Best Italy Guidebooks 2019 Reviewed - Advice on Choosing & Planning.

What's the Top Italy Travel Guidebook for Rome, Florence & Venice? 

Which Is Recommended? Rick Steves Italy guidebook or Lonely Planet Italy guidebook? 


Early Italy Guidebook 'The Spell of Southern Shores' 1914
1914 Ms. Mason began in Liguria and visited
Portofino: 'the quaintest fishing village under
the sky'.Cinque Terre was not yet famous.
Let's start off on the right foot: there are no best travel guidebooks. All have strengths and weaknesses, and all travelers have different approaches and needs. We have recently finished reviewing almost all the popular Italy travel guidebooks. Here we list the Italy travel guidebooks that we would buy if traveling to a dozen Italian cities or regions. So what kind of travelers are we?

We usually do self-guided trips with a relaxed schedule, by train to large cities and typically by car otherwise. We want a guide with a practical, well-organized approach without superficial writing. Beyond basic facts, we want cultural insight, helpful advice, historical background, and a large selection of sights both great and small -  with particulars about hours and prices.

We don't look for guidebook hotel and restaurant recommendations because they give just a limited number of popular places, making it hard to avoid the beaten path. The books can't match online sources where you can learn about virtually all the choices along with recent feedback. Fortunately, Italy now has lots of free wifi, and almost all accommodations will have quite good wifi service.  See Hotels & Restaurant Selection below for how we typically decide on hotels and restaurants.

Finally, we greatly value comprehensive coverage in a guidebook since the internet makes it easier to vary from a planned itinerary to respond to weather, crowds, or new information. We change plans during almost every trip as we discover new aspects of an area, and hopefully your guide books will help you take advantage of the serendipity that makes travel so enjoyable.

Travel Guidebooks - The Publishers Reviewed

All the publishers have a somewhat different approach that defines their line of books. Here's our viewpoint on the widely available brands, listed by our general preference.

Lonely Planet Travel Guides.  Popular for a reason, the Lonely Planet books provide comprehensive coverage with well written information on a subject area along with good maps. Presented neutrally without many photos, they are a useful resource for the traveler who wants to be able to change plans mid-trip. Helpful travel tips are often right on the money. Some guidebooks are not updated often, so check the publication date.

Rick Steves Travel Guides.  By far the best-selling Italian guidebook series on Amazon, it's not hard to see the appeal. Not only are the areas covered well, the books include thoughtful opinions which help the traveler choose. Good maps, not a lot of photos, frequently updated editions. However, the books do not attempt to cover every possible place to see; rather the most representative are selected.


Rough Guides.  Similar to the Lonely Planet formula, the Rough Guides have a journalistic approach to writing and cover many aspects of the subject area. Good maps, though not a large number, and fewer photos. There are now almost no regional and city paperback editions for Italy, and most of the Kindle regional and city editions are simply slices of the Rough Guide Italy book.


DK Eyewitness Guides.  This series is known for visually appealing design with photos, illustrations, and good maps. However, the series has comparatively less practical travel information, even though they often include fascinating sidebars. We think they are best for pre-trip travel inspiration or as a 2nd guide rather than the primary on-the-road guide. An updated design is now being rolled out, and some 2019 editions weigh less and offer somewhat better organization.

Fodor's Travel Guides.  These books have a pleasant, positive attitude toward the subject city or region. While they provide basic information and decent coverage of many sights, they generally don't give a feeling for the attractions nor much info outside the mainstream. Good enough for travelers with a defined itinerary with just a couple of days per stop, but you will definitely need to supplement the maps.

Frommer Travel Guides.  For us, the Frommer books are like a Chevy Impala: they get you where your going, but there are no thrills. The analogy is helped by the larger type they use. Frommer books are criticized for lacking relevant information, and the descriptions do tend to be short. However, they cover some places other books do not. Overall, they do the job if your needs and time are limited - say for a cruise ship's ports and excursions.

The Best Italy Guidebooks by Category
    Early Italy Guidebook 'The Spell of Sicily' 1922
    1922 Monroe had a special perspective on
    Sicily. A Stanford-educated Professor of
    Psychology, he wrote 5 books on Europe.
  • Scroll down to see our recommended travel guides by area - as well as a few added map and book ideas.
Italy - Entire Country              Naples
Italy - Best of                            Puglia
Italy - Southern                        Rome
Amalfi Coast                            Sicily
Cinque Terre                            Sardinia
Florence                                   Tuscany
Italian Lakes                            Venice
Liguria

▸Guidebooks in each category are in order of our preference.
▸These books have both Paperback and Kindle editions.
▸ On Amazon UK the Kindle editions are in the Kindle store.
▸Clicking a link doesn't affect your price, but helps us help travelers.
▸See About Us and Disclosure below where we gently seek your encouragement.

⬥Italy - Entire Country - The Best Guidebooks

No guidebook fully covers all of Italy. Use the Amazon 'Look Inside' feature to see the Table of Contents or Index to make sure your areas of interest are covered.

Italy Lonely Planet 2018 (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  (UK Kindle Store)
Color  992 pages    27 oz.   Feb. 2018 (next edition 2020)
Approachable and fairly thorough with straight ahead writing. The comprehensive coverage has good clear maps interspersed in the articles and it includes more out of the way sights. The index can be somewhat spotty.

Italy Rick Steves 2019  (Amazon US) (Amazon UK)  (UK Kindle Store)
Mostly B/W     1244 pages      21 oz.     2019 (next edition late 2019)
Complete info on the frequently visited sites in Italy presented in an effective format. The writing imparts a feeling because the places are actually selected by RS himself. Includes excellent maps, suggested itineraries, good info on opening hours, fees, etc. They don't include many of the less traveled places.  No coverage on Sicily, Sardinia, or Puglia (Apulia).

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Italy 2019 (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  
560 pages   23 oz.  Recommended primarily for pre-trip ideas.
Early Italy Guidebook 'The Spell of Italy' 1909
1909 Caroline Mason was a Quaker pacifist
 against WWI. She wrote at least 30 books.
Visually very appealing, but the total amount of practical information is less even though there's a lot of  interesting cultural material. Some places may get just four sentences, but then you'll learn great stuff about castle life. This book uses DK's new design which seeks more utility in the internet age and weighs less than previous versions (no more coated paper). Not recommended on Kindle.

☛ FYI: Kids' Travel Guide - Italy (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
Some help for your enthusiastic tour guide. Well-reviewed, 46 pages.

Michelin Italy Road Atlas 1:300,000 (Amazon US) (Amazon UK)
2017 Spiral Bound 12 ounces.   A book of maps makes sense if you're driving in several areas of Italy. The scale is useful for main and secondary roads, and there are city maps included. Works best in concert with a smartphone or car GPS for finer detail when needed. Priced a bit more than two of the 1:200,000 folding maps.

Italy - Best Of - The Best Guidebooks

Best of Italy Rick Steves  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  (UK Kindle Store)
All Color  528 pages   17 ounces    2018 (next edition 2020)
Includes Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, Florence, Naples, Rome, Tuscan Hill Towns, Venice & more.
This is a targeted version of the full guide above for travelers visiting just the more famous destinations. There's good coverage, though even more limited than in the full guide.

 Lonely Planet Discover Italy   (Amazon US) (Amazon UK)  (UK Kindle Store)
All color    356 pages   15 ounces    May 2018  Titled Best of Italy on Kindle.
A target version edited from the LP full guide, somewhat more espresso than the Rick Steves Best above. Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Milan, Venice, Italian Lakes, Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia, Sicily.

Italy - Southern - The Best Guidebook

Lonely Planet Southern Italy   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  (UK Kindle Store)
320 pages    11 ounces    March, 2018
Not Lonely Planet's best effort, but there is not a lot of competition. If you are traveling away from the popular sights, you'll want to add information on your particular interests. Covers  Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, Capri, the Aeolian Islands, the Ionian Coast.

Amalfi Coast - The Best Guidebooks

Snapshot: Naples & the Amalfi Coast  Rick Steves  (Amazon US)   (Amazon UK)
160 pages    7 ounces   June, 2018
The Snapshot edition is an excerpt from the Italy Rick Steves Guidebook. Covers Naples and the Amalfi Coast, including Pompeii, Vesuvius, Positano, and the town of Amalfi.

Amalfi Coast Road Trips Lonely Planet  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
136 pages     June, 2016
For a driving orientation, this streamlined and adapted edition of the larger guidebook can make decisions easier. A word to the wise: read some reviews - driving the Amalfi coast is torture for some drivers. Covers Naples, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, the Cilento Coast.

Michelin Campania Basilicata Map 1:200,000  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK) For driving, this yellow series 1:200,000 has the right level of detail. We use a paper map for overview and a smartphone with Google Maps for detail.

'Door Charms for Evil Eye'  Sicily 1920  Eliza Putnam Heaton
1920  'Door Charms for Evil Eye' from
'By-Paths in Sicily' Eliza Putnam Heaton.
After the Messina earthquake the author
 translated between the Sicilians and the
northern Italian soldiers sent to help. 

Cinque Terre - The Best Guidebook

Pocket Cinque Terre Rick Steves 2017
(Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  (Kindle UK)
2017 187 pages (next edition 2020)
This edition contains contains the same info as in the RS Italy guidebook with the addition of a good Cinque Terre map.  We've written a lot on the Cinque Terre and this is the guide we'd want - hands down the best.

          Don't miss our Cinque Terre articles:
          Every Answer You Need for Your Cinque Terre Trip
          Cinque Terre - 16 Tips for Avoiding the Crowds 
          A Guide to the Local Food of La Spezia & Cinque Terre 

Florence - The Best Guidebooks

Florence & Tuscany Rick Steves
(Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)   702 pages  (late 2017) next edition late 2019.
Besides full Florence coverage with itineraries, it includes Siena, Lucca, Pisa, and a bunch of hill towns. Good map and extra consideration like Florence with kids and suggested itineraries. Good info on opening hours, fees, etc. This book has more coverage of the subject than the full Rick Steves Italy Guidebook - useful for a stay of four days or more.

Pocket Florence Rick Steves   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
2018   200 pages   7 ounces
Largely the same info as in the full Italy Rick Steves Guidebook. The reduced size makes it good for a 2 or 3 day Florence visit.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Florence   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
2019   256 pages  13 ounces
Visually very appealing, but the total amount of information is less. This book uses DK's new design which seeks more utility in the internet age and weighs less than previous versions (by not using coated paper). The Amazon reviews are conglomerated with the older edition so use date-sorted reviews when judging.

Streetwise Florence Map   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK) We would still be lost if not for Michelin's laminated maps.

Brunelleschi's Dome  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)   208 pages.
Florence's Duomo is stunning; so was its creation. Ross King's bestselling historic novel takes you back to 1418 to relive the building's development and understand this engineering marvel.

Early Italy Guidebook from TCI, Touring Club Italiano 1908
Begun by bicyclists, Touring Club Italiano
has produced outstanding guides and maps
since 1895. Now with 300,000 members.

Italian Lakes - The Best Guidebooks

Snapshot: Milan & the Italian Lakes District Rick Steves
(Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  2018 117 pages (next edition 2020)
The Snapshot edition is an excerpt from the Italy Rick Steves Guidebook. This large region is well suited to Rick Steves' selective emphasis and honest evaluations.

Eyewitness Travel Guide Milan and the Lakes
 (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  2017  248 pages   16 ounces
Not yet the new DK design. This DK guide makes a good companion to the Rick Steves book just above. The DK visuals and sidebars will inspire you and the practical RS will make getting around easier.

Liguria / Italian Riviera - The Best Guidebooks

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Italian Riviera   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
2017  224 pages  14 ounces
Not yet the new DK design. Good photos to inspire, good maps to follow, and good illustrations to explain. There's solid coverage of Genoa and other major locations though the Cinque Terre section is small.

Liguria - Brandt Travel Guides Whitehouse  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
3rd Edition 2019 304 pages 11 ounces
The author, Rosie Whitehouse, first visited Liguria as a kid and now visits yearly with her own. She provides engaging coverage of the entire Ligurian coast with a personal feeling including some wonderful out-of-the-way towns. She has a moderate section on the Cinque Terre. This guide has assisted us for a dozen or so Ligurian excursions over several years and we recommend it.

Michelin Liguria Map 1:200,000  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  For driving, this yellow series 1:200,000 has the right level of detail for discovering back roads. We use a paper map for overview and a smartphone with Google Maps for detail.
Italy Guidebook from TCI, Touring Club Italiano
For readers of Italian there are
 TCI guides with great coverage
  not found in English guides.
www.touringclubstore.com

Naples - The Best Guidebooks

Snapshot: Naples & the Amalfi Coast  Rick Steves 
(Amazon US)   (Amazon UK)  160 pages    7 ounces   June, 2018
The Snapshot edition is an excerpt from the Italy Rick Steves Guidebook. Covers Naples and the Amalfi Coast, including Pompeii, Vesuvius, Positano, and the town of Amalfi.

Fodor's The Amalfi Coast, Capri & Naples
(Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)    2017    352 pages   Full Color
This guide suits this area where tourism is on a more luxurious plane. It covers a large variety of activities, as well as restaurant life - an essential part of Naples and Amalfi's attraction.

Puglia (Apulia) - The Best Guidebook

This increasingly popular region is not well covered by a guidebook in English. Go anyway, it's fantastic.

Lonely Planet Southern Italy  (Amazon US)   (Amazon UK)  (UK Kindle Store)
320 pages    11 ounces    March, 2018
Not Lonely Planet's best effort, but there is not a lot of competition. Use it as a base for adding information on your particular interests. Covers  Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, Capri, the Aeolian Islands, the Ionian Coast.

Michelin Puglia Map 1:200,000   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  For driving, this yellow series 1:200,000 has the right level of detail. We suggest a paper map for overview and a smartphone with Google Maps for detail.

Rome - The Best Guidebooks

Rome 2019 Rick Steves   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  (UK Kindle Store)
628 pages   10 ounces    Sept. 2018 (next edition Sept. 2019)
Includes useful maps and suggested itineraries. Good info on opening hours, fees, etc. This book has more coverage of the subject than the full Rick Steves Italy Guidebook - useful for a stay of four days or more.

Pocket Rome Rick Steves   (Amazon US) (Amazon UK)
2017    220 pages   8 ounces
209 pages   8 ounces     June, 2017  (next edition June, 2019)
Largely the same info as in the full Italy Rick Steves Guidebook. The reduced size makes it good for a 2 or 3 day Rome visit.

1950 Cecil Roberts book, 'And So to Rome'
From 1950, reviews of Cecil's work said he
had thin plots & cardboard characters.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Rome 2019   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
Oct. 2018   352 pages  19 ounces. Visually very appealing with good photos, detailed maps, cut-away building illustrations, and interesting tangential info, but the total amount of practical information is less. Consider this as a companion 2nd guide or for pre-trip inspiration. This book uses DK's new design

Streetwise Rome Map  (Amazon US) (Amazon UK)  Laminated, fold-able, pocket-sized, Michelin, readable.

A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome  Angela  352 pages  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
Loved this book. The author, Alberto Angela, made the city come alive and you won't believe the extent to which Romans were not like us. Tenements and sex and gods and cooking and laundry urine and slaves - just to start.

Four Seasons in Rome  Anthony Doerr  242 pages   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
A Pulitzer-prize winning novelist is seduced by Rome and Italy and writes about it. How can you not read it?  It will change your trip - say the reviewers.

Sardinia - The Best Guidebook

Sardinia Lonely Planet 2018   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)     288 pages
Comprehensive, no nonsense coverage of the whole island. Whether you are a sunbather or cultural explorer, you'll find more than enough to keep you interested and busy. The most recent guide to Sardinia.

Rough Guide Sardinia  2016  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
344 pages  12 ounces
This guide has one author - Greg Ward - and the consistency helps one judge the information. Covers the whole island and all budgets with a friendly tone.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Sardinia   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
2017  244 pages  17 ounces
Not yet the new DK design. The visuals are good for inspiration and the sidebars are fascinating.

TCI: Italian Touring Club Sardinia Map 1:200.000   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK) For driving, this has the right level of detail. TCI maps are even better than the Michelin yellow series, though nearly double the price. We use a paper map for overview and a smartphone with Google Maps for detail.

Sicily - The Best Guidebooks

Sicily Lonely Planet (2017)  (Amazon US) (Amazon UK)
1956 Italy Guide, Easter in Sicily, Herbert Kubly.
Our excellent 1956 guide for Easter 1986
Trapani's procession went all night
& the road was slick with candle wax.
320 pages  14 ounces  Next edition 2020
Comprehensive coverage overall as you expect both by geography and by subject. This 7th edition doesn't have many photos, but 60 decent maps more than compensate. Some travelers point to omissions (Palermo overview map, skimpy Monreale cathedral coverage), but most buyers find the book suits the purpose quite well.

Rick Steves Sicily  (Amazon US) (Amazon UK)
2019  350 pages  18 ounces   Release due April 16, 2019
This is the new 1st edition, written with two experienced collaborators. It is the category leader even pre-release. We expect this book will provide satisfyingly full coverage as it features bible-thin paper. Promo blurb promises: 'Enna, Ragusa, Catania, Messina, Palermo, Trapani, Syracuse, Agrigento, Caltanissetta, the Aeolian, Aegadian, and Pelagian Islands, and more'. We'll probably rank it first next year.

Michelin Sicily Map 1:200,000  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)  For driving, the yellow series 1:200,000 has the right level of detail so you can get on or off the beaten track as you wish. We suggest a paper map for overview and a smartphone with Google Maps for detail.

Tuscany - The Best Guidebooks

Florence & Tuscany Rick Steves   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
702 pages  (late 2017) next edition late 2019.
Besides full Florence coverage with itineraries, it includes Siena, Lucca, Pisa, and a bunch of hill towns. Good map and extra consideration like 'Florence with Kids' and suggested itineraries. Good info on opening hours, fees, etc. This book has more coverage of the subject than the full Rick Steves Italy Guidebook - useful for a stay of four days or more.

Snapshot: Hill Towns of Central Italy  Rick Steves   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
2018  228 pages   8 ounces
The Snapshot edition is an excerpt from the Italy Rick Steves Guidebook. When the attractions are infinite and the time finite, the Rick Steves guides are at their best.

Not recommended: Tuscany Road Trips Lonely Planet  132 pages
Nice title, but the coverage is too thin to compete.

Michelin Tuscany map   (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) For driving through the Tuscan countryside, this yellow series of scale 1:200,000 is perfect whether you are aimed or aimless. We use a paper map for overview and a smartphone with Google Maps for detail - for instance near towns.

Venice - The Best Guidebooks

Venice Rick Steves   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
 Dec. 2016    524 pages   14 ounces   (next edition late 2019)
This book has more coverage of the subject than the full Rick Steves Italy Guidebook - useful for a stay of four days or more. Includes self-guided tours, a foldout color map, extras for kids, nightlife. Also coverage of Padua (a great day trip), Vicenza, Ravenna, and Shakespeare's fair Verona.

Venice Observed by Mary McCarthy
Venice & Vassar meet and confront
tourism existentially - even in 1956.
McCarthy - known for 'The Group'
also wrote 'The Stones of Florence'.
Pocket Venice Rick Steves   (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
2018    224 pages   9 ounces
Largely the same info as in the full Italy Rick Steves Guidebook. The reduced size makes it good for a 2 or 3 day Venice visit.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Venice and the Veneto
(Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)     2019  220 pages  21 ounces
This colorful guide makes Venice into a delicious treat waiting for you. The beautiful maps, the clever building cut-aways, the interesting asides combine to charge your batteries. While it's not the best walk-around book, do consider using two guides, especially if you're driving around the Veneto region. Not yet the new DK design.

Streetwise Venice Map  (Amazon US)  (Amazon UK)
Excellent laminated & foldable map. Get lost (temporarily) in Venice anyhow, it's tradition.

Guidebook Ideas & Tips

Make Your Own.  As part of trip planning, we create organized supplemental material on towns, buildings, restaurants, geographical features, etc. from the internet or books before we leave home. If you have particular interests, a travel guide won't go into enough detail - so bring more. We often print out or download Wikipedia articles, local blog articles or good tourist office publications. For easy access, create a document on smartphone or computer with links to websites by subject or location. It will save a lot of time in your hotel room.

Kindle Limitations. Kindle users can be inconvenienced while touring because screens can be hard to see in bright sun, and map details can be too small. Also, devices are hard to share which can make you the de facto guide. Consider getting a pocket guide in paperback to carry with you in Rome or Cinque Terre or wherever, as well as a large Kindle Italy guide for the full coverage with less weight.

Library. Don't forget your local library. Many have a good section of travel guidebooks so you can figure out which guidebook is for you. They also are good for inspiring ideas beyond the obvious and adding information your chosen guidebook doesn't cover.

Lose Weight.  With bigger guides we isolate the sections we need and slice the binding. We put duct tape on the binding of each of the newly created sections so they don't fall apart. Now you can leave some of the book at home and discard no-longer-needed sections during your trip.

Hotels & Restaurant Selection
For accommodation, we typically rely on close reading of the verified hotel reviews on Booking.com or AirBnB along with map study. Google Street View can be a useful aid to see what the building, the neighborhood or the traffic are really like.

For restaurants, we study up on the area's specialties and then become skeptical readers of TripAdvisor reviews. TripAdvisor reviews in English are skewed to the positive in Italy by happy travelers who are new to real Italian food - good for them, but we want more knowledgeable opinions. We look for reviewers who've written a good number of intelligent reviews with specifics we can evaluate - hopefully an Italian or Italophile. Also, if a restaurant is listed in the Slow Food guide (Osterie & Locande d’Italia), or display the Slow Food snail logo, they automatically are given serious consideration.

Really good Italy travel website writers
Fall 2017: our 56th Italy trip.

About Us
We are Mike and Martha from Boston and we have visited Italy over 50 times in the past 30 years. We are retired photo editors and we've had an apartment eleven miles by crow or drone from Cinque Terre for over 25 years. We know Italy well and we keep current by reading the local news and travelers' forums and keeping up with travel websites.  We also maintain the web's only archive of  Cinque Terre ferry schedules to help people off-season. We hope our information will help you have a great trip. When planning, remember there are no right choices, just different pleasures. Buon Viaggio.

Disclosure
We receive no money or free stuff for writing our articles or opinions. We may receive a commission if you buy from a commercial link (Amazon is ~ 4%). Those commissions help support this website and (occasionally) local vintners. Your encouragement and trust mean more to us than any money.
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Accommodation in Italy? We often use Booking.com because we like the verified reviews, good search filters, good maps, and clear cancellation policies.  Link: Booking.com
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Italian Travel Questions?  How to get from Florence to Venice?  What to do in Mantova? Agriturismo in Umbria? We recommend using the search function on Link: Martha's Italy
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Renting a car in Italy? You really, really need to read our popular article:

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Ligurian Proverb: Ogni promessa e un debito. (Every promise is a debt.)

Written by Martha.

Compiled in March, 2019. The books listed are the latest editions available at the time of writing.
Copyright 2019 Amendola Media LLC.   Where is the Giovanni Amendola of our era?