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Casanova: Actor Lover Priest Spy Hardcover – October 16, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher; First Edition edition (October 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158542658X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585426584
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,238,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Venice, Paris and other cities where Giacomo Casanova (1725–1798) restlessly traveled are brought to vivid life by food and travel writer Kelly (Cooking for Kings). Remembered today primarily for his sex life, Casanova was a polymath who trained to be a priest, worked as a violinist, soldier, faith healer and librarian, made and lost fortunes and wrote 42 books plus plays and opera libretti. He was born to an actress in Venice who thought the sickly boy was an imbecile and sent him away, aged nine, to be educated in Padua, where he flourished. The 17-year-old had his first sexual affair with two sisters, a scenario repeated throughout his life with other sisters, mothers and daughters, and even nuns. This life of sexual adventures produced eight illegitimate children and included falling in love with an apparent castrato who turned out to be a woman en travestie; he also enjoyed a life of wealth and social status in Venice after saving the life of a senator. Imprisoned there by the Inquisition, he escaped to Paris, becoming a fixture on the city's social scene. Kelly presents a colorful, sprightly biography of a singular man. Illus. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

The ultimate self-invented "new man" of the new world of 18th-century Europe, Casanova has become such a figure of legend that it requires a biography such as Kelly's to place him correctly in context. As a biographer, Kelly (Beau Brummell) has a flair for deconstructing what seems outrageous and inexplicable and making sense of a turbulent life. A citizen of Venice, Casanova was at home all over Europe, easily making inroads into the ranks of power and prestige via the church, the theater, and the aristocracy. His connections helped him in whatever pursuit he was engaged in at the time, be it espionage, literary aspirations, scams, or his constant and infamous seductions. The "facts" in Casanova's own autobiography often defy belief, but Kelly's deft handling of the historical facts separates truth from fiction and offers background information that counterbalances Casanova's claims. The book's contents are interestingly arranged into acts, scenes, and intermezzos that perfectly capture the theatricality and staged quality of Casanova's life. Although the biography does lose direction when it becomes a graphic and unpleasant catalog of sexual escapades, the historical overview of the man and the era is very well done. Recommended where interest demands.—Elizabeth Morris, Barrington Area Lib., IL
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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This is an extremely well written book that brings to life both a man and his times.
OldRoses
All his life, if he was not himself on the stage, he was hanging out with actors, making love to actresses, or traveling with a troupe.
R. Hardy
Ian Kelly points out the great lover wondered Europe and met the famous, the almost famous and the bizarre.
Harriet Klausner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If your name is famous or infamous enough, or if it fills some sort of lexical need, it can get used as a term of description on its own. We have been hearing a lot lately about people who are supposed Mavericks, for instance. If you call someone a Benedict Arnold, everyone will know you are paying no compliment. For centuries, lotharios have been called Casanovas, meaning a libertine who has made plenty of sexual conquests. It is only part of the picture Casanova himself gives in his massive twelve-volume autobiography, and most readers (like, admittedly, your present reviewer) have contented themselves with looking for the naughty bits and ignoring the rest. This leaves the stage open for a biographer to take the massive work, decide what can be chipped away to make for a full but accessible life story, and examine confirmatory contemporary texts to inform the reader of context. This is just what Ian Kelly has done in _Casanova: Actor Lover Priest Spy_ (Tarcher / Penguin). Kelly includes "lover" in that subtitle, but he does not include plenty of other categories in which the multi-talented Casanova excelled and which are included in this exciting biography: violinist, soldier, alchemist, cabalist, con-man, prisoner, fugitive, traveler, and the list goes on. Casanova was not always admirable, but he was always enthusiastic, and was a model for living life bravely, if excessively. He thus makes a fascinating subject, and a theatrical one in both senses of the word. Kelly is himself an actor, and successfully concentrates on the theatricality of Casanova's life. Indeed, his book is divided into operatic acts and scenes rather than chapters, with intermezzi between the acts to explain details about the eighteenth century versions of travel or sex habits.Read more ›
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on October 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This biography strips away the legend of "the world's greatest lover" to provide readers with an in depth look at a person who turns out to have been an eighteenth century Renaissance Man. With a Prelude, Introduction, Curtain Call, and five distinct acts that break the life of Giacomo Casanova into eras, the audience learns that he was a businessman, diplomat, spy, philosopher, author and translator. Ian Kelly points out the great lover wondered Europe and met the famous, the almost famous and the bizarre. Biography fans will relish this insightful look that brings much more to the dining table than just the legendary lover. Mr. Kelly brings alive the Age of Reason, the eras of no reason, and the absurd of Europe from Voltaire's France to the Russia of Catherine the Great to Casanova's hometown of Venice and his education town of Padua, amongst others. This is an excellent bio as Casanova proves to be much greater than the myth.

Harriet Klausner
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By WingsandRings on December 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
3.5 stars, really.

This book follows the life and sexual escapades of Giacomo Casanova, using Casanova's own memoirs as Ian Kelly's main primary source, often backed up or enhanced by other contemporary letters, memoirs, diaries, etc.

Casanova's charm immediately shines through on the page, and it's hard not to like him almost instantly. He is the ultimate lovable rake, who doesn't just use and throw away women, but falls a little in love with all the women he beds and often cares for them and protects them along the way (arranging abortions, marriages, money, etc) and women often came to him for help when they had nowhere else to go (and got a bedding in the process.) Casanova, as is less well known, was also very intelligent and enjoyed discussing philosophy with Voltaire, science with Benjamin Franklin, and astronomy with Catherine the Great.

The book clipped along at an exciting pace for the first half of the book, but after Casanova visits London, the books slows down a lot and becomes monotonous -- at this point Casanova is the quintessential wanderer, and the stories and people quickly begin to blend together. There are also times where you get the sense that a certain anecdote or description would have been much more entertaining in Casanova's own original words rather than Kelly's summary. I admit to skimming the last 100 pages.

Despite that, I loved and was surprised by Casanova's charm, wit, and personality from this passage on:

"Typical of the the young [18 year old] Casanova, his predominant emotion on entering the San Cipriano was to feel slighted by the institution in which he found himself. He was 'insulted' by the need to sit [for] an exam, insisting, correctly, that he was already a doctor [of law], and decided to act the imbecile. He was placed in a class of nine-year-olds studying grammar, until his physics master from La Salute in Venice recognized him."
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Format: Hardcover
Like most people, when I hear the name Casanova, I think of sex. Ian Kelly offers a more rounded view of a fascinating man who has come to be defined by a single facet of his complex life.

Casanova's autobiography, "The History of My Life", offers more than the story of one man's life. It allows us a unique glimpse into the life of people from all walks of life during the eighteenth century. He mingled with prostitutes and kings, actors and bishops, a Tsarina and famous courtesans, nobility and tradesmen. He wrote about all of them, detailing their lives and loves, their triumphs and travails.

He seemed to be in perpetual motion, travelling throughout Europe and into Russia, never living anywhere for more than two years. Even his mode of travel was unique. He used public transportation rather than the private coaches used by most travelers of the day. He hitchhiked and even sailed on slave-galleys. He wrote about it all, a veritable treasure trove of information for historians. He details the inns, apartments, castles and prisons where he stayed or was forced to stay.

He loved food, leaving a record of hundreds of meals, many of which featured dishes that are mentioned nowhere else and would have been lost to history if not for Casanova's writings.

As for his supposedly insatiable sexual appetite, Mr. Kelly rightly points out that his sex life was normal for men who had no fixed address, constantly moving around. More than a few of his contemporaries recorded more numerous encounters than Casanova. Just like modern times, he contracted sexually transmitted diseases over and over. In fact, syphilis may have caused his death. He was apparently bisexual, enjoying encounters with the occasional man, both singly and as part of group sex.
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