Books set in Rome are for the ones that are in love with this beautiful city. Rome, the Eternal City, has captured the imaginations of writers and readers alike for centuries. With its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture, Rome provides a captivating backdrop for books of all genres. This blog post will explore some of the most notable books set in Rome, from ancient times to the present day.
Rome has been the setting for some of the most iconic and memorable books in literary history. Whether it’s ancient Rome or modern-day Italy, the city has provided a rich and diverse backdrop for writers to explore themes of power, politics, religion, and society. From historical novels to thrillers to literary fiction, there’s something for everyone in this list of books set in Rome.
Books Set in Rome
I, Claudius – Robert Graves
An excellent modern classic among books set in Rome. Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the sidelines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula. Written in the form of Claudius’ autobiography, this is the first part of Robert Graves’s brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome. For the fans of Ancient Rome among books set in Rome.
Memoirs of Hadrian – Marguerite Yourcenar
Framed as a letter from the Roman Emperor Hadrian to his successor, Marcus Aurelius, Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian is translated from the French by Grace Frick with an introduction by Paul Bailey in Penguin Modern Classics, and it’s another excellent modern classic among books set in Rome.
In her magnificent novel, Marguerite Yourcenor recreates the life and death of one of the great rulers of the ancient world. The Emperor Hadrian, aware his demise is imminent, writes a long valedictory letter to Marcus Aurelius, his future successor. The Emperor meditates on his past, describing his accession, military triumphs, love of poetry and music, and the philosophy that informed his powerful and far-flung rule. A work of superbly detailed research and sustained empathy, Memoirs of Hadrian captures the living spirit of the Emperor and of Ancient Rome among books set in Rome.
Last Summer in the City – Gianfranco Calligarich
A quick and beautiful read among books set in Rome. In the late 1960s, Leo Gazzara leads a precarious life in Rome. He spends his time in an alcoholic haze, bouncing between hotels, bars, uninspiring jobs, romantic entanglements and the homes of his rich friends. Leo drifts, aimless and alone.
But on the evening of his thirtieth birthday, he meets Arianna. All night they drive the city in Leo’s run-down Alfa Romeo, talking and talking. They eat brioche for breakfast, drink through the dawn, drive to the sea and back. A whirlwind beginning. What follows is the story of the year Leo fell in love and lost everything.
Intense, romantic, witty and devastating, Last Summer in the City is a forgotten classic of Italian literature which offers an intoxicating portrait of two lonely people, pushing and pulling each other away and back again—one of my faves among books set in Rome.
The Agony and the Ecstasy – Irving Stone
His time: the turbulent Renaissance, the years of poisoning princes, warring popes, the all-powerful Medici family, the fanatic monk Savonarola.
His loves: the frail and lovely daughter of Lorenzo de Medici; the ardent mistress of Marco Aldovrandi; and his last love – his greatest love – the beautiful, unhappy Vittoria Colonna.
His genius: a God-driven fury from which he wrested the greatest art the world has ever known.
Michelangelo Buonarotti, creator of David, painter of the Sistine ceiling, architect of the dome of St Peter’s, lives once more in the tempestuous, powerful pages of Irving Stone’s marvellous book. An incredible book set in various cities among books set in Rome.
The Woman of Rome – Alberto Moravia
The glitter and cynicism of Rome under Mussolini provide the background of what is probably Alberto Moravia’s best and best-known novel – The Woman of Rome. It’s the story of Adriana, a simple girl with no fortune but her beauty who models naked for a painter, accepts gifts from men, and could never quite identify the moment when she traded her private dream of home and children for the life of a prostitute.
One of the very few novels of the twentieth century which can be ranked with the work of Dostoevsky, The Woman of Rome also tells the stories of the tortured university student Giacomo, a failed revolutionary who refuses to admit his love for Adriana; of the sinister figure of Astarita, the Secret Police officer obsessed with Adriana; and of the coarse and brutal criminal Sonzogno, who treats Adriana as his private property. Within this story of passion and betrayal, Moravia calmly strips away the pride and arrogance hiding the corrupt heart of Italian Fascism. A beautiful read among books set in Rome.
The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman
An exciting read among books set in Rome. The newspaper was founded in Rome in the 1950s, a product of passion and a multi-millionaire’s fancy. Eccentric and beloved, it now faces demise in the new digital era.
Still, the staff barely notice. The editor-in-chief is pondering sleeping with an old flame. The obsessive reader is intent on finishing every old edition, leaving her trapped in the past. And the publisher is less interested in his struggling newspaper than in his magnificent basset hound, Schopenhauer.
The Imperfectionists interweaves the stories of eleven unusual and endearing characters in a novel about endings – the end of life, the end of sexual desire, the end of the era of newspapers – and about what might rise afterwards. One of my fave reads among books set in Rome.
Two Women in Rome – Adele Parks
Lottie Archer arrives in Rome excited newly married and ready for change as she takes up a job as an archivist. When she discovers a valuable fifteenth-century painting, she is drawn to find out more about the woman who left it behind, Nina Lawrence.
Nina seems to have led a rewarding and useful life, restoring Italian gardens to their full glory following the destruction of World War Two. So why did no one attend her funeral in 1978?
In exploring Nina’s past, Lottie unravels a tragic love story beset by the political turmoil of post-war Italy. And as she edges closer to understanding Nina, and the city draws her deeper into its life, she is brought up against a past which will come to shape her own future. A modern and atmospheric novel among books set in Rome.
Four Seasons in Rome – Anthony Doerr
On the same day that his wife gave birth to twins, Anthony Doerr received the Rome Prize, an award that gave him a year-long stipend and studio in Rome…
‘Four Seasons in Rome’ charts the repercussions of that day, describing Doerr’s varied adventures in one of the most enchanting cities in the world, and the first year of parenthood. He reads Pliny, Dante, and Keats – the chroniclers of Rome who came before him – and visits the piazzas, temples, and ancient cisterns they describe. He attends the vigil of a dying Pope John Paul II and takes his twins to the Pantheon in December to wait for snow to fall through the oculus. He and his family are embraced by the butchers, grocers, and bakers of the neighbourhood, whose clamour of stories and idiosyncratic child-rearing advice is as compelling as the city itself.
This intimate and revelatory book, among books set in Rome, is a celebration of Rome, a wondrous look at new parenthood and a fascinating account of the alchemy of writers.
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome – Mary Beard
Ancient Rome matters.
Its history of empire, conquest, cruelty and excess is something against which we still judge ourselves. Its myths and stories – from Romulus and Remus to the Rape of Lucretia – still strike a chord with us. And its debates about citizenship, security and the rights of the individual still influence our own debates on civil liberty today.
SPQR is a new look at Roman history from one of the world’s foremost classicists. It explores not only how Rome grew from an insignificant village in central Italy to a power that controlled territory from Spain to Syria, but also how the Romans thought about themselves and their achievements, and why they are still important to us. Covering 1,000 years of history, and casting fresh light on the basics of Roman culture from slavery to running water, as well as exploring democracy, migration, religious controversy, social mobility and exploitation in the larger context of the empire, this is a definitive history of ancient Rome. A brilliant non-fiction among books set in Rome.
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio – Amara Lakhous
A compelling mix of social satire and murder mystery among books set in Rome.
A small, culturally mixed community living in an apartment building in the centre of Rome is thrown into disarray when one of the neighbours is murdered. An investigation ensues and as each of the victim’s neighbours is questioned, the reader is offered an all-access pass into the most colourful neighbourhood in contemporary Rome. Each character takes his or her turn centre-stage, giving evidence, recounting his or her story the dramas of racial identity, the anxieties and misunderstandings born of a life spent on society’s margins, the daily humiliations provoked by mainstream culture’s fears and indifference, preconceptions and insensitivity. What emerges is a moving story common to us all, whether we live in Italy or Los Angeles.
This novel is animated by a style that is as colourful as the neighbourhood it describes and is characterized by seemingly effortless equipoise that borrows from the cinematic tradition of the Commedia all Italiana as exemplified by directors such as Federico Fellini.
At the heart of this bittersweet comedy among books set in Rome, told with affection and sensitivity, is a social reality that we often tend to ignore and an anthropological analysis, refreshing in its generosity, that cannot fail to fascinate among books set in Rome.
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Are there any books set in Rome you’d like to add to this list? Would you please share in the comments section below?