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"The standar Venetian history in English, indispensable." —Jan Morris, The Times (London) At once the most comprehensive and the most engaging history of Venice available in English, this book will be treasured by all those who share the author's fascination with "the most beautiful and magical of cities." "As a historian Lord Norwich knows what matters. As a writer he has a "The standar Venetian history in English, indispensable." —Jan Morris, The Times (London) At once the most comprehensive and the most engaging history of Venice available in English, this book will be treasured by all those who share the author's fascination with "the most beautiful and magical of cities." "As a historian Lord Norwich knows what matters. As a writer he has a taste for beauty, a love of language and an enlivening wit.... He contrives, as no English writer has done before, to sustain a continuous interest in that crowded history." —Hugh Trevor-Roper "Will become the standard English work of Venetian history." —C. P. Snow, Financial Times "Lord Norwich has loved and understood Venice as well as any other Englishman has ever done. He has put readers of this generation more in his debt than any other English writer." —Peter Levi, The Sunday Times (London)


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"The standar Venetian history in English, indispensable." —Jan Morris, The Times (London) At once the most comprehensive and the most engaging history of Venice available in English, this book will be treasured by all those who share the author's fascination with "the most beautiful and magical of cities." "As a historian Lord Norwich knows what matters. As a writer he has a "The standar Venetian history in English, indispensable." —Jan Morris, The Times (London) At once the most comprehensive and the most engaging history of Venice available in English, this book will be treasured by all those who share the author's fascination with "the most beautiful and magical of cities." "As a historian Lord Norwich knows what matters. As a writer he has a taste for beauty, a love of language and an enlivening wit.... He contrives, as no English writer has done before, to sustain a continuous interest in that crowded history." —Hugh Trevor-Roper "Will become the standard English work of Venetian history." —C. P. Snow, Financial Times "Lord Norwich has loved and understood Venice as well as any other Englishman has ever done. He has put readers of this generation more in his debt than any other English writer." —Peter Levi, The Sunday Times (London)

30 review for A History of Venice

  1. 5 out of 5

    WarpDrive

    PAX TIBI MARCE EVANGELISTA MEUS I have always loved Venice, with an intense passion that I have never felt for any other place. Venice is one of whose very few special cities where the soul of the receptive visitor can full immerse itself into the magic of almost two thousand years of Her proud and unique history, breath Her melancholic beauty and fall in love with Her special atmosphere; Venice is a special place, inviting introspective contemplation while aimlessly meandering, after dusk, in PAX TIBI MARCE EVANGELISTA MEUS I have always loved Venice, with an intense passion that I have never felt for any other place. Venice is one of whose very few special cities where the soul of the receptive visitor can full immerse itself into the magic of almost two thousand years of Her proud and unique history, breath Her melancholic beauty and fall in love with Her special atmosphere; Venice is a special place, inviting introspective contemplation while aimlessly meandering, after dusk, in the embrace of the enveloping mists of a winter evening... when time itself seems to have stopped, and when the silence is broken only by occasional footsteps and the tranquil ripple of the water. Experiencing Venice in Her true nature is a deep, intensely personal experience – no wonder Venice was a mandatory part of the “Grand Tour”, the educational rite of passage of young upper-class gentlemen that flourished from 1660 until the mid 19-th century. No wonder many men of art and intellect found the city a constant fountain of inspiration throughout the centuries, and fell in love with Her. It is sad how many visitors, in this age of mass tourism and gigantic cruise ships, do not even begin to understand and appreciate what this city is about, and Her very peculiar culture and history. But I must say that the author absolutely gets what Venice is about; he understand Her much better than the large majority of foreigners who have ever written about the city, and actually better than many Italians, who too often fail to appreciate how profoundly different Venice is (historically, culturally, even aesthetically) from the rest of the country. The author does repeatedly highlight the beauty and uniqueness of the city, towards which his passion transpires constantly, but he is also very good at providing a multi-faceted, riveting, intriguing and academically brilliant history of the city. He manages to condense, in a single book, all the main events and trends of the very complex history of a city that played an important role in European history – not a mean feat indeed, especially considering that there are very few mistakes and very few inaccurate generalizations. The early history of the city feels somewhat hurried and it could have been developed to better detail, but overall the books seems quite balanced. I would have liked more space allocated to the architectural and cultural history of the city, but I guess that this would have had to come at the expense of the general political and social history of the Republic - which would not have been easy considering the limited space available within a single book with such a wide and ambitious scope. Overall, the author's writing style, only very occasionally dry, often conversational, and occasionally even lyrical, keeps the reader's attention quite high - only very occasionally the book reads like a dry series of events and dates. As the author beautifully says, "however majestic the churches, however magnificent the palazzi, however dazzling the pictures, the ultimate masterpiece remains Venice itself". Very true, but there is much more to Venice than the outstanding and special beauty of Her architecture, Her remarkable natural environment, the sweetness and wholesome sensuality of Her music as represented by the likes of Vivaldi, or the timeless serenity and confident luminosity of Cananetto's paintings: Venice is also a remarkably unique polity, whose history starkly distinguishes Her from any other political entity in history. Venice was the commercial and cultural crossroad between East and West, the most Byzantine city in Western Christendom, as visible for example by contemplating both the exterior and the interior of the stunning Saint Mark's Basilica. Venice was the mistress of the Mediterranean for the most part of its history (supported by an amazingly efficient shipbuilding industry, capable of turning out fully-equipped warships at the rate of one every few hours); a remarkably efficient, tolerant, broadly based, secular oligarchy based on commonsensical principles of commerce and wealth, never falling into the traps of religious fanaticism or autocratic principles (as opposed to what much of Europe repeatedly experienced throughout its history). A proudly independent, stable republic for over 1000 years, whose political stability, never seriously shaken by Her occasional political, military or commercial reversals, or the occasional internecine strife of Her oligarchic elites, continued to be the envy and wonder of the civilized world. While in Europe the feudal nobility remained haughtily aloof from trade, in Venice there never was a separate military caste: the nobles were merchants, the merchants nobles, and the interests of both were identical. The author is very good at highlighting the peculiar structure of the Republican government and of its social fabric, and the progressive evolution of her political structures into a very complex polity with an incredibly sophisticated system of checks and balances; while famous for its stability, the Republic was not immutable, and the author is very good at highlighting these continuous and progressive changes dictated by internal as well as external pressures. The competing and immense pressures on the Venetian government coming from the major international players in Italian and European politics, and the many instances where these required very difficult decisions by the Venetian authorities, are vividly and skillfully represented by the author, whose riveting narrative deftly and brilliantly navigates through the complexity of European politics, and in particular through the maddeningly complex Italian politics of the Machiavelli Renaissance Italy. Venice was famed for her wealth and her progressive attitudes to many aspects of social life: Venetians have always loved life, and were always famous for their deeply aesthetic sensibility and a relaxed attitude to social customs. Apart from the notoriously beautiful and skillful courtesans providing services to locals and visitors alike, Venice was, for example, also famous for founding the first national health service in Europe, if not the world. Venice was tolerant of all religious philosophies, for as long as they did not threaten the stability of the state, and the freedom of the press was quite wide. Almost 200 printing presses were operating in Venice by the end of the 15th century – around one fourth of the total European production. As the author correctly highlights, Venice interest in the Crusades did not entail any religious crusading fervour: Venetians were interested in the Crusades only in so far as they opened up new commercial opportunities. Ideology never played any significant part in Venice political stance and decisions to engage in war and territorial expansion: the main drivers were pragmatically based on development of commerce and wealth. This was also the case for the infamous 4th crusade, when Venice played a significant role in the capture of Constantinople: one of the darkest moment of Western Christendom and of Venice itself, all the more bitterly upsetting if we consider that Venice was the child of Byzantium, and had in the past, and in many cases, supported Byzantium with Her fleet. It must be said that the author is very balanced in presenting all the negative repercussions of the 4th Crusade, and the ruthlessness of the policies pursued by Venice, but also in highlighting the short and long term reasons why Venice decided to embark on such course of action. It is however one of those deep ironies of history that Venice, having contributed to the demise of the Byzantine Empire, then had to confront, partially as a result of it, the full power of the Turkish expansion into Europe, which she then critically contributed to contain in events such as the symbolically important Battle of Lepanto of 1571. On the other hand, while Venice contributed significantly to the containment of the Turkish menace in Europe, She was no favorite child of the Pope. On the contrary, she had always a pretty testy, if not openly conflictual, relationship with the Papacy – it might even be claimed that it was one of the first examples of secular states in Europe: the Church was kept rigidly in its place, its duties and powers exclusively pastoral, and barred from the slightest interference in affairs of state: bishops were elected by the Venetian Senate, not by Rome. Venice received Papal interdictions more than once, in Her long history, because of Her fierce independence from the Papacy. The Papal interdiction of 1606 gained the following reply from the Venetian government: “We ignore your excommunication: it is nothing to us”. It is noteworthy that, after the successful Venetian defiance of such interdiction, no more interdiction was ever to be raised by the Papacy against any other European state. This complex relationship between Venice and the Papacy is represented by the author with balance and accuracy, even though it must be said that the author's sympathy for the Venetian position is quite clear. The complex relationship between Venice and the Turks is also represented by the author with remarkable balance and detail, where the intermingling of political, commercial and military aspects is highlighted with lucidity and precision. The author does not fail to highlight that there was no particular religious nor ideological consideration in driving the relationship of Venice with both the Papacy and the Turks: Venice never burnt an heretic, and it always maintained that moderate, humanist outlook which had sprung from the Renaissance. She had synagogues, Greek Orthodox churches, an Armenian church monastery, and a Muslim mosque. Below is a picture of the Celebration of Sunday of Orthodoxy in Venice held in 2011: It is probably another of those ironies of history that the Venetian Republic was killed by the supposed representatives of the Age of Reason, whose values she had implemented in so many instances – the revolutionary French armies lead by Napoleon. By that time, however, she was already a tired old lady, whose heavy make-up could not hide the devastating results of the obsolescence of her shipbuilding techniques, the deterioration of her social fabric, her commercial decline due to the significantly altered trade flows (and the resulting marginality of her geographical location) and the competition of Northern European powers. The author does not fail to highlight these major elements contributing to the decay of Venice, however I would have liked an analysis in more depth of this latest period of Venetian history. To me, however, as to many people who appreciate Her, Venice is still a timelessly beautiful, elegant, fascinating if somewhat moody and elusive lady with an amazing and unique history – an history represented with empathy, skill, competence and passion by this gifted author - a passion which I wholeheartedly share - Venice will always be the beautiful Queen of the Sea Highly recommended (4.5 stars rounded up to 5) - especially if you are lucky enough to be planning a visit to this enchanting city.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    A History of Venice, by John Julius Norwich, is an in-depth analysis of the history of the Republic of Venice from inception to its eclipse and demise. Venice came together around the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, as refugees from various Italian cities found themselves fleeing an onslaught of German and Hun invaders. As the Western Roman Empire crumbled, they found refuge amongst the lagoons of modern Venice, an ideal and strategic location that would serve the fledgling city we A History of Venice, by John Julius Norwich, is an in-depth analysis of the history of the Republic of Venice from inception to its eclipse and demise. Venice came together around the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, as refugees from various Italian cities found themselves fleeing an onslaught of German and Hun invaders. As the Western Roman Empire crumbled, they found refuge amongst the lagoons of modern Venice, an ideal and strategic location that would serve the fledgling city well throughout its history. Successive waves of immigrants began to turn the area into a city, and soon, with the blessing of the Eastern Emperor, Venice emerged as a political entity with close relations to the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople. Venice was an ideal trading location, with easy access to the Adriatic Sea, highly defensible, and in a good location to act as a middleman between Western Europe and the Mediterranean world. This focus on trade would characterize the Republic as it began to turn itself from a small city state in Italy (one of many) into a trading Empire able to go toe-to-toe with any European power. The Venetian Republic began to take shape for various reasons, mostly of self-interest. When pirates on the Dalmatian coast of modern Croatia began to make trouble for Venetian merchants (and thus Byzantine shipping as well) the Venetian, with the blessings of the Eastern Roman Empire, attacked and annexed some islands on the Dalmatian coast. These made good stopover points for Venetian merchants heading to Greece, and offered strategic timber resources to build up Venice's powerful merchant fleet. Venice began to play off interests in Italy as well, supporting Italian city states against each other, but largely remaining aloof to getting involved in Italian politics. This saved the Republic from the growing despotic aspects of many Italian city states (such as Milan and Florence), while allowing it to remain on the winning side of a conflict. Venice's merchant marine soon became a source of income outside of trading, as Venice began to ferry troops to take part in overseas conflicts, and especially in Crusades. Venice was a key mercenary-like participant in many crusades, and soon began to build an Empire of trading posts in Egypt, the Levant, Anatolia and Greece. These came as rewards for services rendered (for example, a district of Acre from the Crusader states as a reward for ferrying troops), or through outright aggression on Her part (the many Greek islands taken from the Eastern Empire in the Fourth Crusade, for example). On top of this, Venice began to take land on the Italian peninsula to shore up its defense of the Venetian lagoon. Verona, Treviso, Padua, Fruili and parts of Lombardy would all fall to Venetian arms as it began to take part in the turmoil of Renaissance Italian politics. Enemies could quickly become friends as Allies began to back-stab, and all the Italian states engaged in Machiavellian maneuvers to gain territory and defeat rising threats. Venice in its history was under indirect from the Pope many times, and would often switch allegiances in order to gain more territory. Venice also jealously guarded its salt monopoly along the Po river, and would go to war with any who tried to cash in on this lucrative trade. Outside of Italy, Venice fought to defend and enlarge its colonial possessions. Venice turned against its one-time patron, the Eastern Roman Empire, as its power began to crumble. Venice annexed key islands of the Peloponnese, created ducal possessions out of the Naxos islands, annexed a chain of ports and fortresses down the Adriatic coast - in modern day Albania, Montenegro and Greece, and fought to defend her trading privileges in the Empire. She went into a deadly grudge match against rival Mercantile republic Genoa, which had taken territory in the islands of Chios and Lesbos, and owned the peninsula opposite Constantinople, along with a section of the city itself. Venice fought hard to take on the Genoese, and although looking dicey for a while, ultimately came out triumphant. She even managed to take over the Eastern Empire's remnants briefly, creating the short lived Venetian puppet, the Latin Empire during the complete mess called the Fourth Crusade, where Christian forces never even ended up leaving Europe, and instead fought for spoils with other Christian states in Greece. Hungary was a perennial rival, and Venice fought hard to retain her control over the Dalmatian coast, at times enlarging it, and at times losing it altogether. Venice also briefly annexed Cyprus in an act of political brinkmanship that was as impressive as it was ruthless. Venice began to eclipse in the late 15th century, as jealous Italian rivals, a hostile papacy, and growing powers in France and Spain began to covet her Italian possessions. On the colonial front, Venice was constantly harried and eventually usurped in her Mediterranean possessions by the onslaught of military adventurism known as the Ottoman Empire. Her possessions in the Peloponnese, the Balkans and, finally, her crown jewel of Crete, were all lost over a period of time. On the land front, Venice's possessions were frayed away by hostile French/Milanese forces, by the Pope in Rome, and by the growing power of Austria. On top of this, the colonization of North America, and the use of alternate trade routes to Asia around the Horn of Africa, made the caravan routes that Venice relied upon to monopolize luxury imports irrelevant. Portugal and the Netherlands became the new clearing houses of Europe, and Italy began to wax into obscurity. Venice would remain a fledgling regional power until her lands in Italy were gobbled up by first French, then Austrian forces. Norwich has written an excellent and in-depth history of the Venetian Republic, an interesting state that focused on trade, and maintained a solid oligarchic system of governance for many hundreds of years, resisting the allure of despotism and monarchical rule that shattered Italian city states during the Renaissance. Norwich goes through its long and storied history by Doge, listing the current ruler, his achievements, and the wider political context of what was happening to Venice. He also adds the construction of the city and its fabulous architecture in this account, mentioning when specific churches, monuments and public works were completed and why. This is certainly an excellent book to read on the Venetian Republic, both for those interested in the state itself, and those interested in wider Republican political theory. Venice went through the ringer throughout its history, and there is a lot to learn about Republican systems from its trials and tribulations throughout its centuries long history. A great read, and easily recommended.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David

    Venice spent most of the 18th century in a rather dithering and indecisive mode, attempting to remain neutral as Europe went through great upheaval and conflict. Eventually they are confronted by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte who did not go in for dithering or indecision or neutrality! In 1797, the great republic of Venice, independent for over one thousand years comes to a rather ignominious end. Luckily they capitulated to the French army before their uniquely beautiful city could be rava Venice spent most of the 18th century in a rather dithering and indecisive mode, attempting to remain neutral as Europe went through great upheaval and conflict. Eventually they are confronted by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte who did not go in for dithering or indecision or neutrality! In 1797, the great republic of Venice, independent for over one thousand years comes to a rather ignominious end. Luckily they capitulated to the French army before their uniquely beautiful city could be ravaged by war and invasion. So it is still there today for all of us to visit, the irony being that the sheer weight of tourists keeps the city alive economically but also hastens its physical deterioration. Over 1200 years, 119 Doges, nearly 700 pages and three and half months reading time! This is an epic history combining scholarship and humanity. John Julius Norwich never allows the historic detail to swamp the human stories and it is written with wit and warmth by a man who knows and loves La Serenissima. I'd imagined him writing this book in a Venetian pensione accessing daily the sights and locations which are an essential part of the unfolding story but apparently he wrote nearly all of it in the Reading Room of the British Museum!! I don't think this is a 'Venice for beginners' simply because I think an experience of Venice helps one to imaginatively engage with the essence of its history. There are many wonderful books about Venice and many reasons for visiting the city itself but I think I was ready for this one!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elliott Bignell

    This is another one of those books that I left on the shelf for an outrageous length of time, fearing that if I picked it up I might drop it and thus kill the cat. It's 673 pages long, including indices, and a close type at that. Once I finally ran out of new excuses for keeping it in my backlog, I basically inhaled the entire content in one, three-week-long draught. It just shows how expectations can confound. Norwich looks like the kind of work with which one beats off intruders, but it was, i This is another one of those books that I left on the shelf for an outrageous length of time, fearing that if I picked it up I might drop it and thus kill the cat. It's 673 pages long, including indices, and a close type at that. Once I finally ran out of new excuses for keeping it in my backlog, I basically inhaled the entire content in one, three-week-long draught. It just shows how expectations can confound. Norwich looks like the kind of work with which one beats off intruders, but it was, in fact, a joy to read. I have skirted around Venice for several years now, but if you are interested in the history of the Mediterranean, of Byzantium, of piracy or of Islam - and I am interested in all of these - there comes a time when you can no longer use this work as a doorstop. Norwich is one of the standard works in the English language. The fact that it was also a pleasure to read came as an additional bonus. Norwich is a little prone to the deformity of many history writers in that he tends to concentrate on rulers, successions and power struggles and says much less about, for instance, the health, diet and labour of the common woman. However, this bias does not run to exclusion, and it would probably have been impossible to write of Venice without discussing its trade and shipping. In any case, where Venice is concerned the political history is more interesting than it would normally be, as la Serenissima happened to be one of the Big Three key Republics of history, as I see it, coming between Rome and the USA and bringing more continuity to the idea of the Republic than I had previously considered. Venice in Norwich's words cannot fail to appeal. In being so coldly acquisitive a mercantile power, it mostly managed to avoid partaking of the atrocities of the Middle and Late Middle Ages simply because they were bad for business. The notorious exception, Venice's role in the rape of Constantinople, Norwich manages to place in a less negative perspective, as Constantinople herself had not long before indulged in an orgy of persecution of Western Christians far more grave than the looting to which the Crusaders subjected her, and the looting was in any case much the work of Northern European mercenaries and the Franks. Still, it was Venice that turned the Fourth Crusade against Constantinople and she must bear ultimate responsibility. Norwich seeks to apologise, but the stain remains. Otherwise, Venice seems in all respects extraordinary and admirable. Sometimes weak, true, it was forever caught in struggles with the Lombards, French and Turks, the Milanese and Genoese which it did not always manage well. Obsessed with keeping a dynasty or a tyranny from arising, it political system was excessively complex and prone to elect ineffectual and exceedingly old doges. Still, it worked. Business was free to prosper, while the reins of serious power were kept in the hands of the state. In particular, the merchants as much as the military enjoyed the services of shipyards which were nationalised and standardised to a level of productivity where at their height, when timber could be still taken for granted, they could produce a galleon per day and recover from the most injurious naval reverses in mere months. One revelation from this book was that it was Napoleon that finally ended the days of Venice as a Republic. Another is that Venice was, originally, a Greek city in the sphere of influence of Orthodoxy. (Although if you know Italy, you'll understand that no region is truly "Italian", as the nation is a modern confection.) Possibly most interesting, however, is the previously missed realisation that it was not merely Islam's decline that was heralded with Vasco de Gama's forging of a Cape route to the East. I had long credited this with removing the Muslim world from the hub of trade and thus of history. The fact is, however, that Venice was equally hurt, and never thereafter regained her full glory. The Mediterranean, increasingly, did not matter, and a hinge of history turned to render the Atlantic the new hub. Spain and Britain rose, and the Americas began to bend the rubber sheet of the world with their gravity. Thus has Norwich added a key new understanding to my admittedly poor grasp of historical contingency. Norwich is also responsible for perpetrating the monumental three-volume work on Byzantium. It looks like it will be my next port of call after Venice.

  5. 4 out of 5

    happy

    In this one of Professor Norwich's fairly early narratives, copywrited in 1982, he has written a very reader friendly look at the history of Venice, from its earliest beginnings as a place of refuge for people fleeing the collapse of the Western Roman Empire through to its ending at the hands of Napoleon. In telling the tale of Venice, the author focuses on the political/economic history of the City state that at one time boasted it ruled a quarter and a half of the Eastern Roman Empire. In telli In this one of Professor Norwich's fairly early narratives, copywrited in 1982, he has written a very reader friendly look at the history of Venice, from its earliest beginnings as a place of refuge for people fleeing the collapse of the Western Roman Empire through to its ending at the hands of Napoleon. In telling the tale of Venice, the author focuses on the political/economic history of the City state that at one time boasted it ruled a quarter and a half of the Eastern Roman Empire. In telling the story the author looks at the pivotal events of her 1000 yrs of independence. These include the 4th Crusade's sacking of Constantinople, the rivalry with Genoa and Milan for dominance in Northern Italy and the trading routes with the East, the Battle of Lepanto, as well as the final fall of Venice. His opinion of the effect of Lepanto does not conform to the accepted view point. Her struggle with the Pope and her relative religious tolerance is also told. At one point Professor Norwich states that Venice of all the states in Western Europe was the only one not to burn anyone for heresy. While generally a favorable and admiring look at Venice and what she accomplished. The author does not shy away from laying blame at Venice’s feet for one of the biggest disasters to befall medieval Christendom – the fall of Constantinople in 1453. He lays her fall squarely at the feet of Venice. He writes, “The real death blow had been struck not in 1453, but in 1205 when the Latin armies of the 4th Crusade had ravage and plundered their way through Constantinople…For this tragedy, from which Byzantium had rallied, but never recovered, the Venetians were primarily responsible. Theirs were the ships; theirs was the initiative, the leadership and the driving force. Theirs too was most of the profit and much of the plunder; and theirs, at the time of the final catastrophe, must be the blame.” I don’t know if I fully agree with this sentiment – I think the loss at Manzikret in 1071 sealed the fate of Eastern Empire, a point Professor Norwich himself makes in his later history of the Byzantine Empire. His take on the effects of probably the greatest naval battle of the middle ages is also at odds with the accepted wisdom. He feels that while a great tactical victory, strategically it really didn’t change much. Venice was already in decline and the Ottomans were about at the maximum territory they could control. Also Venice didn’t gain anything from the victory. In fact a couple of years after the battle she accepted a treaty with the Ottomans that she could have 3 yrs before the battle was fought. She also didn’t regain any of her lost possessions – specifically Cyprus and within 50 yrs lost control of Crete. The author also makes some observations about the Venetian character and how it changed over the years. It went from a hard driving, entrepreneurial, willing to take risks for both the glory of Venice and personal gain to by 100 yrs after Lepanto, “The old public spirit evaporated, The Venetians were growing soft. Wealth had led to luxury, luxury to idleness, and idleness to inertia, even when the state itself was threatened.” He also looks at her unique form of government and how she managed to avoid becoming dominated by one family. Some of the stories of the various Doges are really fascinating. Quite a few were quite old when elected, many over 80! In seems in the author’s opinion some of the oldest Doges were some of the best to serve the Republic. Norwich’s opinion of Venice is summed in the final paragraph of the narrative “And so, as one studies the domestic history of Venice, the more inescapable does the conclusion become; by whatever political standards she is judged, she compares favorably with any nation in Christendom - except maybe her final dotage. Nowhere did men live more happily; nowhere did they enjoy more freedom from fear. Venetians were fortunate indeed. Disenfranchised they might be; they were never downtrodden. Although, being human they might complain of their government, not once in all their history did they ever rise up against it... They worked hard...; they,..., knew how to enjoy themselves with style and panache; and the lived out their lives in a city even more beautiful...than what we know today. This is an excellent read; I can’t really understand how it escaped me till now. 4.25 stars rounded down for good reads

  6. 4 out of 5

    Simon Jones

    If I could have super powers, I'd be able to read books as fast as Johnny Five from Short Circuit and write them as beautifully as John Julius Norwich. Loved every page of this sumptuous romp through a thousand years of history; effortlessly learning a great deal in the process. Venice is at the heart of a great many pivotal events of the Middle Ages and on the periphery of many more. To see the era from the Venetian perspective is to get a different take on it; one that is more hard nosed and p If I could have super powers, I'd be able to read books as fast as Johnny Five from Short Circuit and write them as beautifully as John Julius Norwich. Loved every page of this sumptuous romp through a thousand years of history; effortlessly learning a great deal in the process. Venice is at the heart of a great many pivotal events of the Middle Ages and on the periphery of many more. To see the era from the Venetian perspective is to get a different take on it; one that is more hard nosed and practical against the crusading fervour, grand-standing imperialism and dogmatic intolerance of Venice's neighbours. I emerged from reading the book with a profound respect for a city state which survived for a thousand years without being conquered by an enemy or burning a heretic and which despite valuing the blessings of peace and trade more than most, nevertheless enjoyed a share of glory. Stonking - frankly.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rindis

    It's good, and it's thorough, but I found it a bit disappointing. However, I spent most of the book wondering why. Partly, I think, it is because there are very few personalities in the book. Norwich himself actually complains of this on two occasions—there's just very few places in Venetian history where you can say anything about the personality of someone. However, I think the main problem is I was hoping for a history of the Venetian state, and the book is really a history of the city, though It's good, and it's thorough, but I found it a bit disappointing. However, I spent most of the book wondering why. Partly, I think, it is because there are very few personalities in the book. Norwich himself actually complains of this on two occasions—there's just very few places in Venetian history where you can say anything about the personality of someone. However, I think the main problem is I was hoping for a history of the Venetian state, and the book is really a history of the city, though restricted to that period where it was a state. Which is to say that except for those occasions where outside action impinges directly on one of Venice's holdings, those holdings don't show in the book. It is a stage play with one set—Venice—and news from abroad is sung by the Greek Chorus. There's no sense of how the overseas empire really worked. But, Norwich loves the city of Venice, and that love shows through on every page. One thing that is tracked lovingly through the pages are the buildings and monuments of Venice. When a new building goes up, there is a footnote telling what part of it is still visible today. When a Doge dies and is put in a tomb, there is a footnote giving where it was, and where it was moved to if anything happened to it. Visiting Venice with this book in hand would be a real treat.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: This book took a long time to read. It is very dense, and covers the entire life of Venice, which is hundreds of years. That said, this is one of the best history books I've ever read. Norwich's writing style - sometimes lyrical, sometimes conversational - lends itself well to such a large topic. He manages to cover the major points of Venice's history without going off on many tangents, yet he manages to give us little tidbits of information that you may not get in other history book Disclaimer: This book took a long time to read. It is very dense, and covers the entire life of Venice, which is hundreds of years. That said, this is one of the best history books I've ever read. Norwich's writing style - sometimes lyrical, sometimes conversational - lends itself well to such a large topic. He manages to cover the major points of Venice's history without going off on many tangents, yet he manages to give us little tidbits of information that you may not get in other history books. Moreover, "A History of Venice" isn't just a history of Venice - it's a portrait of the Italian states, of the Roman Empire, of the Crusades, and of the Dark Ages and the Renaissance. It looks at commerce and banking, at political dealings and treaties and the role the Catholic Church had in advancing - and holding back - progress in history. "A History of Venice" is well worth your time, especially if you already have a rudimentary knowledge of European history and would like to supplement it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    The reader will naturally have very high expectations on beginning Lord Norwich's History of Venice. At the time this book was published, John Julius Norwich had already established himself as an historian or the first rank with his two volume history of the Norman Kingdoms in southern Italy. The city of Venice was perhaps the greatest love of his live. For many years, he chaired the international Venice in Peril Fund which raises money to preserve the unique architecture of this city in a Lagoo The reader will naturally have very high expectations on beginning Lord Norwich's History of Venice. At the time this book was published, John Julius Norwich had already established himself as an historian or the first rank with his two volume history of the Norman Kingdoms in southern Italy. The city of Venice was perhaps the greatest love of his live. For many years, he chaired the international Venice in Peril Fund which raises money to preserve the unique architecture of this city in a Lagoon. Norwich in other words brought talent, erudition and passion to this project. The result is a marvellous book that fulfills all its promises. Norwich is a great historian of the old school. He is capable of reading medieval French, Latin, and several Italian dialects in the original handwritten form. Moreover, he has the instincts of a natural historian to read between the lines in all these obsolete languages and patois. He can sense who is being truthful, who is lying and who is simply passing on second-hand information. He has a spreadsheet in his mind that can calculate the travel times between destinations according to whatever the dominant travel technology of the decade happens to be. It is a true pleasure to read the work of such a masterful hand. Norwich makes several key points about Venice's success and its incredible ability to survive as a leading European power for over 1000 years before being blown away in a matter of weeks by the Napoleonic Whirlwind. First, the Venetians were resolutely collegial in their approach to government. While Milan came to be tyrannized by the Viscontis, Rome by the Borgias and Florence by the Medicis Venice never had to suffer under the erratic hand of a dictator with near totalitarian control of the state. The Doge was elected by the Aristocracy and no Doge could be succeeded by a member of his family. Moreover the constitution placed limits on powers of the Doge who ultimately had to govern based on consent. The second key factor was the strong Venetian instinct for peace. As much as possible they lived at peace with their Orthodox Byzantine neighbours. When Constantinople fell, the Venetians made every effort to be at peace with the turks. Moreover, the Venetians were very tolerant. According to Norwich they are the only Catholic European state never to have burned a heretic. The end came slowly. When the Portuguese discovered a sea route to India and more importantly began making Caravelles which had the ability to sail there and back with cargoes, Venice went into a long term decline. At the end the Venetians lost their admirable diplomatic touch. In a matter of weeks the 1000 year old republic went from being a French district governed to a become a possession of the Austrian empire due to incredibly inept negotiating with Napoleon. The great weakness of Norwich's book by contemporary standards is its complete lack of quantitative and economic analysis. While describing Venice as a commercial empire on seemingly every page, he never attempts to quantify the total volume of the trade nor the customs revenues collected from it. Similarly, he gives only anecdotal evidence as to what type of goods were traded. He does not indicate which of Venice's cities in the middle east gathered what type of goods nor does he indicate where the primary customers were for the different categories of products. Also surprisingly he never analyzes how the extraordinary evolution of banking, letters of exchange and other instruments developed by Italian bankers to facilitate the transfer of funds without the risk of transporting gold physically. Venice's period of prosperity was in all likelihood extended by these advances in banking but Norwich never discusses them. Finally Norwich's discussion on the notorious sexual mores of Venetian society is to say the least limited. The best thing perhaps is that after finishing this wonderful book one can look for a more recent title that will cover the issues that Norwich chose not to. One can then have one more read about this fascinating state.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Vilmos Kondor

    I honestly cannot recall another book from my recent past that grabbed my interest by the throat (sorry for the image) and never let go of it. Mr. Norwich did a wonderful job with this uniquely European city. For me Venice represents everything that is good and noble and great in Europe. This city couldn't have been bigger. If you wanted to live there, you had to find your place in the community. Simple choice, it was. Mr. Norwich tells the story of this fabolous city in rich detail and with obv I honestly cannot recall another book from my recent past that grabbed my interest by the throat (sorry for the image) and never let go of it. Mr. Norwich did a wonderful job with this uniquely European city. For me Venice represents everything that is good and noble and great in Europe. This city couldn't have been bigger. If you wanted to live there, you had to find your place in the community. Simple choice, it was. Mr. Norwich tells the story of this fabolous city in rich detail and with obvious love. It always transpires if one loves the topic one writes about; Mr. Norwich simply adores this city, therefore I adore his book. Not for the faint hearted due to its size and complexity but I can assure everyone who has ever been to Venice - or not, as a matter of fact - that this is book is a wonderful, towering achievement - and good, clean fun.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gavin

    If there's a more thorough and comprehensive history of Venice than this, then I would be the first to read it. However, I doubt there is. For an overview of Venice from its earliest settlement as a group of fishing communities to its fall as a grand republic and beyond, one couldn't do much better than read this work. If there's a more thorough and comprehensive history of Venice than this, then I would be the first to read it. However, I doubt there is. For an overview of Venice from its earliest settlement as a group of fishing communities to its fall as a grand republic and beyond, one couldn't do much better than read this work.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Hester

    I am relieved I finally finished this book. The main text is 639 pages of small print. Almost all of the history was new to me, so it took me a long time to digest the material, leading me to read it in small bites. This is not sort of book I normally enjoy. The prose is excellent, but it is a very old-fashioned history text, full of treaties, battles, and successions of powerful men. Norwich emphasizes that Venice was a major economic power, but he does not put that in context. How much of Euro I am relieved I finally finished this book. The main text is 639 pages of small print. Almost all of the history was new to me, so it took me a long time to digest the material, leading me to read it in small bites. This is not sort of book I normally enjoy. The prose is excellent, but it is a very old-fashioned history text, full of treaties, battles, and successions of powerful men. Norwich emphasizes that Venice was a major economic power, but he does not put that in context. How much of European trade went through Venice? What goods did they trade? How did those good affect the local culture? At the end of the book, he mentions that many of the residents are artisans, but he does not say what they made. Not even a paragraph is devoted to the glass makers of Murano. He mentions several times times that Venice participated heavily in the slave trade, and I wish he had written a couple paragraphs about how the European slave trade worked. Who were these slaves? How many were there? Who had them? What happened to their children? How important was slavery to the European economy? What did the slaves do? I was surprised when he mentioned Doge Pietro Mocenigo's concubines; I had no idea that concubines were common in the late 1400s. The books has a very Christian focus. Norwich says " [and] half of Europe condemned to some 500 years of Muslim rule" on page 143. He doesn't explain why this was a problem. Was it the constant warring? Or is it that he thought Muslim rule was inherently worse than Christian rule? Outside of Venice, Christian rule sounded pretty bad, and he didn't give any reasons why Muslim rule would be worse. Lastly, his comments on Venetian Jews on pages 272-3 drove me up the wall. They read as a series of excuses: "At this time, too, Venice felt herself obliged to take her first far-reaching measures against her Jewish population. These were in no sense intended as any form of racial or religious persecution, nor did the victims look upon them as such." Bullshit. This, a following paragraph of further bloviating excuses and "alternate facts," and a reference to another racist law on page 606 are the entire discussion of Jews in Venice. So much frustration. And I have no idea what life was like for Venetian women. And yet, this book has changed the way I view history and the world. I now understand that if you don't know the history of Venice, you cannot understand the history of Europe, the Mediterranean, or the Ottoman Empire. And Norwich resituated Venice in my world view. Venice is in Italy, not far from the Tyrol, but I now think of Venice as a city coming from the Byzantine (rather than Latin) tradition. It was never feudal, so it had an entirely different social structure from the rest of Europe. Norwich also does an excellent job explaining how the environment shaped Venice. We normally think of defences as steep crags, tall walls, or deep water. Venice's lagoon had none of those things, but it was difficult to traverse unless you knew the lagoon well. I had no idea. Venice is the world's longest-lasting republic; it lasted 1100 years. My home republic is a little wobbly, and I read this book, in part, to learn how the Republic of Venice lasted so long. Tommaso Mocenigo's deathbed speech, and the subsequent election of Foscari, has stayed with me. It feels so like current events, and that pains me. I feel like part of the success of the Republic was due to how careful the city was to prevent concentrating power in too few hands. They were so careful to keep even the appearance of corruption out of government. I finished this book with great respect for the Venetian republic. If I had to live in medieval or Renaissance Europe, I would have chosen to live in Venice. According to Norwich, Venice was the only Catholic nation to never burn a heretic. In this era of fake news, I was moved by the contrast between French propaganda about Venetian government, and the reality. The French were convinced that (like Paris) Venice would be full of political prisoners, and that there were lots of people imprisoned as miscarriages of justice. There wasn't a single political prisoner when they took over the Republic. There were very few prisoners of any other sort of variety, either. While I am relieved to be done carrying this huge book around with me, I will read Norwich again. I plan on reading his two histories of Sicily, which will probably reorder my understanding of the world, again.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    This long but smoothly written book, by the very recently deceased John Julius Norwich, scion of English nobility, covers more than a thousand years of Venetian history. Nowadays Venice is mostly known as an overloaded tourist destination, or as a victim of environmental degradation, rather than as the world power it was for most of its history. Norwich, who loved the city and talks in detail not only about its past but also its architecture, often tying the two together, ably restores the place This long but smoothly written book, by the very recently deceased John Julius Norwich, scion of English nobility, covers more than a thousand years of Venetian history. Nowadays Venice is mostly known as an overloaded tourist destination, or as a victim of environmental degradation, rather than as the world power it was for most of its history. Norwich, who loved the city and talks in detail not only about its past but also its architecture, often tying the two together, ably restores the place of Venice in history. And in so doing, he manages to both be interesting and to show us viable alternatives to the dead end into which “liberal democracy” has led us. Venice is very old, though not as old as the rest of settled Italy—its origins only go back to the late Roman empire, since a group of islands in a lagoon, lacking much in the way of agriculture and having no minerals, is not an obvious place to settle. It might make a good place for hunter-gatherers in the James C. Scott mold, although it’s pretty cold in the winter, but as the heart of a civilization, at first glance the location’s costs outweigh the benefits. As with so many city foundings, the initial impulse to overcome those drawbacks was war—the very early Venetians, probably in the sixth century, settled the lagoon as refugees from the barbarian hordes overrunning the (western) Roman Empire. Venice was both out of the way and difficult to get to, protected by water, so it was a logical place to go to avoid barbarians spreading over land, who were attracted to existing concentrations of wealth and to substantial farmland. Whatever the precise outline of its founding, which naturally is shrouded in myth, the city only emerges into history in the eighth century, with the election of the first doges. Other than canals and gondolas (as I read this book, my daughter kept asking, “have you gotten to the part about the gondolas?”), what most people know of Venice is the office of doge. At a casual glance, it seems like a type of monarchy, but that is completely wrong. The office was originally modelled, apparently, on that of the Byzantine exarch, or imperial administrator of Italy, who sat in Ravenna (though that office ended with Lombard conquest in 751). From early on, however, the doge was elected, and the office was constrained by various devices to limit the doge’s power. This is one of the major themes of Norwich’s book—the obsession of the Venetians with controlling the power of the doge, such that he not become a monarch, much less a hereditary monarch, which in practice over the centuries resulted in the doge becoming more and more a figurehead. During more than a thousand years there is a lot of variation in any political system, so no doubt much of what Norwich discusses is summary, but to me Venetian political structure was the most fascinating part of this book, and the office of doge was only one part of that structure, and in many ways the least important part. Technically Venice at its founding was part of the Eastern Roman Empire, which theoretically ruled all of northern Italy at the time, and in fact Venice defeated an attempt in the early ninth century by Charlemagne to occupy the city, as Byzantine power in the West fell away. In practice, though, the city was always largely autonomous, maintaining for a long time its early cordial relationship with the Byzantines (including, crucially, trade privileges in Constantinople), and throughout its entire history engaged in one balancing act after another with respect to its neighbors. What made Venice unique was commerce. Without significant landholdings (at least until much later), wealth, and therefore power, derived primarily from trade. Originally, the key product was locally produced salt formed by controlled evaporation, but types of trade goods quickly expanded, given the pivotal position of Venice as a protected enclave, centrally located and closely tied to Byzantium. Trade not only made Venice rich, but formed its entire political system. The aristocracy that came into being in the city differed from all other Italian aristocracies, as well as from the broader European aristocracies. Venetians had less interest in war for aggrandizement, much more interest in stability, and considerably more appreciation for the common good. As Norwich says, “In Venice there was no separate military caste; the nobles were merchants, the merchants noble, and the interests of both were identical.” This produced stability (although far from perfect stability, especially in the early years) and the creation of a magnificent city, as aristocrats spent, like the ancient Greeks, to benefit their fellow citizens and memorialize themselves. Moreover, tight geography and city living meant everyone important knew, more or less, everyone else important, and therefore trust was high, a benefit reinforced by constant commercial interaction among the populace. Thus, feudalism had no role in Venice, both because of its circumstances and because of its Byzantine backdrop (feudalism did not exist under the Eastern Roman Empire), unlike in the rest of Italy, with its Frankish and Norman sensibilities and customs. (A further part, and perhaps not a small part, of Venetian stability was that the Venetians appear to have been very long lived. Norwich claims that even today their life span is longer than other Italians, and most of the doges were elected in their seventies and served into their eighties or even their nineties.) In the beginning, it was the vote of all the citizens that elected the doge, directly, and also declared war. The early Venetian constitutional system also contemplated the doge being advised by counsellors, whom the doge was required to consult, and the doge having the right to call the assembly of the people to vote. But by the late twelfth century, the doge tended to ignore the counselors, and there were so many citizens it was impractical to call an assembly, not to mention that such assemblies tended to degenerate into riotous, demanding mobs. Thus, the Great Council was created—originally 480 prominent citizens, nominated by representatives of city districts, and holding office for one year. The Great Council in turn appointed the officers of the state (who were required to accept the honor, since many did not want the unprofitable burden), and also the representatives of the city districts, thus “after the first year, when these representatives were elected democratically, they and the Great Council, each nominating the other, formed a closed circle which completely excluded the general populace from any say in their composition.” The election of the doge was also changed to be done by eleven electors chosen by the Great Council, to be “confirmed” by the people, and the number of counselors to the doge, and their power to check his actions, was increased. Moreover, starting at this point, the accession oath of the doge became a real check on his power, constantly revised to address perceived inadequacies and hemming him around with specific, substantive restrictions. All this was aimed at preventing the doge from accruing power and the masses from causing trouble. This structure, complicated enough, became even more complicated over time, especially in the election of the doge, the potential distortion of whose office was perceived as a major threat to the Republic. (The doge’s election involved multiple rounds of selecting electors who selected other electors, with a large random element, and included features like an assigned man going out and grabbing the first boy he found to pull numbers from a hat.) For republic was what Venice was, for more than a thousand years, in the old meaning of republic—a mixed government, containing elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Over time, the aristocratic elements became stronger, while the democratic elements became weaker, but until its end, Venice remained a true republic. This process was ongoing—for example, other bodies were added in the fourteenth century, notably the Council of Ten, a body that in concert with the doge and his six councilors and had very significant authority, especially in areas of national security, but whose authority was hedged around with checks. These included terms of only one year and not more than one member from any given family at time, and a rotating three-member leadership—for a month at a time, during which they were confined to the doge’s palace to prevent the access of those who might bribe or coerce them. The Council of Ten could also temporarily expand their numbers, thereby giving greater heft to their decisions. All together these bodies formed a coherent whole, flexible enough to respond to crises, but broad enough not to be captured by factions and to make the common good their prime goal. What was originally a republic weighted toward the democratic element became, as Venice grew in power and wealth, a republic weighted toward the aristocratic element. In 1299, in the Serrata or “Lock-Out,” membership in the Great Council, theoretically the supreme body of the state, was formally and permanently restricted to those whose families had held office during the past four years, along with a few others earlier holding office. This list was later called the Golden Book—all those citizens eligible for election. Norwich notes that this occasioned little unhappiness among those denied membership, then or later, even among the middle-upper stratum no longer eligible for the Council, the cittadini (“citizens”), whom Norwich analogizes to the Roman equestrian order. These were not powerless—the Grand Chancellor, for example, an extremely important office more powerful than the doge, was required to be held by one of the cittadini. Thus, the cittadini became a bulwark to, rather than an opposition to, the oligarchical system, and being a Venetian citizen a much sought-after position by those outside the city who had dealings with it. Not to mention that the Great Council was, by the Serrata, expanded to more than 1,500 men, representing a broad cross-section of Venice and therefore quite representative—not democratic, but democracy in the modern sense is not at all necessary for a representative state, of course, as long as the aristocracy is broad enough and has the requisite virtue. All these changes were organic and slow. Part of Venetian stability was their adherence to tradition—for example, the tradition lasting until the sixteenth century that each new doge give a present of wild birds to numerous people in government, replaced ultimately by special coins minted for the occasion, because birds had decreased while recipients increased—an early nod to environmental sustainability while maintaining tradition. It was not just ceremonial traditions that were maintained; you do not ever find the Venetians adopting new structures based on ideology or some new form of thought. Early Venice was famed for the ease with which any person could participate in trade, by forming a colleganza (or commenda), where anyone with some money could form a limited liability entity (not a partnership, which implies unlimited liability for the participants) with a merchant, generally a young, aggressive one looking to make his name, and share the profits through a recognized legal form. This is what is known today as “default rules,” such as corporation law, making it easy for people to form businesses, knowing that the law provides reasonable rules that they do not have to re-invent, or even fully understand, to be adequately protected. And Venice always had relatively low taxation, very low in the early years of its glory. Most taxation was in the form of customs duties and other levies on trade, but in times of need, forced loans from the nobility, usually in the form of a small percentage of income (e.g., in 1313, a one-time tax of three percent on income—we should be blessed with such taxation). All this together meant ever-increasing amounts of capital in the city—after all, the recipe for economic success isn’t that hard, it’s just envy that, in most societies, eventually corrodes systems where real wealth is generated—and while doubtless the Venetians were subject to the vice of envy, they never let it dictate public policy. So Venice grew in wealth and power. From the thirteenth century onwards, Venice expanded into an imperial power, dominating not only the Adriatic, but large sections of northern Italy and the Dalmatian coast, Istria, Illyria, and parts farther south, as well as much of the Aegean. And, for a time, large parts of the Byzantine Empire, although she gave those up soon enough, finding them more trouble than they were worth. For most of their history, the Venetians occupied an ambiguous position with respect to Islam, with whose adherents they had dealings since their earliest times. Muslims were good trading partners, and Venice’s control of the eastern Mediterranean was not significantly threatened until the 1400s. Thus, the Venetians looked at the Crusades with a jaundiced eye, willing enough to be paid to help transship Crusaders and to obtain trading rights and privileges in Outremer, and in the Fourth Crusade, to participate in sacking and looting Constantinople, but not committed to put the boot on Islam, had that even been possible. Norwich, unfortunately, continues the Gibbon/Runciman tradition, rooted in anti-Catholicism and Enlightenment stupidity and sophistry, of seeing the Crusades as a whole as “one of the blackest chapters in the history of Christendom,” when in fact they were heroic and awesome. True, they were subject to the foibles of man and fate, and nobody would defend the Fourth Crusade’s result—it should have been directed against Islam, and that it was not, was wholly the fault of the Venetians. Norwich is also subject, to a limited degree, to the modern disease of highlighting Christian bad behavior upon the storming of cities, while ignoring or downplaying identical Muslim behavior, which was regarded as entirely normal up until the modern era. Although he buys into propaganda about the Crusades, Norwich at least rejects the equally discredited idea that Venice was a proto-totalitarian police state, a favorite trope of Enlightenment writers, and part of the Black Legend. Certainly, the organs of the state sought out subversives, but the prisons were mostly empty most of the time, and Venice probably had a lighter touch than most governments of the Renaissance. But none of this looms large in the book—just in my mind, since I am looking out for these things, being touchy on the subject of historical illiteracy. What made Venice’s republican system work was the willing adoption of great responsibility by great men, or at least those charged with greatness. Luck and geography helped, too—other Italian city states, such as Genoa, were republics as well, but their position on the mainland meant they were more subject to attack from the outside, and turmoil sooner or later resulted in the imposition of some form of autocracy. It has become fashionable nowadays to believe that Venice declined when the democratic elements of the republic became less, though of course it was never a democracy in the modern sense, even in the earliest times. (The imprecise use of the word “democracy” is a major cause of inanity in today’s political discourse.) For example, Daron Acemoglu’s and James A. Robinson’s not-very-good Why Nations Fail claims that Venice declined after 1300, because of the increase in oligarchic power and because the colleganza was banned. Their conclusion is that the aristocrats wanted to extract the juice produced by everyone else, and they killed the golden goose by the Serrata. This shallow reading of history has been picked up by other under-informed pundits, such as Jonah Goldberg in "Suicide of the West" and Chrystia Freeland in "Plutocrats," and appears to be gaining ground among the chattering neoliberal classes. But that Venice declined after 1300 is objectively false; as Norwich makes clear, thus giving the lie to Acemoglu’s entire theory. Actually, Venice continued along its sparkling path; the height of Venice’s power was nearly two hundred years after the Serrata. What initiated Venice’s decline had nothing to do with its internal political, or economic, arrangements. Rather, it was the opening of the Cape of Good Hope route to Africa in 1499, eliminating the Venetian hold over much Eastern commerce, and even more the expansion of the Ottomans after 1453, who ended Venetian commercial dominance. It did not help that Venice lost her mainland possessions, and also came out on the losing end in mainland battles, such as the wars against the League of Cambrai, composed of basically “everyone not Venice.” It is probably true that ending arrangements like the colleganza ultimately harmed the Venetian economy, but given Venice’s dominance of the entire Mediterranean trade until around 1500, there is no direct line, While I know little about the details, it seems to me that Venetian state subsidy and regulation of trade (including turning certain lucrative trades, such as the triangular trade in Greek wine, English wool, and Flemish woolens, into state monopolies), while still encouraging it, may have been a better strategy for dominance than ad hoc arrangements that may have made more sense when Venice was not a hegemon in its area. Norwich, at least, thinks that state regulation and subsidy of work like shipbuilding, especially given the military overlay, was beneficial. There appears to have been little regulation of the rent-seeking type, benefiting one set of individuals over another; regulation was directed at strengthening the state. That said, increased taxation to feed increased bureaucracy must have led to increased scleroticism over time; doubtless there was some accumulating drag on the system—but wealth can alleviate that problem to some extent, as long as virtue in the governing class remains. [Review finishes as first comment.]

  14. 5 out of 5

    Al Maki

    A political history of Venice from its first settlement until the destruction of the Republic by Napoleon. Norwich is a fine writer and is able to make fourteen hundred years of 'and then ... and then' interesting. What I found particularly intriguing is Venice's survival as a republic for over a thousand years, a record for continuous self-government that has not been equalled anywhere to my knowledge - no revolutions, no conquests until Napoleon. How was this possible? Venetians were no more h A political history of Venice from its first settlement until the destruction of the Republic by Napoleon. Norwich is a fine writer and is able to make fourteen hundred years of 'and then ... and then' interesting. What I found particularly intriguing is Venice's survival as a republic for over a thousand years, a record for continuous self-government that has not been equalled anywhere to my knowledge - no revolutions, no conquests until Napoleon. How was this possible? Venetians were no more honest or wiser than any other people. Norwich spends considerable time describing the evolution of its constitution. The underlying principles seem to have been - a prohibition to passing on political power to one's children; a bafflingly complicated and ever evolving electoral system intended to prevent the fixing of elections (see the quote below); rotating positions of authority on a monthly basis; multiple layers of political bodies each limiting the others' powers; a willingness to tax their wealthy punitively when it was necessary to the survival of the city. “On the day appointed for the election, the youngest member of the Signoria was to pray in St. Mark's; then, on leaving the Basilica, he was to stop the first boy he met and take him to the Doges' Palace, where the Great Council, minus those of its members who were under thirty, was to be in full session. This boy, know as the ballotino, would have the duty of picking the slips of paper from the urn during the drawing of lots. By the first of such lots, the Council chose thirty of their own number. The second was used to reduce the thirty to nine, and the nine would then vote for forty, each of whom was to receive at least seven nominations. The forty would then be reduced, again by lot, to twelve, whose task was to vote for twenty-five, of whom each this time required nine votes. The twenty-five were in turn reduced to another nine; the nine voted for forty-five, with a minimum of seven votes each, and from these the ballotino picked out the names of eleven. The eleven now voted for forty-one – nine or more votes each – and it was these forty-one who were to elect the Doge.... "So much for the preliminaries; now the election itself could begin. Each elector wrote the name of his candidate on a paper and dropped it in the urn; the slips were then removed and read, and a list drawn up of all the names proposed, regardless of the number of nominations for each. A single slip for each name was now placed in another urn, and one drawn. If the candidate concerned was present, he retired together with any other elector who bore the same surname, and the remainder proceeded to discuss his suitability. He was then called back to answer questions or to defend himself against any accusations. A ballot followed. If he obtained the required twenty-five votes, he was declared Doge; otherwise a second name was drawn and so on.”

  15. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    If you love Venice, you would love Norwich’s book. How I wish I had read it before I went there recently! Venice is beautiful and unique, mostly because it has never been defeated until it surrendered to Napoleon. It is protected by the Lagoon which only the locals have knowledge to navigate; if you have travelled there from the airport by boat you would realise how treacherous the lagoon is. Safe from greedy kings and princes, Venice developed the most democratic government. The Doge is not all If you love Venice, you would love Norwich’s book. How I wish I had read it before I went there recently! Venice is beautiful and unique, mostly because it has never been defeated until it surrendered to Napoleon. It is protected by the Lagoon which only the locals have knowledge to navigate; if you have travelled there from the airport by boat you would realise how treacherous the lagoon is. Safe from greedy kings and princes, Venice developed the most democratic government. The Doge is not allowed to pass his post to his family, at least not immediately. The Doge is chose through a complicated process. Subsequently there is the Council of Ten, and the other subcommittees. Through her superior ship technology, she remained the strongest naval country in the mediterranean, getting tax free concessions from The Holy Roman Empire, Byzantium and even the Ottomans; controlling ‘quarter and half a quarter’ of the Roman Empire. She has monopoly on the lucrative salt trade, as well as control of the Silk Road trade. At one point she was so strong she sacked Constantinople and brought back the 4 famous bronze horses (in St Mark’s museum; the ones on top of the Basilica are fakes). Diplomacy was her strong point; coupled with her military strength, she dealt with and held her own against the Great Powers. Then Portugal and Spain found alternate routes to the East ‘Spice islands’. Her power started to decrease. The Ottoman Empire further weakened her power by taking over the trade route, and building an equally strong army. Even though she won the famous Battle of Lepanto, she did not manage to reverse the gradual decline. Norwich is totally on Venice’s side; all other countries are more or less described in unsavoury terms; this makes this book so fun to read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Shauna

    Incredibly detailed complete history of Venice. If you want to know why and how Venice is still to this day a stand alone city when compared to the rest of Italy, this book has you covered and then some. Still amazing to consider that they had (have? Can't think of a longer run) the longest consecutive Republic in the history of Europe. And throughout the golden age of Monarchy and feudalism in Europe. Incredibly detailed complete history of Venice. If you want to know why and how Venice is still to this day a stand alone city when compared to the rest of Italy, this book has you covered and then some. Still amazing to consider that they had (have? Can't think of a longer run) the longest consecutive Republic in the history of Europe. And throughout the golden age of Monarchy and feudalism in Europe.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mkfs

    As usual, Norwich is an entertaining guide through an often-overlooked (in comparison to England, France, Spain) area of Eurpoean history. His fondness for the city, resulting in copious footnotes marking where various tombs and monuments are now located, can get a bit oppressive. Unlike Byzantium (to which I have to admit only having read the digest version; the three-colume epic is far down on the to-read), the history of Venice is rather dull, making this a slow but ultimately rewarding read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bill Wallace

    An extended history like this one reads something like a biography, from brave youth through the prime years to decline and demise. The story of Venice is also a sort of mirror to the Europe of the corresponding eras, an ornate reflection of greater forces all around. Told with an occasional dry witticism and a deep love for the material, Norwich's description of Venice's past is rich and detailed. I was totally enthralled by this book but it covers so much time, so many complexities of politics An extended history like this one reads something like a biography, from brave youth through the prime years to decline and demise. The story of Venice is also a sort of mirror to the Europe of the corresponding eras, an ornate reflection of greater forces all around. Told with an occasional dry witticism and a deep love for the material, Norwich's description of Venice's past is rich and detailed. I was totally enthralled by this book but it covers so much time, so many complexities of politics and war as to be overwhelming, though I cannot imagine the story better told.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Murdock

    I read this massive brick of a book before flying up to Venice with my wife to see the in laws last Spring. They were on a European tour which wrapped up in this watery, mysterious city. And it was the perfect excuse for a quick weekend trip. Norwich is one of my favourite history writers. I thoroughly enjoyed his account of the Catholic Popes, Absolute Monarchs. And his Venice holds up just as well. In his introduction, Norwich talks of his father’s love of the city, and of how he travelled there I read this massive brick of a book before flying up to Venice with my wife to see the in laws last Spring. They were on a European tour which wrapped up in this watery, mysterious city. And it was the perfect excuse for a quick weekend trip. Norwich is one of my favourite history writers. I thoroughly enjoyed his account of the Catholic Popes, Absolute Monarchs. And his Venice holds up just as well. In his introduction, Norwich talks of his father’s love of the city, and of how he travelled there often as a child. He traces the story of Venice’s rise from town to city to empire, from its 5th century beginnings as a haven for those fleeing the remains of the Western Roman Empire to the dark day in 1797 when Napoleon put an end to the thousand year old Republic. This is a wonderful and highly readable account of a unique city, the life of its people, and some of the most interesting events in European history. Read it even if you don’t think you have any interest in Venice. And definitely read it before you go there. You’ll explore the alleyways and canals with a much deeper appreciation for the uniqueness of this magical place.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Pier Grenville

    Much like reading 1,000 years of strata minutes. It took me a long time to read this book, partly because of its massive size, and partly because of its soporific effects. Accounts of the city's establishment was fascinating. Unfortunately this book sticks to the political ticks and convulsions, leaving out the sexy, and sordid details.The interminably long list of bureaucrats of Venice's past would be over the moon to discover they hadn't been forgotten by this author. Side note about the author Much like reading 1,000 years of strata minutes. It took me a long time to read this book, partly because of its massive size, and partly because of its soporific effects. Accounts of the city's establishment was fascinating. Unfortunately this book sticks to the political ticks and convulsions, leaving out the sexy, and sordid details.The interminably long list of bureaucrats of Venice's past would be over the moon to discover they hadn't been forgotten by this author. Side note about the author and his subject matter. He appears to be a minor British aristocrat; so it is not surprising that he mentions again and again, thorough the book, presumably for the benefit of those who skip over the suicidally boring bits, that Venice's government was the envy of the world. He furnishes no proof--but the claim itself is so incredibly hyperbolic such proof could never exist. So let's see: a modern aristocrat (contradiction in terms?) rhapsodizing about the golden age of hereditary oligarchy. Cough. (followed by the sound of crickets chirping)

  21. 4 out of 5

    John G

    John Julius Norwich provides a wonderful overview of the rise, apex, and eventual stagnation of the most serene republic, from the ashes of the Western Roman Empire to Napoleon's unchallenged capture of the city. Norwich, best-known for his histories of Byzantium and Norman Sicily, expertly weaves regional and European history into the story. Fascinating and often hilarious details about the doges and various scoundrels provide a human touch to the saga. Best part was about how Venice acquired S John Julius Norwich provides a wonderful overview of the rise, apex, and eventual stagnation of the most serene republic, from the ashes of the Western Roman Empire to Napoleon's unchallenged capture of the city. Norwich, best-known for his histories of Byzantium and Norman Sicily, expertly weaves regional and European history into the story. Fascinating and often hilarious details about the doges and various scoundrels provide a human touch to the saga. Best part was about how Venice acquired St. Mark as its patron saint - some sneaky city fathers stole his corpse from (Muslim) Alexandria by hiding it in a barrel of pork. Recommended to history-minded people looking to visit the area, and for those who enjoy well-written history - for me, Norwich is up there with Barbara Tuchman and Robert Massie.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    It provided a great retelling of every event ever to beset this little island nation. EVERY EVENT. That's not so bad, there is a lot that happened and you need all of it to make a coherent story. But very little thought was given to try and make the history pop. Every event was cataloged such that I thought I was reading a long timeline in paragraph form. Maybe I expect more from my histories, but this was written so dryly it could have come from the Gobi. It provided a great retelling of every event ever to beset this little island nation. EVERY EVENT. That's not so bad, there is a lot that happened and you need all of it to make a coherent story. But very little thought was given to try and make the history pop. Every event was cataloged such that I thought I was reading a long timeline in paragraph form. Maybe I expect more from my histories, but this was written so dryly it could have come from the Gobi.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    John Julius Norwich remains one of my favorite historians to read. Not quite as good as A Short History of Byzantium, but close.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Steve Groves

    A review twenty years in the making… I sometimes feel bibliomancy is a thing. Having owned this book for 20 years, where it has sat unread, but not forgotten; I find myself finishing it and compiling some thoughts on the 20/2/20….but onto the review. 'A History of Venice’ is a massive doorstop of a paperback, consisting of 673 pages, including bibliography and index and it’s not a subject that I was even particularly interested in when I purchased it. My apparent impulse buying was more to do with A review twenty years in the making… I sometimes feel bibliomancy is a thing. Having owned this book for 20 years, where it has sat unread, but not forgotten; I find myself finishing it and compiling some thoughts on the 20/2/20….but onto the review. 'A History of Venice’ is a massive doorstop of a paperback, consisting of 673 pages, including bibliography and index and it’s not a subject that I was even particularly interested in when I purchased it. My apparent impulse buying was more to do with the reputation and prior experience with the authors works, who I found had unravelled the mysteries of the Byzantine Empire in his trilogy and had also covered in depth the Normans in Sicily (one of my favourite periods of history) . I have found him to be a historian who writes with clarity, humour and deep insight and in his monumental work on Venice I have not been disappointed. Only he has been capable of distilling nearly 1300 years of often torturous history into a story that provides insight as well as entertainment. I have now had the good fortune to visit Venice on three occasions, the first in 2006 was a brief whirlwind tour from the mainland in a group, and we all expressed the half joking reason to visit the city was , “to see it before it sunk forever”. My memory of that visit is of overpriced coffee and food, enormous crowds and a plague of pigeons. My second visit in 2010 saw me determined to spend more time visiting the lagoon and experiencing a night or two in a hotel over water. While I achieved this, the memory was not pleasant as I was caught in a torrential downpour while trudging through streets and across bridges in the warm June rain, trying to find a hotel and decipher the confusing street numbering put in place by the Austrians after they had put down a rebellion in the city in 1849. My most recent visit was in December 2019, and sadly I was to witness the very real prospect of Venice sinking beneath the waves as our trip coincided with a number of high tides which had inundated the city. Our visit was made more depressing by the fact that the long awaited and much vaunted ‘flood barrier’ (MOSE project) which had been under planning and construction since the 1980’s at a cost of 20 Billion Euros (much being spent on corruption, bribes and sheer waste; in a way that echoed much of the wasted ducats spent by the Venetians in the book), was deployed for the first time. All I can say after seeing St Mark’s square underwater and the shop owners sweeping water out of their flooded premises with a look of resignation on their faces is… “you’ve wasted your money.” That said, the waters receded by early afternoon and we were able to walk around and see what it was that gave Venice it’s grandeur. Late December still has crowds, but nowhere near the level of peak tourist time. As we took the water taxi back to our pick up point in the early evening, a magnificent sunset greeted us and it was clear why people still regarded Venice as the most romantic city in the world. Returning home, I was determined to remedy gaps in my knowledge by reading this book. From the somewhat legendary details of its founding (although able to be precisely dated by the Venetians themselves to the stroke of noon, Friday 25th March, 421 A.D), to its highs and lows throughout the 1000 year history of its Republic (in the period 727 – 1798 AD), until Bonaparte appears on the scene like a thunderbolt and dismantles their political structure and brings then low (not hesitating the destroy buildings as required) ; the book is never dull. Even when the history is dull, Norwich seems to find an individual or a description of a building or an aside to keep the narrative moving along and the reader entertained. Each chapter is neatly delineated to cover a particular crisis or historical event and whilst wars and battle are a sad feature of much of its history, Norwich is careful to provide detail where required and artfully summarise where facts could become tedious. Nothing but praise for this book, and while not everyone will obviously desire or require to understand the history in detail, it has certainly made me want to go back again and linger longer in Venice.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    Excellent book on the history of Venice (but also covering much of the Byzantine Empire, the Papal State/Western Empire intrigues in Italy, Genoese republics, Norman Sicily and the rise of the Western and Balkan national states). The rise of Venice is both implicitly and explicitly covered and appears due to a combination of geographical and social facts. Geographically: the impregnability of the lagoon initially to barbarian ravages (which made it a multi-cultural refuge and led to its initial Excellent book on the history of Venice (but also covering much of the Byzantine Empire, the Papal State/Western Empire intrigues in Italy, Genoese republics, Norman Sicily and the rise of the Western and Balkan national states). The rise of Venice is both implicitly and explicitly covered and appears due to a combination of geographical and social facts. Geographically: the impregnability of the lagoon initially to barbarian ravages (which made it a multi-cultural refuge and led to its initial establishment); the sea bound nature which led to it establishing key skills of saving navigation and ship building very early on and almost to gain a monopoly in some of these areas in the Mediterranean – not least when the Byzantines effectively outsourced their navy; later the impregnability both to invasion and to territorial disputes (which plagued the West when between the decline of Roman empire and rise of nation states it was a continent of city states and regions with lack of natural or impregnable boundaries); their dominance of the Mediterranean gateway to the trade of the Fertile Crescent and of the Far East. Socially: the strong dedication to the mother city (was Venice an early America as being a nation of immigrants?); the lack of any split between patrician/landowner class and knight/commerce class (perhaps due to the limited land); an ability to detach strong religious devotion (although even the veneration of relics may have been a cynical attempt to boost both prestige and tourism) from commercial considerations – so that Venice turned Crusades and even the rise of Islam to its advantages; its detachment from issues of feudalism; its detachment from the Pope/Empire split that tore Italy asunder for centuries; its oligarchical system with the Doge a figurehead with checks and balances on his power but with inefficiencies of democracy avoided). Reasons for the decline included: the rounding of the Cape and the resulting immediate end of Venice's domination of Asian trade; the growing Turkish threat, with Venice's Mediterranean empire being heavily affected and eventually lost but with the rest of the West being too divided (and too unhappy with Venice's previous accommodations with the Turks) to mount any form of assistance; growing prosperity of Venetian citizen's which led to the citizens being unwilling to risk it on military endeavours and the government being unwilling to take difficult decisions to threaten this prosperity so that the state itself was close to bankrupt; the rise of Northern European powers who transformed naval conflict and tactics while Venice was fighting battles on 14th century tactics; Venice's diplomacy which sustained it in peace during the tumult of the 16th and first half of the 17th century (and which was maintained for long after its military power faded due to the prestige it gained from its ostentation) came to dominate its military prowess and left it completely unable to pursue any other option when diplomacy failed as it did with Napoleon's post-revolutionary army. Very well written and easier to follow than the Byzantine trilogy – not least due to easier to follow chronology, nomenclature and geography.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dpmcdermott

    3.5 stars rounded up because it is a good history book, but you really need to prepare to committing yourself to a thousand years of history in 635 pages. This is a sweeping work that mercifully keeps what year you are reading about at the top of the even pages. With all the twists and turns of normal Italian history, Venice stands apart for a few reasons. Until their capitulation to Napoleon, it was the longest running continuous constitutional government on the peninsula. Their form of governm 3.5 stars rounded up because it is a good history book, but you really need to prepare to committing yourself to a thousand years of history in 635 pages. This is a sweeping work that mercifully keeps what year you are reading about at the top of the even pages. With all the twists and turns of normal Italian history, Venice stands apart for a few reasons. Until their capitulation to Napoleon, it was the longest running continuous constitutional government on the peninsula. Their form of government was a learning institution that derived its strength from the preservation of state and not the whims of the ruling class or the Doge. It would seek to curb state organ powers that threatened the Republic itself. Doge's for that matter as the author points out, distinguished themselves not by what the did, but what they did not do -- wars, alliances, and at the end ignoring the necessity for armed neutrality. The state itself was not tightly coupled to the familial intrigues of the ruling elites on the rest of the continent. Rather, it was able to form and leave alliances as it best suit their needs. This is not itself unique in the time periods covered, but there was less concern about their families ascending to thrones elsewhere. Unless it introduced instability into one of the adjacent kingdoms. Like all empires, as its arc started to decline, their policy shifted from expansion to maintaining the status quo. This was not always tenable as greater powers threatened Venice's interests and they were regularly brought into conflict that caused centuries of prosperous peaks and lean valleys. When Venice obtained its long peace in the 18th Century, its focus on defensive power wained... Its organic capacity for ship building suffered as it lost command of the Adriatic and the lines of communication & commerce it held for hundreds of years fell to other powers. This was self reinforcing because had it maintained modern naval power, it could have exerted influence to preserve the resources it must import for certain industries, like ship building. Ultimately Venice's policy of neutrality post-empire lacked the important feature of being defensible through military power. Best tidbit from the book -- The word arsenal comes from Doge Ordelafo's decision to co-locate shipbuilding industries together and borrowed the Arabic word Dar Sina'a which translates to house of construction.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Cook

    A solid and even beautifully written political history of the Venetian Republic. I have to admit that it took me a long time to finish. This was partly because of the vast number of names of Doges and other officials. But, in the end, I was more disappointed with what was left out that what was included. Norwich includes nothing about Venice after Napoleon and virtually no social or cultural history. Artistic and cultural figures are treated as peripheral actors at most. Yes, this is a history o A solid and even beautifully written political history of the Venetian Republic. I have to admit that it took me a long time to finish. This was partly because of the vast number of names of Doges and other officials. But, in the end, I was more disappointed with what was left out that what was included. Norwich includes nothing about Venice after Napoleon and virtually no social or cultural history. Artistic and cultural figures are treated as peripheral actors at most. Yes, this is a history of Venice without Thomas Mann, and in which Monteverdi is mentioned only once and then in passing. It doesn't really talk about Casanova or Canaletto. Even Titian and Tintoretto barely get a look in. Nor is there a detailed account of the history of the Jews or other minority groups in Venice, or indeed very much about daily life for the great mass of people. Jan Morris' book on Venice, which does not claim to be a history at all, covers most of these topics better than Norwich manages to do. It's hard to fault Norwich for not doing what he does not set out to do, and his book is a success (even a great success) according to the limits he has set for himself. But I would emphatically not recommend this as anyone's first introduction to the history of Venice.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Subodh

    There are many theories explaining the dominance of Europe from the eighteenth century onward. My own view is that seeds of Europe's eventual success were sown at the beginning of the second millennium when cities started rising from the ashes of the erstwhile Roman empire. Many of the cities became self-governing entities and political power in them passed to commercial classes. Venice is the most prominent example of a city-state that dominated north Italy, Adriatic and eastern Mediterranean f There are many theories explaining the dominance of Europe from the eighteenth century onward. My own view is that seeds of Europe's eventual success were sown at the beginning of the second millennium when cities started rising from the ashes of the erstwhile Roman empire. Many of the cities became self-governing entities and political power in them passed to commercial classes. Venice is the most prominent example of a city-state that dominated north Italy, Adriatic and eastern Mediterranean for several centuries. Norwich tells the story of the city with relish and manages to hold the reader's interest for well over 600 pages. The author places developments in the history of Venice in a larger context of history of Europe. The Venetian Republic had to deal with almost all the other major power centers of that epoch - Spain, France, Holy Roman Empire, Papacy, Sicily, Hungary and Constantinople - first under the Eastern Roman Empire and then under the Turks. It also had to deal with other Italian cities, the prominent ones being Milan, Verona, Padua, and Genoa. No army managed the cross the lagoon surrounding the city and occupy it in 800 years of the republic. Venice, on the other hand, used a mix of diplomacy and force of its excellent navy to assert itself. In telling the story of Venice the author tells us a lot about developments in the Empire, in France, in Spain, in the Papacy and in Constantinople.

  29. 4 out of 5

    cee

    i...hm. i'm keeping this around, because norwich's prose is overall good, he's obviously got a lot of affection for his subject, and it's fine as a one-volume (if dates-and-names centric) overview of venice as a fully independent entity, but: 1. norwich in general tends to lean much more heavily on a combination of palace and military history than i prefer, and this isn't an exception. there's very little discussion of art history, of economics, or especially any kind of social or cultural histor i...hm. i'm keeping this around, because norwich's prose is overall good, he's obviously got a lot of affection for his subject, and it's fine as a one-volume (if dates-and-names centric) overview of venice as a fully independent entity, but: 1. norwich in general tends to lean much more heavily on a combination of palace and military history than i prefer, and this isn't an exception. there's very little discussion of art history, of economics, or especially any kind of social or cultural history. he barely mentions the venetian jewish community, the working class, women of any group...it is, unsurprisingly from him, a very small-c conservative work. there's just, in general, not a lot of "why". 2. probably related to the above, i'm a little thrown off by what he chooses to spend time on. for instance, the entire chapter on lepanto that ends with the admission that it had zero short- or long-term tactical significance. could maybe have used that space to like...talk about something besides the succession of doges or military engagements?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nick Lewis

    118 Doges of Venice some lasting many years and some receiving only a couple of paragraphs because they died so soon after their appointment. I learnt a lot about Mediterranean history, Christian history, Catholic history and much more than just Venice. I had not realised the incredibly influential and pivotal role that the Most Serene Republic of Venice held in the establishment of nations and the various histories that were intertwined stretching from mainland Europe across to Jerusalem and th 118 Doges of Venice some lasting many years and some receiving only a couple of paragraphs because they died so soon after their appointment. I learnt a lot about Mediterranean history, Christian history, Catholic history and much more than just Venice. I had not realised the incredibly influential and pivotal role that the Most Serene Republic of Venice held in the establishment of nations and the various histories that were intertwined stretching from mainland Europe across to Jerusalem and the Ottoman Empire. So many Doges, so many wars, so many treaties during which time the flag of St Mark rose and fell many times in many different countries, bringing success and failure. It is not an easy read considering it covers eighteen hundred years of history. I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to accumulate so much knowledge about such a beautiful City and its place in World history.

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