Illume invites you to explore the world. Illume’s local expert guides make complex information accessible to participants in our programs. We encourage our world travelers to do some advance reading to inspire curiosity, stimulate questions and gain context for what you will see and experience. We have consulted scholars, pastoral leaders and group organizers for pre-reading suggestions. Here are some of the best books, films and articles to prepare you for your international travels.
All Roads Lead to Rome
Illume’s bibliography begins with the best books, articles and films about Rome, one of the most fascinating cities of the world. Its nearly 2800 years of history are etched in the archaeology, monuments, museums, art, urban layout and institutions and customs that make visiting here so rich and satisfying.
Illume Team Articles
The following articles about Rome prepare you for unique facets of the city and are written by members of the Illume team.
Multimedia About Rome
Here are some good multi-media resources and videos about ancient Rome and about Christian Rome.
General Introductions to Rome
These are recommend guidebooks and overviews of Rome.
To explore the vast arc of Roman history, Christopher Hibbert’s book, Rome: The Biography of a City is a great option. It reads well and offers a comprehensive account of the nearly 2800 years of Roman history.
For your free time in Rome, there is an engaging and accessible book on walks in Rome. John Fort and Rachel Piercey have put together a visual and narrative exploration of some of the more interesting neighborhoods of Rome in Rome Walks.
The DK Eyewitness Guide to Rome is a good visual introduction to Rome and includes important practical information about transportation, money, food, and other logistics of visiting Rome.
The Michelin Green Guide to Rome is a great resource for more in-depth information about select sites.
Historical Novels & Biographies About Rome
A great way to prepare for your visit is to read historical fiction. The following are suggested historical novels about Rome:
Galileo’s Daughter. By Dava Sobel. Walker and Company. Dava Sobel’s book on Galileo’s daughter is a fascinating account of the letters and relationship between Galileo and his daughter at the time of Galileo’s trial. It provides a dramatic window into the life and times of Rome and Florence during the 17th century.
Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling. By Ross King. Walker and Company. This is a well-acclaimed book about the relationship between Pope Julius and Michelangelo and the commission to paint the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. This is an excellent book for understanding Rome in the early 1500s and for gaining an appreciation for the background of the Sistine Chapel.
M: the Man Who Became Caravaggio. Peter Robb. This is a well-researched and well-written biography of Caravaggio. It is an engaging read and helps visitors learn more about Rome in the late 1500s and early 1600s. It helps us understand the intersection of art, religion and culture during a fascinating time in Roman history.
Augustus: The Life of Rome’s First Emperor. Anthony Everitt. Anthony Everitt’s book on Augustus is an engaging and informative biography. It provides a wonderful overview of ancient Rome and a window into the people, places and events that transformed Rome.
Other historical novels and biographies about Rome include:
The Pope and the Heretic: The True Story of Giordano Bruno. By Michael White.
Michelangelo: A Biography. By George Bull. St. Martin’s Griffin.
Benvenuto Cellini. Autobiography. Penguin Classics.
Lives of the Artists. By Vasari. Penguin Classics.
The Twelve Caesars. By Suetonius. Penguin Classics.
I am John. I am Paul. By Mark Tedesco.
Films About Rome
Rome has its own version of Hollywood with the studios of Cinecitta. Rome is a great setting for movies and has been popularized by such classics as Roman Holiday, Three Coins in the Fountain and, more recently, by Tom Hanks in Angels and Demons. The following are the best films about or set in Rome.
La Dolce Vita – 1960
Roman Holiday – 1953
Quo Vadis – 1951
Three Coins in the Fountain – 1954
Ben-Hur – 1959
Gladiator – 2000
I Claudius – 1976
Angels and Demons – 2009
Eat Pray Love – 2010
Under the Tuscan Sun – 2003
The Talented Mr. Ripley – 1999
Facing Windows – 2003
Saturn in Opposition – 2007
Books About Ancient Rome and Roman Archaeology
Rome is one of the most important archaeological destinations in the world. For centuries, Romans built lavish palaces, temples, and civic buildings to support their imperial profile and accommodate politicians, citizens and world visitors. The following are the best books for providing background information about Roman monuments, about contemporary Roman archaeological sites, and about the customs, beliefs and practices of life in ancient Rome.
Rome: Oxford Archeological Guides. Oxford Univ. Press. The Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome is an excellent introduction to historical sites in Rome with maps and detailed historical information.
The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome. By Peter Connolly. Oxford University Press. Peter Connolly’s book on the Ancient City is a visually stunning overview of the life, activities, customs and urban construction of ancient Roman cities.
Additional suggested books on ancient archaeological Rome include:
A Profile of Ancient Rome. By Flavio Conti. J. Paul Getty Museum.
Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome. By Chris Scarre.
Daily Life in Ancient Rome. By Jerome Carcopino. Yale Univ. Press.
As the Romans Did. By Jo-Ann Shelton. Oxford Univ. Press.
The World of Rome: An Introduction to Roman Culture. By Ed. Peter Jones and Keith Sidwell. Cambridge Univ. Press.
Ancient Rome: City Planning and Administration. By O. F. Robinson. Routledge.
Roman Architecture. By Frank Sear. Cornell Univ. Press.
Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice. Ed. Richard Valantasis. Princetown.
The Latin Inscriptions of Rome: A Walking Guide. By Tyler Lansford. Johns Hopkins U. Press.
Books on Early Christianity in Rome (for Early Christian Art - see separate heading below)
Rome preserves the greatest concentration of early Christian sites in the world. A visit to Rome provides an open window into early artistic expressions of Christian faith, access to the places where early Christians met, and the ability to explore the context of their life in adjacent Roman monuments. The people, places and events of the scriptures come to life in Rome as we follow in the footsteps of Peter and Paul and their compansions in ministry. These are some of the best books about early Christian Rome.
To understand the context of early Christianity in Rome and what distinguished it from ancient Roman religion, Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity, Harper San Francisco, is one of the best and most accessible books.
If you are interested in exploring historical churches and excavations associated with them, Matilda Webb’s book, The Churches and Catacombs of Early Christian Rome: A Comprehensive Guide, Sussex Academic Press, is an excellent resource.
The following are additional suggested books exploring early Christianity and its relationship to Judaism and ancient Roman religion:
Judaism and Christianity in First Century Rome.By Ed. Karl Donfried and Peter Richardson. Eerdmans Publishing.
Pilgrimage: A Chronicle of Christianity Through the Churches of Rome. By June Hager. Cassell Paperbacks.
From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries. By Peter Lampe. Fortress Press.
Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity. By Luke Timothy Johnson. Fortress Press.
Rome in the Bible and the Early Church. By Ed. Peter Oakes. Baker Academic.
The Jews in Late Ancient Rome. By Leonard Victor Rutgers. Brill’s Scholars’ List.
The Jews of Ancient Rome. By Harry Leon. Hendrickson Press.
Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity. Luke Timothy Johnson. Yale U. Press.
Reading Romans in Pompeii, Paul's Letter at Ground Level. Peter Oakes. Fortress Press.
The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide. By Warren Carter. Abingdon Press.
First Converts: Rich Pagan Women and the Rhetoric of Mission in Early Christianity. By Shelly Matthews. Stanford Univ. Press.
Rome: A Pilgrim's Guide to the Eternal City. By James L. Papandrea.
Papal Rome & Renaissance Rome
The 16th century was a watershed moment in the history of Rome. During ancient times, Rome boasted a population of over one million inhabitants. By the beginning of the 16th century, there may have been 50,000 people. In the 14th and 15th centuries, there were efforts to reclaim the grandeur of Rome, but it wasn’t until the early 1500s that the popes began to seriously invest in the rebuilding of Rome. These are recommended books about Renaissance Rome.
A good introduction to Renaissance Popes and their projects is Gerard Noel’s book, The Renaissance Popes, Carroll and Graf Publishers. This helps orient visitors to the various periods of time in Rome during the Renaissance and the Church leaders that influenced events, projects and perspectives.
A more academic overview of the Renaissance in Rome can be explored in Charles Stinger’s book, The Renaissance in Rome, Indiana University Press. This is a substantial overview of the philosophical, religious, artistic and cultural influences on Rome during the Renaissance.
A biography of Raphael provides a good insight into some of the personalities and themes of the Renaissance in Rome. Raphael, A Passionate Life, Antonio Forcellino, traces both Raphael’s origins and journey to Rome as well as the drama behind the artistic projects and personality clashes during the early 1500s.
For Ignatian and Jesuit heritage travel to Rome, John O’Malley’s book, The First Jesuits, is a good overview of the early years of the Order and the ministries the early Jesuits established during the Renaissance and Counter Reformation period of Rome.
Other recommended books on Renaissance and Papal Rome include the following:
Chronicles of the Popes. By P.G. Maxwell-Stuart. Thames and Hudson.
In the Footsteps of Popes: A Spirited Guide to the Treasures of the Vatican. By Enrico Bruschini. William Morro Pub.
Rome Reshaped: Jubilees 1300-2000. By Desmond O'Grady. Continuum.
Spanish Rome: 1500-1700. By Thomas James Dandelet. Yale Univ. Press.
Art of Italy (and Rome)
Italians have been blessed with some of the greatest artists of western civilization, and so much of this continues to be well-preserved and accessible to world travelers. Understanding the vast patrimony of Italian art is a daunting task. The following books help make sense of the different epochs of art in Italy. These are recommended books on art in Italy.
An excellent overview of Renaissance art in Italy is John Paoletti’s and Gary Radke’s book, Art in Reniassance Italy. Abrams Press.
For an introduction to the themes and examples of early Christian art, Robin Jensen’s book, Understanding Early Christian Art, is an accessible and informative option.
Other recommend books on art in Rome and Italy include:
Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph. By Jas Elsner. Oxford Univ. Press.
Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity: Ritual, Visual and Theological Dimensions. By Robin Margaret Jensen.
Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity. By Robin Margaret Jensen.
Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art. Edited by Jeffrey Spier.
Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. By Richard Krautheimer.
Clash of the Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art. By Thomas Matthews.
Unearthing the Past: Archeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture. By Leonard Barkan. Yale Univ. Press.
Other Italian Cities/Regions
Illume Team Articles
Assisi is an enchanting medieval town that preserves the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare. It is the perfect place to spend time soaking in the serene Umbrian countryside, exploring artisan studios where colorful pottery is made, spending time in retreat, hiking to ancient hermitages, and seeing first hand some of the earliest art of Renaissance Italy.
These are recommended books to prepare for your travel to Assisi.
G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis, St. Francis of Assisi, is one of the classic books about his life.
Judith Dean’s book, Every Pilgrim’s Guide to Assisi, explores the history, destinations, festivals and practical information regarding a spiritual journey to Assisi.
For a visually stimulating introduction to the life and times of St. Francis, watch the movie: Brother Sun and Sister Moon (1972).
Florence is the most important center of art in the world. The patronage of the Medicis and other aristocratic families inspired a flourishing of painting, sculpture, and architecture in a city that continues to exude the sophistication and high Renaissance humanism for which it became so famous.
The following are the best books to prepare for your travel to Florence.
A good overview guidebook for Florence is the DK Eyewitness Guide to Florence. It includes information about all of the major sites, background information about the history of Florence, important people and events, and logistical information.
Christopher Hibbert’s book, The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall, Harper Collins, is a fascinating account of the intrigue behind the rise of one of the most important families in Renaissance Europe. The book weaves together family stories and their relevance for the people, places, events and art of Florence.
Christopher Hibbert’s book, Florence, is also a great overview of the history of Florence.
Ross King’s book, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Bloomsbury, is an engaging story about how the iconic dome of Florence’s cathedral was built. It helps visitors appreciate how innovative it was and how it changed the course of architecture forever.
Susan Vreeland’s book, The Passion of Artemesia, Viking, tells the story of Artemesia Gentileschi, a female artist who fled Rome and settled in Florence, becoming the first woman to be elected to the Accademia dell’Arte.
Lauro Martines’ book, Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Florence, Oxford, provides in window into the religious politics of Florence. The true story underscores the tensions between Christian humanism and a more evangelical and conservative Christianity that some Dominicans sought to foster. The book provides another way of weaving together the stories of the Medici’s, the artists and the religious leaders of Renaissance Florence.
Films About Florence
Florence is a visually stunning city, and the Tuscan countryside is breathtaking. The following are best films that capture the people, stories and landscape of Florence and Tuscany.
Tea with Mussolini, 1999
Room with a View, 1986
Under the Tuscan Sun, 2003
Letters to Juiiet, 2010
Venice is a romantic city that holds a deep fascination as modern visitors explore its canals, bridges, and quiet pedestrian areas winding from island to island. It is a city steeped in history, commanding an important presence in the Mediterranean over many centuries. The wealth is embodied in the golden mosaics of the Cathedral and in the sumptuous Doge’s Palace facing St. Mark’s Square. Here are a couple of books to prepare you for your visit to Venice.