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  • Writer's pictureOscar Soletto

Books about Sicily

There are numerous fabulous books about Sicily and many great Sicilian writers, including two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature (Luigi Pirandello and Salvatore Quasimodo). Whether you're interested in history, novels, cooking, biography or travel, there's always something inspiring to read about Sicily.

Here below are some of our all-time favourites (published in English). The vast majority are still in print; a few are only available in Kindle editions; for one or two you'll have to go down the second-hand route. Buona lettura!

Travel, culture and experience

Midnight in Sicily (Peter Robb, Vintage Classics)

One of the best books ever written about Sicily. Peter Robb arrives in Sicily as a journalist covering the Mafia maxi-trials in the late 1980s / early 1990s and discovers a whole new world.

A House in Sicily (Daphne Phelps, Virago)

When, in 1947, a young Daphne Phelps inherits Casa Cuseni, a house in Taormina built by her artistically-inclined uncle, her life is changed fo

rever. Soon, she's welcoming paying guests of the likes of Roald Dahl, Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell and Henry Faulkner...

On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal (Mary Taylor Simeti, Vintage, UK)

A year in the life of the American writer Mary Taylor Simeti, who has lived in Sicily since 1962.

Walking in Sicily (A Cicerone Guide) (Gillian Price, Workbase Education Trust)

Sicily boasts several impressive mountain ranges, two active volcanoes (including, of course, Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe) and numerous other areas of outstanding natural beauty. Exploring it all on foot is highly recommended, and Gillian Price's guide is excellent.

The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily (Theresa Maggio, Perseus Publishing)

Theresa Maggio returns to her ancestral village and visits others in Sicily to discover a way of life that is unknown to most outsiders.

Sicilian Carousel (Lawrence Durrell, Faber&Faber)

One of the greatest connoisseurs of Mediterranean life and culture turns his attention to Sicily during a whistlestop tour of the island.

Bitter Almonds (Maria Grammatico and Mary Taylor Simeti, Bantam)

A biography of Maria Grammatico, who spent her childhood in a convent, learned the nuns' secret recipes, and opened what would become a legendary cake shop.

History and biography

Cosa Nostra (John Dickie, Hodder and Staughton)

Professor of Italian Studies at University College London, John Dickie is the go-to expert on Italian organised crime. Cosa Nostra is a remarkable book that tells a complex story with great insight, knowledge and style.

Sicily: a Short History from the Greeks to Cosa Nostra (John Julius Norwich, John Murray)

John Julius Norwich wrote a great amount about Sicily during his long life. His last book on the subject is an A-to-Z history, written with panache, humour and affection.

The Normans in Sicily (John Julius Norwich, Penguin Books)

Perhaps the definitive account of how the Normans conquered much of southern Italy (at the same time as they were famously conquering Britain in 1066). The Normans in Sicily is actually two books in one: The Normans in the South and The Kingdom in the Sun.

The Kingdom of Sicily: 1130 - 1860 (Louis Mendola, Trinacria Editions)

A well-written, informed account of 700+ years of Sicilian history, when, in name if not entirely in reality, it was an independent kingdom.

In Sicily (Norman Lewis, Cape)

Part history, part biography, Norman Lewis casts a loving glance at Sicily, a place that enthralled him for most of his life, not least during the time he spent there during the 2nd World War.

The Last Leopard David Gilmour (Eland Publishing)

A wonderful biography of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, covering all aspects of his life, from his aristocratic upbringing to the creation of his masterpiece, The Leopard. The last scion of a noble Sicilian family, whose historic palazzo in Palermo was bombed out during the 2nd World War, Lampedusa was a humble, fascinating and fabulously well-read man.

The Day of Battle (Rick Atkinson, Abacus)

The definitive history of Operation Husky, the first step of the Allied forces' liberation of Europe during the 2nd World War. Landing in Sicily, British, American, Canadian and other allied troops swept through and around Sicily before heading over the Straits of Messina to begin the hard-fought and bloody march up the Italian mainland.

The Honoured Society (Norman Lewis, Eland)

Not perhaps the most reliable or authoritative source of information about the Mafia, but beautifully written and interesting in its own way.

Princes Under the Volcano (Raleigh Trevelyan, Phoenix Press)

The remarkable history of the Inghams and the Whitakers, two English families who "invented" Marsala in the late 18th century, got rich, and founded their own Sicilian dynasties.

Excellent Cadavers (Alexander Stille, Vintage)

An outstanding history of the Mafia in the late 20th-century, as it went to war against the Italian State. The title refers to the investigative magistrates, police chiefs, politicians, journalists, and high-ranking Carabinieri officers who were assassinated by the Mafia with the collusion of the ruling elite.

Cuisine and gastronomy

Made in Sicily (Giorgio Locatelli, Fourth Estate)

Possibly the definitive technical guide to Sicilian cooking from the London-based Michelin-starred chef.

Sicily: a Gastronomic Continent - Chefs and Traditions (Francesco Pensovecchio, Giunti)

A gorgeously photographed book with illuminating texts, and contributions and recipes from Sicily's top chefs, including Michelin-starred chefs Ciccio Sultano, Pino Cuttaia and many others. A really wonderful guide to all that's best about Sicilian culinary traditions.

Sicilia: the Cooking of Casa Planeta (Elisa Menduni, Mondadori)

Delicious recipes and instructive inspiration from the kitchen of the Planeta family, one of Sicily's most prestigious wine producers.

Heart of Sicily: Recipes and Reminiscences of Regaleali - A Country Estate (Anna Tasca Lanza, Cassell Illustrated)

The doyenne of Sicilian cooking, Anna Tasca Lanza was hard to beat when it comes to seasonal Sicilian country food. The book is currently out of print, but second-hand copies are available.

Novels and other fiction

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Vintage)

One of the great masterpieces of 20th-century Italian literature, The Leopard is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand Sicily. A saga of an aristocratic family in decline at the time of the Unification of Italy in 1860, The Leopard captures the moment of transition between the old world and the new with finesse and remarkable clarity.

11 Short Stories Luigi Pirandello (Dover Publications, Inc)

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934, Pirandello is one of Sicily's (and Italy's) greatest ever writers. Particularly well-known for his plays, Pirandello also wrote plenty of poetry, essays, novels and short stories.

Conversations in Sicily (Elio Vittorini, Canongate Books)

An introspective, insightful and lyrical book about Sicilians, Sicilian traditions and life as it was in the late 1930s. A persistent critic of Mussolini's Fascist regime, Vittorini was put in prison in 1942, just one year after this novel was published.

I Malavoglia (The House by the Medlar Tree) (Giovanni Verga, Dedalus)

Another classic of the Italian literary canon, I Malavoglia charts the history of the Malavoglia family in the fishing village of Aci Trezza at the time of the Unification of Italy in 1860. Reading it in conjunction with The Leopard gives a fascinating overview of this pivotal period of Italian (and Sicilian) history.

The Day of the Owl (Leonardo Sciascia, Granta)

A murder mystery from one of Sicily's finest writers. Sciascia is famous for his nuance and his subtle intimation of how life in Sicily works. Nothing is ever quite as it seems, every action and every word has a disproportionate depth of meaning, and few outsiders - even Italians from the mainland - will ever truly understand.

The Silent Duchess (Dacia Maraini, Arcadia Books)

A moving novel that tells the story of the deaf-and-mute Duchess Marianna in 18th-century Sicily. Born into an aristocratic family, she faces a stark choice while still a teenager: enter a nunnery or marry her uncle.

The Blind Argus (Gesualdo Bufalino, Harvill)

Another of Sicily's great 20th-century writers, Bufalino, who was born in Comiso in the southeast of the island, has a magical touch and a vibrant story-telling style. Both of these elements are evident in this tale of an elderly man reminiscing about his life, his town, and the women he's loved.

Excursion to Tindari (Andrea Camilleri, Picador)

Camilleri is arguably the best loved Italian writer in the world. Quintessentially Sicilian and extremely prolific, despite only starting to write later in life, he is synonymous with his most famous character, Inspector Montalbano, the star of all his books, including Excursion to Tindari.

The Godfather (Mario Puzo, Arrow)

No introduction required!

The Straits of Treachery (Richard Hopton, Allison & Busby)

Winner of the Society of Army Historical Research’s Fiction Prize for 2020, The Straits of Treachery is a tale of derring-do, shifting loyalties and troubling political uncertainty in Messina in 1810 during the British occupation of Sicily.

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