7 books to discover Florence

Florence,  the epicenter   of the Renaissance is a small compact city. Culturally rich, with more artistic masterpieces per per square kilometer than anywhere else, it is easy to get overwhelmed.  Here  are 7 books  that will guide you to the very best of the city but also help unlock it’s mysteries and make you feel like a local.

The Cognoscenti's guide to FlorenceThe Cognoscenti’s Guide to Florence: Shop and Eat Like a Florentine by Louise Fili & Lise Apatoff

“Shop and eat like a Florentine, with this pocket-sized guide to the best of this magnificent Tuscan city known for its art, culture, and cuisine. Celebrated graphic designer Louise Fili takes you on eight walks through Florence, discussing more than seventy shops–some run by the same families for generations, others offering young entrepreneurs’ fresh interpretations of traditional techniques. Discerning travelers will discover rare books and charming hats; vintage Puccini and handcrafted toys; cioccolata da bere (drinkable chocolate), colorful buttons, and bolts of rich silk fabric, in this enchanting introduction to makers and purveyors of clothing, home decor, accessories, specialty foods, and much, much more”

Secret FlorenceSecret Florence by Niccolo Rinaldi

Visit a church in a prison, learn how Florence became the centre of hermetism during the Renaissance and where you can still find traces of it today, escape from the crowds of tourists to visit little-known artistic masterpieces, head off to hunt for the 34 plaques displaying quotes from the “Divine Comedy”, fill up your tank at a vintage service station, have your children count the number of bees sculpted on the monument to the glory of Ferdinand I, look for the last wine distributors of the Renaissance, notice the minuscule windows designed to let children look out quietly onto the street, visit superb private gardens that even the Florentines don’t know about, learn how the purple colour of the Fiorentina football team is connected to the pee of a Florentine crusader in Palestine . . .
Far from the crowds and usual clichés, Florence holds many well-hidden treasures that are revealed only to the city’s inhabitants or travellers who know how to step off the beaten track. An essential guide for those who think they know Florence well or for those looking to discover the hidden side of the city.

An Art Lover's Guide to FlorenceAn Art Lover’s Guide to Florence by Judith Testa

No city but Florence contains such an intense concentration of art produced in such a short span of time. The sheer number and proximity of works of painting, sculpture, and architecture in Florence can be so overwhelming that Florentine hospitals treat hundreds of visitors each year for symptoms brought on by trying to see them all, an illness famously identified with the French author Stendhal.While most guidebooks offer only brief descriptions of a large number of works, with little discussion of the historical background, Judith Testa gives a fresh perspective on the rich and brilliant art of the Florentine Renaissance in “An Art Lover’s Guide to Florence. “Concentrating on a number of the greatest works, by such masters as Botticelli and Michelangelo, Testa explains each piece in terms of what it meant to the people who produced it and for whom they made it, deftly treating the complex interplay of politics, sex, and religion that were involved in the creation of those works. With Testa as a guide, armchair travelers and tourists alike will delight in the fascinating world of Florentine art and history.

Blue Guide FlorenceBlue Guide Florence by Alta MacAdam

The tenth edition of this accessible, scholarly guide to the city of the Renaissance. An essential handbook for any traveller who wants to fully understand the development of Italian art history.

Completely updated, this edition contains superb plans and illustrations of painting, architecture and sculpture, and includes full coverage of several newly opened museums and palaces. Detailed coverage of where to stay and eat.

The depth of information and quality of research make this book the best guide for the independent cultural traveler as well as for all students of art history, architecture and Italian culture. Ideal as an on-site guide as well as a desk resource.

City Secrets FlorenceCity Secrets: Florence, Venice: The Essential Insider’s Guide by Robert Kahn

“City Secrets Florence and Venice” brings together the recommendations of artists, writers, historians, architects, chefs, and other experts whose passionate opinions and highly informed perspectives illuminate well-known sites as well as overlooked treasures. These expert travel companions share with you their favorite little-known places including restaurants, cafes, art, architecture, shops, outdoor markets, strolls, day-trips, as well all manner of cultural and historic landmarks. Clothbound, elegant, and pocket-sized, the guide features a subtle non-guidebook design and detailed maps. With over 50 contributors and 100 venues, “City Secrets Florence and Venice” is a valuable supplement to any guide more devoted to travel basics.
A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to Save Venice and the American Academy in Rome.

Florence a map of PerceptionsFlorence: A Map of Perceptions by Andrea Ponsi

Many years have passed since architect Andrea Ponsi settled in Florence, and still he feels he does not fully comprehend this mysterious city. The way Florence eludes understanding, however, can be an opportunity–to keep seeking, to keep exploring. Ponsi’s Florence is endlessly suggestive. His tour of the city is one of continually shifting light and perspective, of stunning symmetry and an even more compelling asymmetry, of sudden transitions from bustling streets to the most perfect silence.

While Ponsi does consider such celebrated sites as the Piazza Santa Croce, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Duomo, the book is a decidedly personal view of Florence. The author notes the city’s recurring geometry–the square courtyards, triangular spires, octagonal plaques and pillars–and marvels at a room almost too big to be called a room. He views the city from various terraces and likens the expanse of rising and falling rooftops to ocean waves.Here is Florence as labyrinth, possessing a medieval density that is relieved only by the sudden views of sky framed by its piazzas. Ponsi shows us a six-street intersection and ponders the abundance of acute angles, both indoors and out, in this city of infinite corners.

In Florence, humans and buildings commingle. The author equates haircuts and changes of clothes with fresh coats of paint and re-shingling jobs, and contemplates the way a human hand, feeling its way down a city block, adds to the patina of a stucco wall. Ponsi sees the city itself as a living body, through whose veins its inhabitants course.

This is the way we dream an architect could speak to us, fully communicating his passion. The book’s elegant, concise prose–as well as its balance of the civic with the intensely personal–recalls the Calvino of “Marcovaldo” and “Invisible Cities.” The text is accompanied by Ponsi’s own spare but evocative watercolors and sketches, which, like his words, seek to behold rather than pin down. This lyrical tribute is as much an ode to the lost art of contemplation as it is to Florence–a city where every moment is different from every other moment.

The House of Medici

The House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert

It was a dynasty with more wealth, passion, and power than the houses of Windsor, Kennedy, and Rockefeller combined. It shaped all of Europe and controlled politics, scientists, artists, and even popes, for three hundred years. It was the house of Medici, patrons of Botticelli, Michelangelo and Galileo, benefactors who turned Florence into a global power center, and then lost it all.

The House of Medici picks up where Barbara Tuchman’s Hibbert delves into the lives of the Medici family, whose legacy of increasing self-indulgence and sexual dalliance eventually led to its self-destruction. With twenty-four pages of black-and-white illustrations, this timeless saga is one of Quill’s strongest-selling paperbacks.

 

 

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Not My Job: Travel Guru Rick Steves Gets Quizzed

Rick Steves PhotoIn 1976, he started his business, Rick Steves’ Europe, which has grown from a one-man operation to a company with a staff of 80 full-time, well-travelled employees at his headquarters in Washington state. There he produces more than 50 guidebooks on European travel, America’s most popular travel series on public television, a weekly hour-long national public radio show, a weekly syndicated column, and free travel information available through his travel center and website. Rick Steves’ Europe also runs a successful European tour program. Rick Steves lives and works in his hometown of Edmonds, Washington.

NPR LogoListen to NPR’s Peter Segal of, ” wait, wait …don’t tell me!”,  as he host Rick Steves

 

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Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America

CarsickCarsick by John Waters

A cross-country hitchhiking journey with America’s most beloved weirdo

John Waters is putting his life on the line. Armed with wit, a pencil-thin mustache, and a cardboard sign that reads “I’m Not Psycho,” he hitchhikes across America from Baltimore to San Francisco, braving lonely roads and treacherous drivers. But who should we be more worried about, the delicate film director with genteel manners or the unsuspecting travelers transporting the Pope of Trash?
Before he leaves for this bizarre adventure, Waters fantasizes about the best and worst possible scenarios: a friendly drug dealer hands over piles of cash to finance films with no questions asked, a demolition-derby driver makes a filthy sexual request in the middle of a race, a gun-toting drunk terrorizes and holds him hostage, and a Kansas vice squad entraps and throws him in jail. So what really happens when this cult legend sticks out his thumb and faces the open road? His real-life rides include a gentle eighty-one-year-old farmer who is convinced Waters is a hobo, an indie band on tour, and the perverse filmmaker’s unexpected hero: a young, sandy-haired Republican in a Corvette.
Laced with subversive humor and warm intelligence, “Carsick” is an unforgettable vacation with a wickedly funny companion–and a celebration of America’s weird, astonishing, and generous citizenry.

Getting Around Kyoto and Nara: Pocket Atlas and Transportation Guide; Includes Nara, Fushimi, Uji, MT Hiei, Lake Biwa, Ohara and Kurama

 

Kyoto 1Getting Around Kyoto and Nara by Colin Smith

This Kyoto and Nara travel guide contains everything you need for getting around the region including a pull-out atlas!
Kyoto is the number one travel destination for foreigners in Japan, but it can be a difficult place to navigate if you don’t know Japanese. This handy new pocket atlas and transportation guide is an indispensable tool to help non-Japanese visitors find their way around the city.
Dedicated journalist and urban explorer Colin Smith has devoted many years to exploring Japan on foot and by various forms of public transportation. “Getting Around Kyoto and Nara” is conveniently divided into chapters showing the user how to get to Kyoto by air or train, how to get into the city, and how to get around Kyoto and into the surrounding countryside using public transport. It includes chapters for Nara, Uji, Fushimi, Otsu, Ohara, Mt. Hiei, Kurama and other popular tourist areas around Kyoto.
Kyoto 2Detailed maps are given for each district of Kyoto showing the precise locations of temples, shrines, gardens, museums, hotels, shopping districts, restaurants, parks and other landmarks. Smith gives the reader detailed information on how to take a subway, a train or a bus around the city, how to read the signs, and how to operate the Japanese ticket machines to buy a ticket. He provides route diagrams showing all the stops along each route so users know where to get on and off.
“Getting Around Kyoto and Nara” includes: A large fold-out map of Kyoto Detailed area inset maps Train and subway routes Bus routes and bus stops near all the sights Other means of transport, like renting a bicycle and taking a taxi
This guide is packed with practical and useful information on the Kyoto region’s lodgings, restaurants, and the best places to visit–including all of the region’s famous temples, shrines, parks and historical monuments.

6 books to understand Paris and her history

To understand a place, one needs to understand where it comes from, its influences, its passions, its sorrows, its history. For over two thousand years man has left his mark on this place we call Paris.

You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden. –Allen Ginsberg

Here are 6 books worth a look at to better understand the city of lights.

Paris - The Biography of a cityParis: The Biography of a City by Colin Jones

From the Roman Emperor Julian, who waxed rhapsodic about Parisian wine and figs, to Henry Miller, who relished its seductive bohemia, Paris has been a perennial source of fascination for 2,000 years. In this definitive and illuminating history, Colin Jones walks us through the city that was a plague-infested charnel house during the Middle Ages, the bloody epicenter of the French Revolution, the muse of nineteenth-century Impressionist painters, and much more. Jones’s masterful narrative is enhanced by numerous photographs and feature boxes–on the Bastille or Josephine Baker, for instance–that complete a colorful and comprehensive portrait of a place that has endured Vikings, Black Death, and the Nazis to emerge as the heart of a resurgent Europe. This is a thrilling companion for history buffs and backpack, or armchair, travelers alike.

When paris Went DarkWhen Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 by Ronald Rossbottom

WHEN PARIS WENT DARK evokes with stunning precision the detail of daily life in a city under occupation, and the brave people who fought against the darkness. Relying on a range of resources–memoirs, diaries, letters, archives, interviews, personal histories, flyers and posters, fiction, photographs, film and historical studies–Rosbottom has forged a groundbreaking book that will forever influence how we understand those dark years in the City of Light.

Paris to the PastParis to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train by Ina Caro

In one of the most inventive travel books in years, Ina Caro invites readers on twenty-five one-day train trips that depart from Paris and transport us back through seven hundred years of French history. Whether taking us to Orleans to evoke the visions of Joan of Arc or to the Place de la Concorde to witness the beheading of Marie Antoinette, Caro animates history with her lush descriptions of architectural splendors and tales of court intrigue.

MetronomeMetronome: A History of Paris from the Underground Up by Lorant Deutsch

A phenomenal bestseller in France, Metronome presents a fascinating history of Paris through the lens of the city’s iconic Metro system.
Did you know that the last Gallic warriors massacred by the Romans lie beneath the Eiffel Tower? That the remains of Paris’s first cathedral are under a parking lot in the Fifth District? Metronome follows Lorant Deutsch, historian and lifelong Francophile, as he goes on a compelling journey through the ages, treating readers to Paris as they’ve never seen it before. Using twenty-one stops of the subway system as focal points–one per century–Deutsch shows, from the underground up, the unique, often violent, and always striking events that shaped one of the world’s most romanticized city. Readers will find out which streets are hiding incredible historical treasures in plain sight; peer into forgotten nooks and crannies of the City of Lights and learn what used to be there; and discover that, however deeply buried, something always remains.

The Invention of ParisThe Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps by Eric Hazan

The Invention of Paris is a tour through the streets and history of the French capital under the guidance of Parisian author and publisher Eric Hazan. Hazan reveals a city whose squares echo with the riots, rebellions and revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Combining the raconteur’s ear for a story with a historian’s command of the facts, he introduces an incomparable cast of characters: the literati, the philosophers and the artists–Balzac, Baudelaire, Blanqui, Flaubert, Hugo, Maney, and Proust, of course; but also Doisneau, Nerval and Rousseau. It is a Paris dyed a deep red in its convictions. It is haunted and vitalized by the history of the barricades, which Hazan retells in rich detail.

ParisiansParisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Robb Graham

This is the Paris you never knew. From the Revolution to the present, Graham Robb has distilled a series of astonishing true narratives, all stranger than fiction, of the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten. A young artillery lieutenant, strolling through the Palais-Royal, observes disapprovingly the courtesans plying their trade. A particular woman catches his eye; nature takes its course. Later that night Napoleon Bonaparte writes a meticulous account of his first sexual encounter. A well-dressed woman, fleeing the Louvre, takes a wrong turn and loses her way in the nameless streets of the Left Bank. For want of a map–there were no reliable ones at the time–Marie-Antoinette will go to the guillotine. Baudelaire, the photographer Marville, Baron Haussmann, the real-life Mimi of La Boheme, Proust, Adolf Hitler touring the occupied capital in the company of his generals, Charles de Gaulle (who is suspected of having faked an assassination attempt in Notre Dame)–these and many more are Robb’s cast of characters, and the settings range from the quarries and catacombs beneath the streets to the grand monuments to the appalling suburbs ringing the city today. The result is a resonant, intimate history with the power of a great novel.

Secret Paris (4TH ed.)

Secret ParisSecret Paris by Jacques Garance & Maud Ratton

A priest who blesses animals, winemaking firefighters, a tree in a church, an inverted phallus at a well-known entrance, an atomic bomb shelter under Gare de l Est, a real Breton lighthouse near Montparnasse, unsuspected traces of former brothels, a patron saint of motorists, royal monograms hidden in the Louvre courtyard, the presentation of Christ s crown of thorns, a prehistoric merry-go- round, a sundial designed by Dali, war-wounded palm trees, bullet holes at the ministry, religious plants in a priest s garden, a mysterious monument to Freemasonry at the Champ-de-Mars, a solid gold sphere in parliament, a Chinese temple in a parking lot, the effect of the Bievre river on Parisian geography, a blockhouse in the Bois de Boulogne.  For those who thought they knew Paris well, the city is still teeming with unusual and secret places that are easily accessible.

 

Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi by Piers Moore Ede

Kaleidoscope CityKaleidoscope City by Piers Moore Ede

Situated on the left bank of the Ganges, in the state of Uttar Pradash, Varanasi is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. For Hindus there is nowhere more sacred; for Buddhists, it is revered as a place where the Buddha preached his first sermon; for Jains it is the birthplace of their two patriarchs. Over the last four thousand years, perhaps no city in the world has stood witness to such a flux of history, from the development of Aryan culture along the Ganges, to invasions that would leave the city in Muslim hands for three centuries, to an independent Brahmin kingdom, British colonial rule, and ultimately independence.

But what is the city like today? Home to 2.5 million people, it is visited by twice that number every year. Polluted, overpopulated, religiously divided, but utterly sublime, Varanasi is a living expression of Indian life like no other. Each day 60,000 people bathe in the Ganges. Elderly people come to die here. Widows pushed out by their families arrive to find livelihood. In the city center, the silk trade remains the most important industry, along with textiles and the processing of betel leaf. Behind this facade lurk more sinister industries. Varanasi is a major player in the international drug scene. There’s a thriving flesh trade, and a corrupt police force that turns a blind eye.

As with Suketu Mehta’s “Maximimum City” Piers Moore Ede tells the city’s story by allowing inhabitants to relate their own tales. Whether portraying a Dom Raja whose role it is to cremate bodies by the Ganghes or a khoa maker, who carefully converts cow’s milk into the ricotta like substance that forms the base of most sweets, Ede explores the city’s most important themes through its people, creating a vibrant portrait of modern, multicultural India.

Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker

SkyfaringSkyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker

A poetic and nuanced exploration of the human experience of flight that reminds us of the full imaginative weight of our most ordinary journeys and reawakens our capacity to be amazed.

The twenty-first century has relegated airplane flight a once remarkable feat of human ingenuity to the realm of the mundane. Mark Vanhoenacker, a 747 pilot who left academia and a career in the business world to pursue his childhood dream of flight, asks us to reimagine what we both as pilots and as passengers are actually doing when we enter the world between departure and discovery. In a seamless fusion of history, politics, geography, meteorology, ecology, family, and physics, Vanhoenacker vaults across geographical and cultural boundaries; above mountains, oceans, and deserts; through snow, wind, and rain, renewing a simultaneously humbling and almost superhuman activity that affords us unparalleled perspectives on the planet we inhabit and the communities we form.”

In this intimate, often illuminating piece, “Slate” columnist Vanhoenacker takes readers on a personal tour of his world as an airline pilot….Vanhoenacker conveys that sense of freedom, wanderlust, and traversing a large world made small by travel, while at the same time demystifying the inside of the cockpit and humanizing the all-powerful pilots within….Packed with eloquent insight into a high-flying world.
Geoff Dyer, “The Guardian”

 

Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World by Mark Haskell Smith

Naked At Lunch

Naked at Lunch by Mark Haskell Smith

“Naked at Lunch” is equal parts cultural history and gonzo participatory journalism. Coated in multiple layers of high SPF sunblock, Haskell Smith dives into the nudist world today. He publicly disrobes for the first time in Palm Springs, observes the culture of family nudism in a clothing-free Spanish town, and travels to the largest nudist resort in the world, a hedonist s paradise in the south of France. He reports on San Francisco s controversial ban on public nudity, participates in a week of naked hiking in the Austrian Alps, and caps off his adventures with a week on the Big Nude Boat, a Caribbean cruise full of nudists.”

“Throwing both caution and clothing to the wind, novelist and journalist Haskell Smith strikes a winning combination of personal and journalistic narrative . . . . Informative and entertaining . . . . A witty and insightful read.”–“Publishers Weekly”

Adventures In Vietnam — Street Food, Love And Taking Chances with Graham Holliday

Graham HollidayGraham Holliday grew up in Rugby, England, and moved to Iksan, South Korea, in 1996 to teach English. He relocated to Việt Nam the following year. He started work as a journalist in Sài Gòn in 2001. He is the author of the blog noodlepie, about street food in Sài Gòn. He has written for the Guardian (UK), the New York Times Magazine, the South China Morning Post, Time, BBC, CNN, and many other media outlets. He went on to become a foreign correspondent for Reuters news agency in Rwanda, and now works as a journalism trainer for the BBC and other organizations. He is currently based in Dakar, Senegal, and is writing a novel.

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