Books on Italy

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Dianne chose five of her favorite books on Italy on See the list, and notes on why she loves them, here: The best books to inspire a passion for Italy—and Italian

La Bella Lingua

My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language

In English a book that keeps selling long after publication is said to “have legs.” La Bella Lingua, published in 2009, sprouted wings. This New York Times best-seller—hailed as a “love letter” to Italy and its culture—has captivated readers around the world.

Centuries before there was an Italy, there was Italian. Its roots date back thousands of years to the volgare, the street Latin of ancient Rome. La Bella Lingua tells the adventurous tale of how this zesty language became Italian and follows its path through the realms of history, art, literature, manners, music, cooking, cinema and, of course, amore.

Handcrafted by poets and wordsmiths, Italian embodies its native speakers’ greatest genius: the ability to transform anything—from marble to melody, from the humble noodle to life itself—into a joyous art. While other tongues do little more than speak, Italian thrills the ear, beguiles the mind, captivates the heart, enraptures the soul and comes closer than any other idiom to expressing the essence of what it means to be human.

Praise for La Bella Lingua

“A charming love letter to the language and culture of Italy”
—Publishers Weekly
“A joyous, funny and warmly affectionate celebration of Italy, its history, literature, food, music, movies and its people.”
—What’s New in Italy

“The best book on Italy since Barzini’s classic The Italians.”
—Matt Tyrnauer, director of Valentino: The Last Emperor

“A lovely and humorous account of one person’s love with a particular language.”
—Chicago Tribune

“A delightful, informative tour of both the history of the Italian language and her own account of innamoramento (crazy head-over-heels love) with la bella lingua.”
—Everett Potter Travel Report

“Hales’ readers can come to experience Italy with as much passion and intensity as she recounts in her excellent book.”
—The Florence Newspaper
“A wonderful journey of all things Italian rolled up in an enjoyable history lesson. Don’t be a brutta figura! Go now and buy it!”
—ComUNICO, the national UNICO newsletter

Mona Lisa

A Life Discovered

A genius immortalized her. A French king paid a fortune for her. An emperor coveted her. Every year millions of visitors trek to view her portrait in the Louvre. Yet while everyone recognizes her smile, no one knows her story. Meet the woman who became the most famous artistic subject of all time.

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered blends biography, history and memoir to introduce Mona (Madame) Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo—daughter of Florence, woman of the Renaissance, wife, mother and muse. Intrigued by new findings confirming the identity of Leonardo’s model, Dianne Hales set off on a personal quest for the flesh-and-blood woman in the world’s most praised and parodied painting.

Who was this ordinary woman who rose to such extraordinary fame? Why did the most renowned painter of her time choose her as his model? What became of her? And why does her smile enchant us still?

Mona Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, a quintessential woman of her times, was caught in a whirl of political upheavals, family dramas and public scandals. Descended from ancient nobles, she was born and baptized in Florence in 1479. Wed to a truculent businessman twice her age, she gave birth to six children and died at age sixty-three in 1542.

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered transports readers to the squalid street where Lisa was born, traces her colorful family history and captures the tumult and pageantry of Renaissance Florence. Her story creates an extraordinary tapestry of daily life in a city bursting into fullest bloom and a culture that redefined the possibilities of man—and of woman.

Praise for Mona Lisa

“I’m enthralled by every page of Dianne Hales’s Mona Lisa… Anyone who loves art and Italy—and who doesn’t?—will adore this book.”
—Frances Mayes
“This is cultural history that reads like a detective novel…a fascinating portrait not just of Lisa Gherardini but also of the vibrant Renaissance world that nurtured both Lisa and Leonardo’s painting.”
—Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome
“Entertaining…Combining history, whimsical biography, personal travelogue and love letter to Italy, this book portrays Lisa Gherardini as a Renaissance Everywoman.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Biography, history and memoir are woven together in Hales’ lyrical biography of Lisa Gherardini.”

“An affectionate my-search-for story for art lovers and anyone interested in glorious and gory Florence in the 15th to 16th centuries and in the divine Leonardo in particular.”
—USA Today
“A detailed and fascinating book that’s scholarly yet presented in a way that’s easy to understand and fun to read…highly recommended.”
— Italy Travel
“Anyone who reads Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered will never see the image again the same way. They will appreciate more the woman depicted, not just the artist.”
—San Antonio Express News

La Passione

How Italy Seduced the World

From the New York Times bestselling author knighted by the President of Italy for her writing, a jubilant exploration of how Italy transformed the Western world’s most vibrant passions—from literature to art, music to movies.

No country has matched Italy’s impact on culture. Just think of painting without Leonardo, opera without Verdi, fashion without Armani, food without the signature tastes of pasta and pizza. The first universities, first banks, first public libraries? All Italian.

Dianne Hales attributes these landmark achievements to la passione italiana, a primal force that stems from an insatiable hunger to discover and create; to love and live with every fiber of one’s being. This fierce drive blazes to life in the Sistine Chapel, surges through a Puccini aria, and rumbles in a gleaming Ferrari engine.

Our ideal tour guide, Dianne sweeps readers along on her adventurous quest for the secrets of la passione. She swims in the playgrounds of mythic gods, shadows artisanal makers of chocolate and cheese, joins in Sicily’s Holy Week traditions, celebrates a neighborhood Carnevale in Venice, and explores pagan temples, vineyards, silk mills, movie sets and fashion salons. In sumptuous prose, she introduces us to unforgettable personalities brimming with the greatest of Italian passions—for life itself.

A lyrical portrait of a spirit as well as a nation, La Passione appeals to the Italian in all our souls, inspiring us to be as daring as Italy’s gladiators, as eloquent as its poets, as alluring as its beauties and as irresistible as its lovers.

Praise for La Passione

“Hales successfully captures what it means to experience Italy and to be Italian, regardless of one’s background… Italophiles will relish the depth and breadth of this delightful book.”
—Library Journal
“Sure to inspire many vacations, this volume shows Italy’s many contributions to the world and captures the essence of the very things that make it such a wondrous place.”
—Publishers Weekly
“She brings the reader with her to experience the country’s long-lasting traditions and the people whose dedication keeps that legacy alive today… La Passione is a delightful excursion into the heart of Italian culture.”
La Passione masterfully examines the multitude of reasons why so many people fall in love with Italy and the Italian lifestyle.”
“…an enthusiastic tour through an Italophile’s Italy.”
—National Geographic

“A” is for Amore

I fell madly, gladly, giddily in love with Italian decades ago. Yearning to communicate with its speakers, I set out to learn their language by immersing myself in classes, movies, videos, and conversation groups. One of my earliest formal lessons focused on the Italian alphabet. Although its 21 letters look identical to their English counterparts (minus j, k, w, x, and y), they don’t sound the same.

The differences go beyond pronunciation. To me, each letter brings to mind a word that represents a different aspect of Italian life and culture. I’ve put together my alphabetical musings in a new e-book you can download as a free PDF here.

Based on decades of research, writing, and wandering, “A” Is for Amore takes readers on a whimsical letter-by- journey through the Italian ABCs. You’ll travel to Florence and Rome, savor Italians’ favorite dishes, delve into the worlds of fashion and wine, meet Dante, Leonardo, and the irresistible Italian man, and gain a new appreciation of the Italian “H” (acca) and “Z” (zeta).

If you love Italy, you’ll learn more about the country and its people. If you come from an Italian family, you’ll discover more about your heritage. If you’re an Italian student or teacher, you’ll find a light-hearted perspective that complements vocabulary and grammar lessons. If you are an armchair adventurer, you don’t need to know any Italian to enjoy the ride.

“A” Is for Amore is my love letter to Italy, its people, and all my readers, with great appreciation for your support. I hope this small gift will entertain and uplift you.

Buon viaggio!