Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Wagner's reply:
Since I write mysteries that take place in Italy, I like to read other mysteries set there. I’ve gone through all those of the late Michael Dibdin, and wait patiently for new ones by Camilleri and Leon. But in between the mysteries I try to read non-fiction books about Italy, and there are many. Lots are straight history, new looks at the same old themes: rise and fall, fall and rise, you know the drill. But every once in a while there is some wonderful new story.Visit David P. Wagner's website.
Fortune is a River by Roger D. Masters is one of those. It tells of a strange collaboration between two famous names of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and Niccoló Macchiavelli. Florence was having one of their periodic wars with Pisa, and somebody in Firenze had a great idea: why don’t we divert the Arno River so it doesn’t go through Pisa? That’ll show’em. And Niccoló, why don’t you hire Leonardo for the job since he’s great with water and war machines? The rest, as they say is ... well, you know.
There’s quite a bit of history in Extra Virginity, by Tom Mueller. I should say right away that the subject is olive oil. This book may fall into the category of “more than you really wanted to know about (fill in the subject),” but I found it fascinating. It goes through the uses of the stuff over the centuries and then spends the rest of its pages on how olive oil is produced and distributed these days. Be prepared to be shocked: often what’s in the bottle may not be what you think it should be from reading the label.
But if you want a general history of Italy, there is a relatively new one by British historian David Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy. He starts with the Romans and goes on from there, but the biggest part of it deals with the Risorgimento, the 19th century movement which created the nation we know today as Italy. His thesis is that it shouldn’t have happened; the peninsula would have been better off as various smaller countries. What do the Sicilians have in common with the Piemontesi? he asks, and if you’ve been to those two regions you have to admit he may have a point. He takes on one Italian historical icon after another, often with a dry wit, leaving them battered and bruised.
So any of those can be a nice break from mysteries, in case you need one.