I recently read a book that I thought was very worthy of a recommendation if you're interested in the history of Renaissance Italy, which besides the classic Roman Empire, is what you see highlighted the most there. Entitled: "The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess" It's about Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici, whom I had never heard of, but who was a major figure during this important time.
it's very engrossing and entertaining if you like history at all, and relativively easy to follow, considering all the complexities of Renaissance Italy with all the constantly changing alliances and wars between the city kingdoms, foreign countries and the papal armies. If you're like me, you just have this hazy, romantic notion of the Renaissance as being a golden and fuzzy warm period of artists, sculptors and benevolent rulers like the Medici creating all the beautiful buildings and arts. But in fact it was an unbelievably turbulent time in Italy's history and an exceedling difficult time to live in for the overwhelming majority of the population. This book does a good job at getting you up to speed on all the major players and powers, and how the country was structured during this time period. Would be a great read before a trip to Italia, and now I want to go back to check out some of the other locations portrayed in the book!