Liam Callahan’s 6 favorite books set in Rome

In Liam Callahan’s new novel, When in Rome, an American weighs taking up with an old flame versus joining an Italian convent. Below, the author of the best-seller Paris by the Book recommends six other books set in Italy’s Eternal City.

Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (1950)

Eleanor Clark went to Rome to write a novel and came back with this ethereal book instead. It’s part travelogue, part history, part memoir, and altogether wonderful. When you’re in Rome, she writes, “you walk close to your dreams” — a line I found so resonant to my own experience, I used it for the epigraph of my new novel. Buy it here.

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr (2007)

Doerr, too, went to Rome to write a novel — which turned out to be his 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See. He also returned with this charming account of navigating the Eternal City with his wife and their months-old twin bambini. Buy it here.

Lost Hearts in Italy by Andrea Lee (2006)

As it begins, Andrea Lee’s novel finds heroine Mira “in the dangerous company of words,” picking through memories of an affair that entangled her when she first moved to Italy with her now former husband. The story is an unsparing examination of race, class, gender, and Italian society. Buy it here.

The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories edited by Jhumpa Lahiri (2019)

A collection of greats, too many of which are too little known outside Italy. Don’t miss Ennio Flaiano’s “A Martian in Rome,” which pokes as much fun at Romans as it does at the eponymous Martian, who reportedly “is happy to be living in Rome, where life is undoubtedly better than in every other city on the planet.” Buy it here.

Blue Guide Rome by Alta Macadam and Annabel Barber (2020)

This is a regularly updated guidebook that’s as exuberantly impractical — the latest edition clocks in at 703 pages of densely printed prose — as it is glorious. Award yourself a doctorate in Roman Studies when you close the final page. Buy it here.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (2012)

The production of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s (in)famous 1963 movie, Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and shot in Rome, launches this unabashedly romantic novel across decades and continents. Hide your credit card while reading or risk booking a real-life trip to Italy before you finish. Buy it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.