24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at its best
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...
Published on 27 Nov 2011 by michel boucaud
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but narrow in scope: military history, not history
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...
Published on 29 Nov 2011 by The Philosopher
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at its best,
This review is from: City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire (Hardcover)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.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hatrick of quality,
This review is from: City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire (Hardcover)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.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but narrow in scope: military history, not history,
This review is from: City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire (Hardcover)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.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For want of a precious oil a rich empire was lost: the Rise and Fall of the Serenissima Republic in Medieval Europe,
This review is from: City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire (Hardcover)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.
Since 1000, and from the end of Eastern Empire until the early Sixteenth century the author emphasized a real felt symbiosis existed between Venice and the sea, represented annually in its religious / pagan rituals on Ascension Day, together with the four compass points: Departure, Risk, Profit, and Glory, that made up Venetian life. Its secular society was extremely modern even for present day Italian and European standards: in its penal legal system with eight distinct grades of homicide, including manslaughter, in the choice and appointment of its overseas functionaries forbidden to take advantage of its position, its attempts to stamp out nepotism; whereas its punishments were barbarous, and its obsession of racial purity, frowning against intermarriage with locals, and any signals of persons going native was the first instance of how European empires reacted in their territories until the middle of the Twentieth century.
Most interesting, all merchants based overseas acted as the permanent roving eyes and ears of the Venice, meaning they operated as an early spy service, and if necessary, with the expansion of the Ottomans, communicating home in coded messages since state documents were intercepted and held back. Readers now should reconsider the work of past persons of earlier ages in a less prejudicial light, including the work of William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, the wily spymaster and loyal secretive first minister to Elizabeth I. Similarly, by the 1470s, the Ottomans with a natural gift for intrigue, deception, and double-dealing, had even succeeded in encamping themselves close to all positions of the Venice state. And yet, Venice, then, was as contemporary in its attitudes as today in some countries, since in its decadence it allowed former incarcerated traitors to be given a second chance in public office: the most notable example being Antonio Grimani, Captain-general of the fleet, who was disgraced for indecision and cowardice at the Battle of Zonchio, better known as the first Battle of Lepanto in August 1499, and despite a period of exile, twenty years later he became the Republic's Doge until his death.
The decline, Crowley stresses, was long in coming, and did not require a complete history of Venice, and explains his unexpected end of his narrative around 1500. The main changes were internal within Venetian society: the Black Death transformed the aspiring mercantile classes into risk aversive, more conservative, with a greedy eye for their future personal grandeur in landed estates on the terra firma of the Italian hinterland, much less inclined to stand and fight for Venice and glory; and external: the expansion of the Ottomans in Europe under Sultans Mehmet II and Bayezit II, the Turkish improvement in nautical skills in fifty years, greatly assisted and encouraged by Venice's envious Italian city state rivals, Genoa and Florence, gradually dismantling its outstations Constantinople (1453), Negroponte, on the island of Euboa (1470), and the ports of Modon and Coron in the Peloponnese (1500), piece by piece; the new knowledge picked up by Portugal and Spain to discover and open up sea routes to the Far East, comprising the Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511, monopolising the market for the produce of the spice islands, soon led to foreign traders from England, Germany and Hungary based on the Rialto, taking up sticks, and moving away to Lisbon with better favourable terms and prices.
The author, however, does underline that at first some wiser and more broader minds did try to propose for Venice some practical damage limitation schemes - even suggesting to invest in the digging of a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, over three centuries before its completion by the Ferdinand de Lesseps, but the idea left to the corrupt Mamuluks, in Cairo, went amiss. Amazingly, one chronicler Ibn Iyas, recorded in 1500 the tale of the old commercial relationship hinging on prized oil obtained from balsam gardens, and in that year the trees withered. Seventeen years later the last Mamuluk sultan was strung up by the Ottomans. For want of some precious oil an empire was lost! Fact, fiction, or just another coincidence - still it is a nice credible contemporary tale from hot, exotic, spicy orient climes.
The new Europe, thus, found Venice's business model obsolete and its suppliers over dependent on its past. Its remaining possessions, Cyprus, and Crete, existed in worthless past backwaters, ready to be pinched by Turkey in 1570 and 1669, respectively. The centre of power had moved. For centuries, Venice had usurped the industries - soap, glass, silk, paper, that had made the Levant wealthy to its own advantage; from then the cycle had changed. The Adriatic was fast becoming a geographic location taking people nowhere. Venice, thus, was transformed from a very active mover to a passive observer of European and world history. The Pope and Venice still cried out for new wars against the common enemy, but to no avail. The Italian city states were not concerned with the Turks, only their self protection, their territorial, and wealth expansion, which ultimately meant fighting among themselves. One day one rival was a friend, the next a foe.
Politics and business are still strongly linked in Italy today, as it had been centuries ago for Venice. As a supporter of the EU, the future of the Northern League depends on the development and strengthening of the federal continent of regions as demanded by the EU. Should the present financial difficulties in the Mediterranean lead to the weakening and break up of the EU, it would definitely push the League's dreams further away, making Venice, though unique, still only a very Italian city. The League seems to be historically illiterate; for even today, all the neighbouring Italian cities whether located in the north, the centre, or the south are still envious of one another. It is unlikely that a new Italian federation, Padania, of the Twenty-first century will unify the divided cities any better than a national state formed in the Nineteenth. The cities, including Venice, only agree that they each would function better without the interference from the capital in Rome.
Using secondary works, principally in English and Italian, Roger Crowley has written a brilliantly analysed account, well illustrated with maps, sketches, engravings, and coloured photos. It is recommended for students of history, economics and geography, or anyone interested in the past, present, and future of Europe. Italians knowledgeable of their country would find it useful, too. If the Northern League is not interested in the country's past to prevent such errors in the future, I'm sure others are.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars pettirosso,
This review is from: City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire (Hardcover)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.
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on Venice,
5.0 out of 5 stars great read,
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved the book but my love affair with Venice is now a little jaded,
As the story unfurled I found it far harder to forgive the city its mostly parasitic history. The beauty that I had wondered at on past visits will now always be a little tainted by the knowledge of how the jewels in the city's crown seem mostly to have been torn from their original owners in acts of cultural vandalism. I guess a similar statement could be made about London, Rome and Paris, but somehow I was never quite so naive about any of those cities and can still love them for what they are - Venice was a bit different and I feel a little betrayed. Still the book was an excellent read and I should thank Roger Crowley (although it is a little like thanking someone who tells you your wife is sleeping with another man).
4.0 out of 5 stars Hyperbole,
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, fantastic account of project management gone awry,
This book evokes Lord of the Flies, because when the Crusade was first envisioned, the Franks were just like little boys playing at a romantic adventure. It was the world's misfortune that they happened to team up with a people so competent and brilliant -- the Venetians -- that they could entertain their grandiose ambition of taking Jerusalem. No one else would have considered it.
This book (and Crawley's other book, Empires of the Sea, which I also loved) also reminds me of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm. The main players are similarly self-engrossed and blind to everything but their own self-gratification. Small deceptions to get out of small crises led to bigger deceptions and bigger crises, until it all became just a big, embarrassing mess. But, this is this the mess that made Venice.
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City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire by Roger Crowley (Hardcover - 4 Aug 2011)
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