Reading Trinacria: History

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 Reading Trincaria is an evolving cornucopia of discovered writings from native Sicilians, Italians and foreigners who have dedicated works to this multifaceted place. This inventory is based on my long and ambling interaction with all things Sicilian.

I have been adding book reviews with the hope of creating a definitive quality reading list for anyone who wants to learn more about Sicily. I don’t think the list will ever be finished because the subject of Sicily simply creates a never-ending stream of books, which have increased with the advent of ebooks, so there are literally hundreds of travel memoirs of varying literary value to be downloaded from the internet.

So over the next few weeks I’ll try to give you a sense of what I have discovered to be useful, feel free to browse around and if you like to buy something use the links in the posts and I’ll get a tiny commission which may result in me being able to buy still more books about Sicily, sooner or later.

There are endless history books about Sicily, many are quite academic but the best texts are those which combine the historical facts in an absorbing narrative. 

Here are some of the best reads possible with a mixture of fascinating historical focus and an entertaining style.

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John Julius Norwich. The Normans in Sicily, The Normans in the South 1016-1130 and The Kingdom in the Sun 1130-1194.

This is the ultimate Sicilian history trilogy dedicated to the Norman period in Sicily which was like a medieval renaissance, a golden age of enlightenment despite the backdrop of darkness in Europe. John Julius Norwich is a formidable historian and story-teller, these book read like a charming historical novel, a pleasure to read. Norwich is one of the best English historians and authors to write about Sicily and his subsequent books simply confirm this, so if you are looking for an approachable way to understand Sicilian history, his books are a prefect place to start, adding to this trilogy there is also: Sicily: a short history from the ancient greeks to casa nostra and The middle sea: A history of the Mediterranean (a more general history of the whole Mediterranean) which continue to explore Sicily through a charming conversational voice.

Finley M I and Denis Mack Smith. A short history of Sicily.

This ageless classic is a wonderful introduction to Sicilian history for anyone wanting to begin a journey through the epochs of Sicilian history. Written in clear, precise and evocative style which encourages you to hear more about this fascinating place. A short history of Sicily is out of print but you can easily to pick up a copy from a public library as it was the main authoritative text on Sicilian history in English for many decades.

Giuseppe Quatriglio. A thousand years in Sicily and Sicily: Island of myth.

I really enjoy the way Quatriglio is able to tackle such heavy topics like Sicilian history and mythology and turn it into a fascinating and joyful read. His insights are so valuable and point of view masterly. Quatriglio is a famous name in the academic world and his books are filled to the brim with historical detail dealt out in delectable portions by an amazing storyteller.

Connie Madracchia Decaro: Sicily: The trampled Paradise

This work really gives you a sense of the relentless barrage of invasion, subterfuge and misfortune of Sicily’s violent history as a pawn in the battle for control over the Mediterranean. Ultimately it is a testament to the tenacity and stoic nature of the Sicilians who despite being continually attacked by foreign powers, stripped of their agricultural wealth and becoming relentless victims of misfortune continue to struggle and love their island.

Jeremy Dummett: Syracuse: City of legends  and Palermo, City of Kings: The Heart of Sicily

Jeremy Dummett is a lover of history, a dedicated Italophile and frequent visitor to Sicily. It was while on a visit to Syracuse in 2005 that the seeds of this book were planted. Dummett became interested in the history of ancient Siracusa, he discovered an immense amount of literature referring to this city and surprisingly found there had been no recent publications about this amazingly rich place in english, and so Syracuse: City of Legends was born. His subsequent book about Palermo published in 2015 is equally as rich and fascinating, I spoke to Jeremy Dummett while his was promoting his new book, click here to read the interview.

Louis Mendola and Jacqueline Alio: The Peoples of Sicily: A multicultural legacy.

Mendola and Alio are dedicated Sicilian writers, historians and promoters of their island, both are well-respected as experts in their field. This book is an ambitious undertaking to document the many conquerors of the island and the influence they have had on Sicily through extensive research and the use of newly uncovered historical documents. The result is a wonderful introduction to the history of Sicily but written in a very stifled academic language, with some repetition. Unfortunately Mendola and Alio lack the storytelling skills of other well-known English historians yet their work is a wonderful testament to the work of local historians. 

Jacqueline Alio: Women of Sicily: Saints, Queens and Rebels

This fascinating historical textbook represents one of very few works dedicated to great women in Sicily’s history. It is a lovingly researched book, filled with insight into powerful women who have often been pushed to the side by history, but who have contributed immensely to the islands culture. Some chapters are a little scant with information simply because of a lack of historical documentation available, but nonetheless this volume still sheds some light onto more subtle aspects of how powerful women influenced Sicily’s history.

Sandra Benjamin. Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History.

This is another pleasant journey through Sicilian history, which takes us up to modern times. Benjamin does such a wonderful job of wading through more than three thousand years of historical material, bringing us through to today in an effortlessly entertaining style. This is the way history should be written with a vivid and engaging voice.

As I mentioned before there are literally hundreds of history books about Sicily but these are some which I’ve particularly enjoyed reading.

What is your favourite history book about Sicily? Let me know in the comments section below if I’ve missed any which should be on this list.  I’m always open to suggestions.

And if you’ve written a book about Sicily, send it to me (rochelledelborrello@gmail.com)  I’m continually searching for new books to read.

I look forward to suggesting more books over the next few weeks…

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4 thoughts on “Reading Trinacria: History

  1. Thank you for the list. I have been reading novels or short stories by Giovanni Verga, Luigi Capuano and Maria Messina to learn more about the cultural process of the siciliani. I will try several of these books to start a more factual knowledge, though I have read some history.

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    1. Thanks, I hope it was helpful. I think these histories really help with putting things into context and there is a lot of history to get through in Sicily. I will be moving onto novels, travel guides and other genres over the next few weeks, so hopefully you will find more things you could enjoy.

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