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City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire [Paperback]

Roger Crowley
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Aug 2012

A magisterial work of gripping history, City of Fortune tells the story of the Venetian ascent from lagoon dwellers to the greatest power in the Mediterranean - an epic five hundred year voyage that encompassed crusade and trade, plague, sea battles and colonial adventure.

In Venice, the path to empire unfolded in a series of extraordinary contests - the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, the fight to the finish with Genoa and a desperate defence against the Turks. Under the lion banner of St Mark, she created an empire of ports and naval bases which funnelled the goods of the world through its wharfs. In the process the city became the richest place on earth - a brilliant mosaic fashioned from what it bought, traded, borrowed and stole.

Based on first hand accounts of trade and warfare, seafaring and piracy and the places where Venetians sailed and died, City of Fortune is narrative history at its finest. Beginning on Ascension Day in the year 1000 and ending with an explosion off the coast of Greece - and the calamitous news that the Portuguese had pioneered a sea route to India - it will fascinate anyone who loves Venice and the Mediterranean world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (2 Aug 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571245951
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571245956
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.6 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roger Crowley read English at Cambridge before going to live in Istanbul. His particular interests are the Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman empires, seafaring, and eyewitness history. He is the author of three books on the empires of the Mediterranean and its surroundings: Constantinople: the last great siege(2005), Empires of the Sea (2008) and City of Fortune: How Venice won and lost a naval empire(2011). His website address is, where he blogs about history.

Product Description


'Hugely readable, well-written and informative ... Crowley is excellent.' --Stella Tillyard, Daily Telegraph

'Roger Crowley makes a trustworthy and wonderfully eloquent guide ... Crowley is such a natural narrative historian, with such an eye for colourful but telling details and such a knack for dramatic character sketches, that he remains a constant joy to read.' --Christopher Hart, Sunday Times

'... the rise and fall of Venice's empire is an irresistible story and Crowley, with his rousing descriptive gifts and scholarly attention to detail, is its perfect chronicler. For centuries, he notes, the republic's sailors returned home with ''gold, spices, plague and grief''; and in this compelling book, like a scrupulous Venetian merchant, he weighs out full measures of each.' --Michael Prodger, Financial Times

'[An] entertaining and well-researched book, the entire story of this small, fascinating power is laid out.' --Catholic Herald

Book Description

From the prize-winning author of Empires of the Sea comes an epic work of narrative maritime history.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at its best 27 Nov 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am in awe of Mr Crowley. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed his first 2 books Constantinople 1453 and Empire of the sea.,I did not expect a third masterpiece in a row. Well, Venice, city of fortune ranks among the best history books I have ever read.
I have spent the best part of my last 20 summers touring around the Venetian lagoon;I never looked properly !I have learnt more from reading this wonderful book at home than from my unfortunately misguided visits.
The history of the rise anf fall of Venice as a great maritime power is an absolutely terrific story.The 4th crusade and the sacking of Constantinople, the response to the rebellion in Crete, the savage war against their bitter rivals from genoa,etc show the writer's prodigious ability to develop unforgettable,emotionally textured characters and stories.
And when you think that early on'' the city's prosperity rested on nothing tangible-no land holdings,no natural resources,no agricultural production or large population.There was literally no solid ground underfoot.''
Next time, Mr Crowley could end up writing about the most uninteresting topic, but I will be the first one to rush and buy it.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hatrick of quality 30 Aug 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having read Roger Crowley's two previous books on Constantinople and Empires of the Sea I was delighted to find that City of Fortune has maintained the excellent quality of his writing. Well researched, light enough for a holiday read and top quality maps to help the geographically puzzled to follow the rise and fall of Venice.
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While there is no doubt that Crowley is a very good writer and that this book is well written and interesting, this is not a history of Venice. It is more a history of 200 years of Venetian naval warfare between 1300 and 1500. A lot of details about sea battles, a lot of details about the tactical disposition of armies and navies. So, great if you are interested in military history. Not so good if you want an idea of how the Venetian state was organised, day to day life, details on the economy and politics. Even Venice's expansion in Italy is ignored. And if you want to know anything about how the Venetian republic came into existence or indeed what happened after 1500, you need to get a different book.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
2011 is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy; the secessionist Northern League instead claims it will be Italy's last celebration, as by 2061 their federal state, Padania, will finally have become a reality. Coincidentally, following on to his earlier studies on seafaring empires, Roger Crowley has published City of Fortune, on the Republic of Venice or the Serenissima Empire, waved by the red and yellow standard with the lion of St Mark's, a great past power which the separatists noisily announce fully as part their own history for the new state's future.

Crowley takes us on an enchanting historical journey from the decline of Byzantine Empire, to its substitution by Venice, concentrating exclusively on the political-economic history and staying clear of the traditional touristy histories of fine arts and buildings represented by RuskinThe Stones of Venice (1851-53). He treated in depth the capture of Constantinople in June 1204 by Doge Enrico Dandolo, during the Fourth Crusade, depicted four centuries later in Tintoretto's large canvass in the Doge's Palace; the consolidation of its outposts down the Adriatic and the Mediterranean as far as the Black Sea; the galley battles - the Battle of Chioggia in 1379-80 - fought against its principal commercial rival, Genoa, under the banner of St George (Britain's own St George!), a red cross on a white background, until the appearance of its real eastern enemy raised its head at the end of the Fourteenth century.
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Excellent and very readable, indeed gripping, account of Venice's inverisimilitudinous rise as a Mediterranean power, close shaves with obliteration, marriage to the sea, fascinating management methods, iron (and clenched) fist, and determination of its' own fate as a coherent, willful and homogenous entity. It is interesting, among other things, to compare the Serenissimas' citizenship and anti-corruption rules as they were enforced with the situation of present-day Venice...
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars pettirosso 7 Sep 2011
This is the first Roger Crowley book that I have read. I bought the book because I am an unashamed Venetophile. The book is absolutely brilliant - as readable and well written as it is meticulously researched. A 'must' for every lover of Venice and its history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling history. 30 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
The history of Venice is far richer than I would have expected and Crowley does a great job bringing it to life.

There is a lot of detail here but it is told in a conversational style that always keeps it entertaining, the larger than life characters are fascinating and the politics is complex and shows Venice as a surprisingly modern sort of state in many ways, a populist and cynical place where the masses are easily manipulated by spectacle but can turn on their favourites viciously.

I had held off from buying this because I had no real interest in Venice but the storytelling here is good enough to generate the interest.

The only flaw is a tendency to put in little snippets of information from dates ahead of the part he is telling, this can make it hard to keep track of the real progress through time but that doesn't happen often enough to spoil the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit slow going at first but well researched and ...
A bit slow going at first but well researched and filled a few gaps in my knowledge of the eastern mediterranean
Published 11 days ago by R. Wasling
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Very good book for enlarge vision in tourism as guide job but not specific for business tourism students.
Published 14 days ago by CLOD M.
5.0 out of 5 stars Trade waxes and wanes.
Enjoyable and infomative. Trade explained as a great driver for humanity. If you cruise the Eastern Mediterranean read this on your sea days.
Published 1 month ago by Chris Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping tale well told
Well researched and well written narrative of Venice's naval empire, of value not only to those interested in Venice but to anyone with an interest in the Mediterranean as a whole.
Published 5 months ago by interested bystander
4.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Tale
I guess I thought I knew about Venice as a source of civilising society. But I certainly did not realise the extent or reach of its influence. Read more
Published 5 months ago by 2Dogs
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on Venice
What a magnificent way to put Venice's extraordinary history in perspective, to understand its role in the development of commerce and the reasons of its conflict with Genoa! Read more
Published 10 months ago by Haruspex 5
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
i chose this rating because i learned a lot about venice that i didnt know before and i must visit again
Published 10 months ago by g bennett
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved the book but my love affair with Venice is now a little jaded
Roger Crowley clearly loves his subject and writes passionately about both the sea battles and the politics that made Venice what it is today. Read more
Published 11 months ago by W Greenhalf
4.0 out of 5 stars Hyperbole
Very well researched book and nicely written story with the exception of the author's getting carried away and exaggerating frequently. Read more
Published 12 months ago by PhilipClarke
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, fantastic account of project management gone awry
Crawley's account of the sack of Christian Constantinople during the 4th Crusade made me tear up -- it's also made me a bit less bothered about how Venice is sinking, although the... Read more
Published 12 months ago by K. Campbell
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