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Florence is such a popular tourist destination there are literally hundreds of books and magazine articles devoted to getting the best room, where to taste the best wines and where to see the finest art. But, to approach Florence with more knowledge and know-how from those who really know the city intimately, there are some must-read books to take along for the ride. If you want to buy a guide or a book written in English whilst there, the the place to go is Paperback Exchange in Via Delle Oche (off via dei Calzaiuoli). Open all day but closed Sunday. There is also the BM Bookshop on Borgognissanti which sells a treasure trove of books and guides ancient and modern - all written in English.
First, Emily Wise Miller’s “The Food-Lovers Guide to Florence: With Culinary Excursions in Tuscany”. This book will help to figure out a menu in Florence, with what and how to order and explain common dishes. In addition, following the tips in the book lead to eating where the locals do and not the typical tourist hot-spot restaurants. Although some of the information is now out of date, the list of where to eat is invaluable because each "eatery" is tied in with a map reference, so you just flip to the back of the book and plan to eat near your hotel for example. If you only take one book to Florence take this one. You can always buy a guide when there.
“Unofficial Guides” are always good for inside tips, unusual suggestions and a full look at something. So it’s no surprise that “The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy: Florence, Rome, Tuscany and Umbria” is a consistent favorite with Italy travelers. Read just the part on Florence. That alone will be worth the price of the book.
A refreshing, thorough-but-concise and slighty (British) irreverent guidebook is the Time Out guide to Florence. It is at present quite up to the moment and its food and restaurant recommendations are perceptive.
Not a guidebook, per se, but a personal collection of experience and observations living in Florence for 50 years, “The City of Florence: Historical Vistas and Personal Sightings” by R.W.B Lewis ( I.B.Tauris Publshers; London/New York, 1995) is considered essential reading for any visitor to Florence. Reading the book before your trip or while on the plane will set the proper mood and spirit for a trip to the historical city.
Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy is a biographical novel of Michelangelo and tells about the great artist walking the same streets hundreds of years ago where you now walk. It’s great for the plane over because it’s not that heavy.
Read Passion of Artemesia by Susan Vreeland whilst in Florence. It is a fictionalized biography of the artist Artemesia Gentileschi who painted in Florence in the 1600's. Then go to the Uffizi to see her paintings-Judith Beheading Holofernes (it's in the last room with Caravaggio), to the Casa Buonarotti, to the Pitti Palace, to the Bell Tower of the Duomo, to the Opera of the Duomo to see Donatello's Mary Magdeline--all places and art discussed in the book.
For the backstory on the Medicis and their contribution to Florentine history, read Tim Parks's Medici Money. It deals with far more than money, as the money ties into every aspect of Florentine, Italian and in fact global history of that time.
An excellent general background to the history and development of Florence is Christopher Hibbert's book Florence, The Biography of a City. published by the Folio Society in 1997.
An important reason for visitng Florence is because it was the birthplace of the Renaissance and is still full of great art and architecture. Useful preliminary reading includes -
The Art of Florence by Glenn M. Andress, John M. Hunisak & A. Richard Turner. Artabras/Abbeville Publishers. New York/London 1994. A sumptuously illustrated 2 volume work
Painting & Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence 1300-1450 by Laurence B Kanter et al. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1994
Italian Renaissance Architecture from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo by Henry A. Millon, (Ed.) Thames & Hudson. London 1996
Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King. Walker & Co, New York 2000
Renaissance by Andrew Graham-Dixon. BBC Publishing 1999. The lavishly illustrated book to acccompany the BBC series of the same name
The Medici, Story of a European Dynasty by Franco Cesati. This book is sold in most of the bookstore in the major museums. It is lavishly illustrated and explains the whole entertaining history of the Medici Family.
Apart from all the guidebooks on the market, take a look at the website of the Commune di Firenze (the city government) at http://www.comune.firenze.it/servizi_... for walking tours and other information about the neighbourhood.