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Venice: A New History Hardcover – October 25, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (October 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670025429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670025428
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Founded by bedraggled refugees fleeing the same barbarian invasions that brought the glorious Roman Empire to a close, Venice is a city most of us know for its art and architecture but of whose long, unique history few of us are aware. From its humble beginnings, Venice rose to a position of a naval and economic power as well as a great cultural and intellectual innovator. The Venetian republic, a model for our own, established extensive trading networks, became a maritime juggernaut, and endured the ravages of plague only to see its power gradually eclipsed by the Ottoman Turks and meet its ultimate demise at the hands of a French army. Stepping outside of his usual focus on the Crusades (The New Concise History of the Crusades, 2005), Madden paints a vivid portrait of “a city without land, an empire without borders.” His engaging work enters a sparse historiography that includes John Julius Norwich’s enduring A History of Venice(1982) and Roger Crowley’s City of Fortune (2012) and separates itself by offering a readable overview backed by solid research. Readers will come away from Madden’s Venice with newfound respect for one of the great jewels of Western civilization. --Brian Odom

Review

"Breezy, cheerful, evenhanded, Madden debunks myths about Venetian decadence, and brushes aside ugly whispers about greedy, unscrupulous merchants.  When a colorful character pops up (Marco Polo, Casanova), he makes the most of it in his brisk, no-nonsense prose." -- New York Times

"This is a savory, tantalizing, but not-so-serene history of La Serenissima -- a tale of invasion, plunder, and ultimate elevation to one of the leading merchant cities in Europe.  ...Madden makes use of thousands of Venetians' personal documents from the Middle Ages to present an authoritative history."
-- Publishers Weekly
 
"Madden paints a vivid portrait of 'a city without land, an empire without borders.'  His engaging work enters a sparse historiography... and separates itself by offering a readable overview backed by solid research. Readers will come away from Madden's Venice with a newfound respect for one of the great jewels of Western civilization.
-- Booklist (Starred Review)
 
"Plenty of books focus on Venice the romantic ruin.  This one offers a welcome reminder of its historic role over a millennium in the development of a modern economic system and the maintenance of the global balance of power."
-- Kirkus Reviews
 
"Madden presents a popular history as engaging as it is solid.  In graceful, sometimes elegant prose, he details the long life of one of Europe's most intriguing cities...  It is as enjoyable as it is astute."
-- Library Journal
 
"As Thomas F. Madden relates in his excellent new book, the city was once far more than just a romantic tourist destination. ... Madden's book is a lively and lucid survey of Venice's colorful history."
-- The Seattle Times


 “Madden proves the perfect guide to the magical city of Venice. His history is not only authoritative and encyclopedic, encompassing everything from the plundering of Attila the Hun to Katharine Hepburn’s tribulations while filming Summertime, it is also unfailingly readable and amusing—a must-read for Europhiles, armchair travelers, and history buffs.” —Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Leonardo and the Last Supper


 “Thomas Madden’s portrait of Venice glows like one of the city’s own rich and colorful artworks—a tapestry woven from a thousand tales, with unforgettable characters, daring exploits, and inspiring triumphs against overwhelming odds.” —John R. Hale, author of Lords of the Sea


 “Madden is that rare talent—a serious scholar who tells a gripping story. He breathes life into Venetian history in all its subtle complexity, rescuing the Venetians from the common stereotype of one-dimensional merchants. This book is a fantastic read.” —Lars Brownworth, author of Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization

More About the Author

Thomas F. Madden is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University. As an author and historical consultant he has appeared in such venues as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and The History Channel.

Awards for his scholarship include the Haskins Medal, awarded by the Medieval Academy of America, and the Otto Grundler Prize, awarded by the Medieval Institute. He is a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, and a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Customer Reviews

Such an enjoyable, well written history book.
Attilio Twomoonmusic
Having just spent a few days enjoying the places I have missed exploring in Venice on past holidays, reading this book has made sure I will return.
Robert Goldweber
Venice survived the fall of Constantinople, lead and contributed to Crusades and created great works in the Renaissance.
Loves the View

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Review by GS on November 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Having vacationed in Venice in 2010, I became keenly interested in reading more about the history of Venice. City of Fortune was very informative and one of the best reads to date. However, this new book by Madden provides new and complementary information and is even more readable. Venice a New History begins by focusing on Venetian roots and the burgeoning influence during the four crusades that built Venice into the dominant maritime sea power by 1200-1250. There are some wonderful stories about specific events and the Venetian doges involved that read more like a novel. Madden does a great job of explaining how and why choices were made that resulted in the historical events we know today. He describes the opposing interests from different viewpoints, and explains which (and why) decisions carried the day with numerous stories. Very enjoyable!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Samuel J. Sharp on April 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is the second history of Venice I have read, the first being Roger Crowley's "City of Fortune." Madden's book is much more comprehensive than Crowley's and not only covers the entirety of Venice's history, from its founding by mainland refugees to what Madden terms its "Disneyfied" tourist economy, but also the details of its political, economic, and spiritual life. Crowley focuses almost exclusively on Venice's military campaigns, and his book covers five turbulent centuries from 1000-1500.

Madden is a academic who has written extensively about Venice, which makes the lack of a bibliography a bit surprising. Madden does provide and excellent "Further Reading" section, but a proper bibliography would have been helpful. He admits to writing this book for the general reader not fellow academics, and the writing style is highly engaging and accessible. I strongly recommend this book to those interested in European history. Venice's unique place in history is expertly detailed. The relentless rise and crushing fall of Venice makes for a great story, and Madden tells it beautifully.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By LD TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
First, Madden goes all the way back to the Romans who fled Attila's invasion in 450. He explains how they modified the islands to survive. In 697 the first Doge was elected and how Venice's survival became linked to Constantinople. St. Mark's body was moved from Alexandria in 829 for safekeeping from the Muslims. By 1094 Venice had a population of 50,000 which doubled in a century. While Europe was in the feudal age, Venice became democratic, a maritime powerhouse, and a decisive military power.

The 4th Crusade is not discussed until chapter 6 which is where most other books begin. Chapter 7 debunks the theories of historians that Venice planned or got benefits from the 4th Crusade. The almost continuous wars with Genoa, Muslims, and European kings is described in detail.

Chapter 9 explains the unique methods employed to limit the Black Plague and the construction of San Marco as we see it today.

Chapter 11 reveals how Venice's need for the necessities of life drove it to trade for everything. This required a quick medium of exchange. Money, deposit banking, loans, bonds, insurance, and bookkeeping came into use. Jewish money lenders played a significant role.

When the Portuguese and later the Dutch began direct voyages for spices and Asian luxury goods, Venice went into decline. But it became a major art, crafts, architecture, and education center for Europe. Commercial shipping continued through the 18th century but their military power was gone. As early as 1600 Venice became a tourist destination. Silk, lace, and glass became major industries.

Napoleon conquered the mainland empire and in 1797 the government was dissolved. The Habsburgs ruled until Italy became a nation.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Leeaundra Temescu on January 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book in anticipation of a trip to Venice this summer. I was expecting to have to slog through a scholarly treatise but was instead treated to a vibrant and wonderfully informative read. I know enough about history to not be satisfied by light and guide book like superficial histories - I need substance and scholarly rigor. But I also want a good story and something to get me through the many hours I spend on planes. I got both here. So readable and filled with information. It's also clear that Madden loves Venice. Sometimes this borders on partisanship - I'm not sure if his sympathetic (almost reverential) treatment of their political system is shared by other historians but I was charmed by it (and hope it is a valid interpretation!) Highly recommended!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Greg Polansky on February 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Given that the last major history of Venice in the English language was published in 1982 (John Julius Norwich's most excellent 'A History of Venice'), Madden's goal in his book is to use recent scholarship to create a new history of Venice. And while I am not always of the opinion that new is better, I do think Madden succeeds in writing a history of Venice that does feel fresh and that also addresses some of the more pernicious myths of Venetian history. I just wished he had stopped with the Congress of Vienna.

Madden's style is accessible. He wanted to write a history meant for the popular audience. This is why there are no footnotes and, quite sadly, no true bibliography; though there is a further reading list. Regarding footnotes - John Julius Norwich also wrote a popular history of Venice. With footnotes. Footnotes that were sublime. This gets back to the idea that new is not always better. Madden also succeeds in situating Venice within the history of the times, though too often one of his claims about how representative government in Venice was and how different it was ignores histories of other areas. This myopia of his is most likely self-induced because he wants to defend his thesis that Venetian government was unique.

Beginning with the turmoil affecting the 5th century Roman Empire, the history of Venice is an intriguing one. Beset by enemies on all sides, the people of the area fled to the lagoon for protection from invading armies and the crumbling empire's chaos and instability. But because they considered themselves Romans, the Venetians looked on the surviving half of the Empire - what became known as the Byzantine Empire - rather than on other cities and areas in what we now call Western Europe.
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