian family in Vizzini (near Catania), Giovanni Verga (1840-1922) became an active observer of Milanese salon society in the 1870s and 1880s but eventually found in the everyday lives of Sicilian peasants the inspiration for his finest narratives. Read more.
Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays by Luigi Pirandello. Translated by Mark Musa. Sicilian-born Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) is best known in the English-speaking world for his radical challenge to traditional Western theatre with plays such as "Six Characters in Search of an Author." But theatre is just one aspect of this Nobel laureate's experiments with language which constituted a distinguished collection of novels, short stories, and essays as well as his work for a film industry then in its infancy. Pirandello believed in the primacy of the literary character in a creative process fraught with internal conflicts. Read more.
Open Doors and Three Novellas by Leonardo Sciascia. Translated by Sacha Ravinovitch and Marie Evans. (Fiction) He was one of Sicily's most eminent authors. Leonardo Sciascia, who died in 1989, wrote most of his fiction in the 1960s and 1970s. Much of it dealt with his longstanding fascination with important moral issues in politics, the law, and Fascism. Certain metaphysical themes appeared every now and then. Sciascia posed good moral questions that nobody will ever answer perfectly. Read more.
The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia. This might be described as early Italian Mafia fiction, circa 1961, a kind of metaphysical mystery set in rural Sicily, nothing like Mario Puzo's stylized, American Godfather series. At 140 pages, entertaining and fast-paced. Read more.
The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri, translation by Stephen Sartarelli. (Fiction) Urbane Sicilian police inspector Salvo Montalbano makes his long overdue English-language debut in this spare and spry English translation of the first novel in the series. Read more.
The Terra Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri, translation by Stephen Sartarelli. (Fiction) This story opens with the inspector's mysterious tete-à-tete with a mafioso, some inexplicably abandoned loot from a supermarket heist, and dying words that lead Montalbano to an illegal arms cache in a mountain cave. Read more.
One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by Melissa Panarello. Translated by Lawrence Venuti. (Erotic Fiction) This is the bestselling Sicilian novel since The Leopard. Influenced by the work of Anais Nin, it is both erotic and literary. An instant blockbuster in Italy, where it has sold over 700,000 copies Read more.
Good Girls Don't Wear Trousers by Lara Cardella. Translated by Diana Di Carcaci. (Fiction) Living in a remote Sicilian town in the early 1960s, Annetta, barely thirteen years old, doesn't dream of the romantic prince who will carry her away from an eternal boredom. Instead, the young narrator dreams of wearing pants rather than the "mandatory" dress or skirt. She imagines that this will liberate her from the stifling atmosphere that permeates the village of her birth. But the Women's Movement is still years away... Read more.
The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. The Greek myths, some of which are set in Sicily, are the earliest surviving Sicilian literature. This book, with its scholarly language, is the standard reference our writers consult. Read more.
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton. An excellent, readable guide to the Greek myths, another reliable "go to" reference. This is a superb introduction to classical mythology. Read more.
People, Biography, Life in Sicily
Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily by Theresa Maggio. (Biographical) This is a magnificent journey inside the world of a Sicilian fishing community and its thousand-year-old rituals. Every spring for untold centuries, great schools of giant bluefin tuna have swum through the Strait of Gibraltar to spawn in the Mediterranean Sea. And there, for untold centuries, men have been waiting for them. In this stunning debut, Theresa Maggio brings us inside the insular world of the "tonnara" - the ritual trapping and killing of bluefin enacted by fishermen since the Stone Age. Read more.
The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily by Theresa Maggio. (Travel and Biographical) It's not exactly a sequel to Mattanza (see above), but this book offers some interesting, and not always flattering, firsthand views of life in rural Sicily, with occasional forays into larger urban areas (the Mondello mentioned is actually part of Palermo). Masterfully expresed in the most minute details, with insights into the lives of women and the challenges faced by those now in their thirties or forties in a man's society Read more.
On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal by Mary Taylor Simeti. (Biographical) This is the ambivalent love story of an intelligent, complex, and self-reflective woman. The book recounts the events of 1983, the year Simeti turned 42. Her narrative alternates between Palermo, where her children attend school and her husband is a professor of agricultural economy, and Bosco, in eastern Sicily, where she shoulders demanding responsibilities on the working farm that has belonged to her husband's family for several generations. Simeti feels the isolation of being an expatriate and outsider, although she claims to welcome this perspective when faced with frustration and disgust at the pervading political corruption and corrosive effects of the Mafia on everyday life. Despite her natural diffidence, she shares personal insights that make the goddess Persephone's island as compelling as her prose. Written 30 years ago, this book is slightly dated in our era of cell phones, the internet and satellite television, but still a great read. Read more.
A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps. (Biographical) Near Mount Etna lies Casa Cuseni, a beautiful house built in golden stone - and the home which Daphne Phelps was astonished to find she had inherited in 1947. War-weary from working as a psychiatric social worker, with barely any Italian and precious little money, she plunged into a fascinating Sicilian world. The many problems to be overcome included not only financial difficulties but local authorities and a house staff who initially felt no loyalty to the new Signorina, but who gradually accepted her as a respected member of their small community. To help make ends meet, for many years Daphne Phelps ran Casa Cuseni as a small hotel. To her doors came Roald Dahl, Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell and the painter Henry Faulkner. Read more.
Casa Nostra: A home in Sicily by Caroline Seller Manzo. A more recent series of experiences than those of Ms Phelps (above) and with a slightly different emphasis and twist. Read more.
In Sicily by Norman Lewis. A distinct departure from the "chic lit" of the other books reviewed in this section (above), this is a series of experiences over many years by a gentleman who knows the island as well as any foreigner ever could. Plenty of history, culture and insight. Book has a detailed index. Read more.
Seeking Sicily by John Keahy. A good complement to Norman Lewis' book, and in some respects more personal, perhaps less "scholarly" but more current, with a finger on the pulse of today's Sicily. This book has a good index. Read more.
The Last Leopard: A life of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa by David Gilmour. While this is obviously an insightful biography of the aristocrat who has become Sicily's most widely-read author internationally, it is also a probing look at what it was like to live in Sicily during Fascism and the decade following its fall, seen through the eyes of one of the few Sicilian intellectuals who was not compromised by association with the regime. Through his fictional characters, Tomasi was one of the first authors in Italy to openly question the Risorgimento movement that united Italy a century before the publication of The Leopard. Read more.
Art and Architecture
Palaces of Sicily by Angheli Zalapì, with an Introduction by Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi. Photography by Melo Minnella. Stunning. In slightly over 300 pages full of beautiful color photographs and flawlessly descriptive text, the authors take us on a journey to some of Sicily's most stupendous homes, almost never open to the public. The original Italian title of this book, published in 1998, is Dimore di Sicilia, literally "Sicilian Residences," and that's probably more accurate than "Palaces" since these aren't just Baroque palaces but also medieval castles, aristocratic country homes, and an ancient country villa (namely the Roman one at Piazza Armerina). Minnella's photographs and Zalapi's text also introduce us to royal palaces old and new --the Royal Palace and the Zisa of the Norman kings, and the Chinese Villa of Ferdinando I (Bourbon) of the Two Sicilies. Interiors as well as exteriors. A few of the aristocratic residences included are the castles of Mussomeli and Paternò, the Steri Castle in Palermo, Villa Palagonia in Bagheria Read more.
Cooking, Culinary Culture & History
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The last leg of her culinary journey (in Italy) takes the author to Sicily, specifically Siracusa, Taormina and Palermo. This detail (unfortunately) didn't make it into the film starring Julia Roberts. Read more.
Pomp and Sustenance: 25 Centuries of Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti. In the last few years, it has become very stylish to write cookbooks that offer not just recipes and cooking methods, but also interesting details about the history and traditions of the culture whose food is described. This book does it very well. In Pomp and Sustenance (also published as Sicilian Food), you'll learn how to prepare some classic Sicilian dishes, as well as a few lesser-known ones, but you'll also discover something about the culture that spawned this unique cuisine. Like polyglot Sicilian history itself, Sicilian cuisine is a phenomenon that brings together the influences of all the societies that conquered or colonized the island. Even within Sicily, however, the cuisine has regional variations. Read more.
The Heart of Sicily: Recipes and Reminiscences of Regaleali, a Country Estate by Anna Tasca Lanza. Photography by Franco Zecchin. Many cookbooks tempt, inform, and inspire. A few capture the essence of a place, but rarely does a cookbook communicate the very soul of a place. In more than 200 pages and over 100 photographs, the late Anna Tasca Lanza's telling of life at Regaleali, the vast country estate that has belonged to her family since 1830, is so vivid that you feel her sitting next to you, talking and turning the pages as if it were a photo album. Read more.
Gangivecchio's Sicilian Kitchen (La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio) by Wanda Tornabene, Giovanna Tornabene and Michele Evans. So much has been written, produced, and marketed in recent years about the glories of northern Italian cooking that people have ignored the accomplishments of the cooks of southern Italy, especially those of the island of Sicily. Giovanna Tornabene opened a restaurant in her home in the scenic Madonie Mountains of Sicily in 1978 because it seemed the only way to hold on to her family's centuries-old estate. Read more.
Archaeology of Ancient Sicily by R. Ross Holloway. A professorial yet readable guide to complement travel books and general histories. Useful but perhaps best appreciated by serious archeology buffs. Read more.
Sicily Before History: An Archaeological Survey from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age by Robert Leighton. Students and travelers to Sicily will welcome this inviting introduction to the archaeology of the Mediterranean's largest island. In the first English-language book on prehistoric Sicily in over forty years, Robert Leighton explores the region's rich archaeological record. He charts the development of Sicily's early cultures from the Palaeolithic onward, concluding with an account of the indigenous society at the time of Greek and Phoenician settlement in the 8th century BC (BCE). Read more.
Syracuse, City of Legends by Jeremy Dummett. More than a history serving a generous portion of ancient archeology, this is a splendid, illustrated guide to Siracusa. Read more.
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