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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 24 April 2007
It's a real testament to the skill of the author that this emerges as a fascinating and exciting read as well as a comprehensive and authoritative account of such a wide swathe of history. It chronicles the Republic's changing fortunes from beginning to end through eleven centuries, conveying a real sense of its spirit and character, with major players and battles leaping from the pages. The inevitable fall, when it comes, is all the more poignant for all that has come before, and casts the modern depopulation and disintegration of Venice in a new light. It's a great story whatever your interest in the subject, and this version must be pretty close to definitive.
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on 21 August 2017
This book contains a vast amount of information about Venice and this diminished my overall impression.
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on 1 September 2017
Amasing Book
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on 2 May 2017
Having recently been to this beautiful city and, like countless thousands of others before me, fallen in love with it, I wanted to keep that dream alive and at the same time learn more about the city's history. So I scoured the internet for a nice big glossy coffee table book. This is not it. It is not big, it is not glossy, and it has very few photographs. And I am glad it isn't any of those things because the author's account of this fascinating slice of time and place has me looking forward to my stolen hours on the sofa learning not only about Venetian history, but how it fitted in within the ever changing boundaries of historical Europe. The sort of book I would have probably run a mile from in younger days, and even now had me doubting my ability to actually read it, has really surprised me by entertaining as much as it is educating. In short I love it!
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on 24 March 2016
The city- state of Venice existed as a separate and mostly sovereign entity for the best past of 1300 years. Founded in the wreckage of the western Roman Empire from refugees looking to escape the many barbarian invasions of Italy in the 400s A.D, the collection of villages on the various islands of the lagoon slowly grew into towns and eventually a city. Taking advantage of the natural defences of the lagoon, the people of Venice were able to survive in relative peace, secure from the upheavels that affected the mainland during these early times.

Over the centuries, Venice grew ever more prosperous as her people began to trade more and more, and became excellent saliors, plying their craft upon the seas. As venice grew, so to did her peoples confidence as they started to see themselves a bread apart and also played the various European powers off against each other to maiuntain her independence. Venice also began to acquire overseas territories for means of resources and to safeguard her commerce. Tons and cities were gained on the Dalmatian coastline to secure timber for her ships and building materials for the city. Privileges were gained in the Levant and the Middle east during the time of the crusaders though in the Levant, venice was the primary insticator of the blackest treachery in Christendom, when the armies of the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, sacked Constantinople, greatest Christian city on earth at that point, a blow from which Byzantium never recovered from, though Venice gained lands and treasure from it. From the late 1300s, Venice began to acquire a mainland empire as it was slowly dragged into the numerous Italian wars. The city reached it’s zenith in the early 1500s where a a large part of northern Italy fell under it’s control, however it was shortly to lose a large chunk of it as coalitions formed against it. The next two centuries would see the city continue on, with various ups and downs in it’s position until it was finally conquered by Napoleon, the first and only man to successfully do so.

The author, John Julius Norwich writes with a great love for the subject and that passion comes though in his writing. Following the usual narrative flow of events, we progress through the history of Venice with some years flying by, especially the early centuries and then with time sowing and more detail coming out from the late 1300s onwards. The book does have a number of small flaws though, the author does show some bias towards Venice and could be a little more critical about some of what she did. We also suffer from the fact that the focus is at some points to narrowly focused on Venice, several of the wars she was involved in with coalition partners, just look at Venice, whereas it would have been helpful to see what her partners were doing as well. On the whole though this was a very enjoyable work on the subject and an excellent starter point to lead into Venice and North Italian politics.
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on 3 June 2006
Id previously read his book on byzantium and was hoping this would be in a similar vein. Thankfully i wasnt dissapointed this is a superbly written, erudite and very readable history of the Venetian Republic. It covers a huge period of time and a great many different areas yet never gets bogged down by minutiae (as a number of other books on the subject do- you can only read about so many doges with the same name before you lose track). Easily the best book ive read this year (so far)
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on 9 March 2014
This long and overly detailed book should be more correctly entitled 'A Political History of Venice'.
For this reader, at least, the author paid much too much attention to political and military events at the expense of social, economic and cultural developments.

The Kindle version of this book, riddled as it is with 'typos', is shamefully bad. Given how easy it is, nowadays, to correct such errors, I cannot understand how the book is sold in such poor condition.
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This is a dazzling history of a unique political entity - an oligarchic republic surrounded by feudal autocracies, religiously moderate hundreds of years before toleration developed anywhere else, and a highly profitable form of public-private capitalism. In this splendid book, the reader is treated to the entire arc of rise, reign, and fall, in luminously beautiful prose and plenty of fascinating stories.

In the beginning, Venice was a stronghold for Roman citizens seeking refuge from waves of barbarian invasions, 2.5 miles off the coast, a backwater as the Western Roman empire crumbled. Then, as a client under the protection of Byzantium, Venice slowly rose to become the premier commercial power of the Mediterranean. As a small island, everyone knew each other, so had to act in a relatively trustworthy manner in a time that piracy was indistinguishable from trade. It helped that Venetian merchants stole the body of St. Mark, using it as the basis for cosmic legitimacy and lending a kind of ideological coherence to their community - they acted in concert in unique ways for over 1,000 years.

The Venetians developed effective laws, the greatest seamanship in existence, and amassed capital that it could use for further investment, mercenaries, and bribes. Its trading partners appreciated these attributes, i.e. that Venice was relatively more trustworthy than its competitors. Together, these attributes enabled Venice to establish a number of exceedingly profitable monopolies over centuries, in particular that on spice for Europe (transport via the silk road over Asia). Though it fought many brutal wars with competitors Genoa and Pisa, Venice emerged triumphant for a time.

About 1200 a.d., Venice became an empire and reached its apogee, controlling a vast land and sea empire, often under the dangerous control of condottieri (knight mercenaries). It also moved into a unique public-private domain, in which the state had a strong hand in organizing the economy, in particular setting standards for sea vessels but also trading practices, maintaining the rule of law, and taking over the arsenal, which could produce fully functional war galleys in a matter of hours, with strategic cutting-edge technology for the time. These attributes made it an even more dependable trading agent for its allies and partners - they knew where the ships were, what their quality would be, etc .It is during this period that the Doge, Enrico Dandalo, led the warriors of the 4th Crusade to sack Byzantium, the most shameful despoliation of a civilized capital in the history of Christendom.

But already, as the Renaissance was beginning to flower, the seeds of Venice's decline were sown. Most important, mastery of trade slipped from Venetian hands once the Portugese discovered the cape route around Africa - the Mediterranean was no longer the center of the world, immediately consigning Venice to backwater status in the Adriatic. It never recovered. Second, the Ottoman Empire was also challenging Christendom, a force against which the disunified West could not compete. After Constantinople fell, Venice was the only true bulwark against the Ottomans. Third, with its haughty distance, pragmatic cynicism, and naked self interest, Venice had made innumerable enemies in Europe, and faced a series of wars against huge coalitions such as the league of Cambrai.

Still, for centuries, the Venetians were able to pull together and recover in ways that awed its adversaries. It is astonishing to read how often Venice was on the edge of complete ruin, only to emerge renewed and powerful, to fight its way to survival and then dominence. A great deal of this was due to its unique political system, which allowed fresh infusions of talent into leadership circles at crucial times and institutionalized the alternance of power. However, with the loss of trade, the energy of Venice was eventually sapped, leading to a long decline and a tenuous diplomatic balancing act (of which Casanova was a part) as the forces of revolution were rumbling in 18th C France; eventually, it became a tourist pleasure spot of wild indulgences and petty intrigue. Once it fell to the young Napoleon, though looted, Venice was never destroyed - it was the first occupation by a foreign power in its 1400 year history.

This is an incredible story, in many ways as a coherent span of time equal to Rome itself. You can tell that this book was a labor of love - every page is engaging and elegantly written. The feeling of witnessing history unfold is rarely so well executed, truly it is an inspiration and source of wonder.

Warmly recommended.
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on 26 May 2012
First of all let me say that the writing here is superb, and the book provides all the historical background you could need as a lay reader.

The first problem with the kindle version is that it is more expensive than the print version, which makes no sense to me. Of greater concern however is the vast quantity of typos in the kindle edition. Such sub-standard proof-reading (or whatever it is with kindle publishers) should be outlawed - or at least a guaranteed money-back claim.

In the end I bought the print book (but not from Amazon, out of protest), so in all it has cost me over £30 to get a readable version of the book. That can't be right.

It has also put me off Kindle for life, which is a shame as it can be so useful when travelling. The problem is you can't trust the quality of the books available.

So, a great book, but avoid the Kindle version at all costs. Be warned.
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on 6 June 2001
A comprehensive, elaborate and engaging account of the rise and final, swift fall of the Venetian republic. Norwich manages to bind even complex and intricate side-plots and parallel historical events into an involved and vivid narrative. Occasionally oddly judgmental, and in the typical style of English historians, i.e. sceptical and a little afraid of personalities and events which are difficult to classify. Sometimes events and ages suffer a little from being embedded in this sweeping narrative. Yet it stands as a remarkable work of involved historianship, which continues to put many of the more fragmented and specialized academic works that followed in the shade. Erudite, fluent and stimulating.
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