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Venice: Pure City Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 2, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385531524
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385531528
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Even during the dominance of the Roman Empire, Venice and Venetians were regarded as distinct by their neighbors. They spoke Latin, and later Italian, in an unusual dialect. Their geographic position as an island in a lagoon contributed to their fierce spirit of independence, but it also positioned them to control trade routes to and from the East. Ackroyd, the novelist, biographer, and writer of tributes to great urban centers (London), has captured the rich tradition, beauty, and vibrancy of this magnificent city in a survey that combines political and artistic history with aspects of a travelogue. Ackroyd moves back and forth in time as he examines the growth of Venice, from prehistoric settlement to its place in both the Roman and Byzantine empires to the present time. As he describes the development of the art and architectural treasures, he includes informative and charming diversions on various traditions, events, and personalities. For those who have visited or hope to visit the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” this work will be a treasure. --Jay Freeman


“Ackroyd — the marvelously erudite and staggeringly industrious English writer — [has compiled] an encyclopedic amount of general and arcane factual information and then [arranged] it less chronologically than thematically — much as one might encounter it in the course of a long walk over fascinating terrain in the company of a knowledgeable but never pedantic companion. It's an experience rendered all the more agreeable by the independent turn of Ackroyd's critical imagination and lapidary quality of his prose.”
Los Angeles Times

"Peter Ackroyd fully explores one of the world’s most undeniably glorious cities.... Like his acclaimed London, Ackroyd’s account isn’t a chronological history of this charming Italian metropolis. The structure and style of Venice is engagingly impressionistic and digressive.... Magnificently crafted."
The Boston Globe

"[Venice: Pure City] is a swarm - a storm - of dazzling details that coalesce into an artful picture.... Ackroyd's is a glittering introduction to Venice. There is not much new that can be said about the city, but Ackroyd says it with ripeness - like those Venetian pears, only now it is the reader's appetite that is whetted. Godspeed."
San Francisco Chronicle

"Ackroyd's marvelous book certainly adds to the allure of this magical metropolis."
Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Peter Ackroyd understands Venice, perhaps even better than modern Venetians. Venice: Pure Cityis a grand biography of a subject that is as complicated and labyrinthine as Venice’s tiny alleyways. It is impossible not to get lost there, and that is why Ackroyd may have been the best person to write such an insightful book.... He approaches Venice the way a scholar would a historical figure, because that’s what Venice is. Yet he isn’t locked into a timeline: He enjoys pushing the tides of history back and forth. It’s an engaging technique."
Newark Star-Ledger

"Thoughtful, thorough and insightful, [Ackroyd] is at least as much interpreter as historian. He brings this iconic city to vivid life ... While Venice is by no means an orthodox traveler's guide, it's a wonderful introduction to a city that has cast a particular spell since the fifth century ... A portrait so vivid it's aromatic ... Intoxicating."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"In an effortless style, [Ackroyd] seamlessly stitches the storied city's crazy quilt of past and present. The watery origins, the architecture that rises and seams to float on a sea of glass, the early settlers and the key players are all rendered with a historian's curiosity and a novelist's feel for plot."
The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

“Ackroyd provides a history of and meditation on the actual and imaginary Venice in a volume as opulent and paradoxical as the city itself. . . . How Ackroyd deftly catalogues the overabundance of the city’s real and literary tropes and touchstones is itself a kind of tribute to La Serenissima, as Venice is called, and his seductive voice is elegant and elegiac. The resulting book is, like Venice, something rich, labyrinthine and unique that makes itself and its subject both new and necessary.”
Publishers Weekly

Praise from the UK:

"Ackroyd is hugely intelligent and formidably industrious; there can be few people, Venetian or foreign, who know Venice better than he." —John Julius Norwich, The Telegraph

"Ackroyd covers an immense amount of ground with verve and elegance." —The Independent

"Venice tends to provoke extreme reactions. People love it or hate it. Ackroyd’s response, however, is pleasingly complex. He observes his subject with a forensic yet morally neutral eye. You can tell he is fascinated by the place; but he is not blind to its many flaws."  —The Times

"Irresistible, entrancing, occasionally weird but undeniably grand." —Literary Review

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Customer Reviews

If I didn't love Venice I would could not have endured this man's repetitions and banal observations.
A. Gift For You
The upper part of the cover and the half-jacket reveal what almost all travelers have noted, that Venice is very beautiful.
Nico Brusso
Though published in 2009, Ackroyd's book is no more up-to-date than Mary McCarthy's classic VENICE PRESERVED (publ.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Anonymous on September 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Yes, this is magisterial, beautifully written - but, typically of Ackroyd, too many questionable sweeping assertions sometimes impede the flow of what should be a rollicking good read. For every "wow!" there is a corresponding "huh?" It can be argued this is what makes Ackroyd unique.

If you know and love Venice, you'll enjoy this. If you don't, it will pique your curiosity. And you might agree with Shakespeare's Holofernes: "Venetia, Venetia, chi non ti vede, non ti pretia!" (Venice - whoever doesn't see you, doesn't esteem you.)

Let's start with the "wow!" Wide-ranging, learned and instructive. As with his London: The Biography, Ackroyd dives headfirst into the water surrounding Venice's 117 islands, fishing for primal origins and finding it an elemental metaphor for the city. Chapter 2, "City of St Mark," deals with the refugees who settled there. Then comes the golden age of state power, commerce and trade. This also embraces the merchants of the Rialto and the Jews in the Ghetto.

By Chapter 6, Ackroyd is back in rhapsodic mode, with "Timeless City," including ruminations on the bells. The next section, "Living City," humanises the city, with fascinating subsections on Body and Buildings; Learning and Language; Colour and Light (fabulous work with the artists including Bellini, Tintoretto and Titan); and Pilgrims and Tourists. Then Ackroyd moves on to carnival and carnal aspects, including the "Eternal Feminine" (virgin and whore). Similarly, Sacred City considers heavenly and hellish aspects - which seem to win out in "Shadows of History" with its Death in Venice theme.

And now for the "huh?" factor.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By fuwanna on September 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was really looking forward to reading this book, received it as a gift, and have been hugely disappointed in it. Contrary to what some published reviews have claimed, I think it's generally a very poorly written book: a hodegpodge of assertions without a hint of support, banal generalities, and inaccuracies.

Its scatter-shot style, along with the outdated nature of many of its observations, lead me to believe it was written over a long period of time: a piece of work the writer returned to in his spare time, rather than one coherent effort. Though published in 2009, Ackroyd's book is no more up-to-date than Mary McCarthy's classic VENICE PRESERVED (publ. 1963) and infinitely less informative and historically accurate.

For example, Ackroyd writes about the sacred place of the pigeon in Venice and the way in which a number of families still earn their living from selling pigeon feed in Piazza San Marco. You don't have to live in Venice, as I do, to know this is completely wrong. Simply read John Behrendt's CITY OF FALLING ANGELS (published a few years before Ackroyd's) to learn how the city actually rounds up pigeons for extermination and feeding pigeons--much less selling pigeon feed in San Marco--has been illegal for years.

Ackroyd also writes of Venice's huge population of cats. This was true in McCarthy's time, it was even true when I was here for a time in the early '90s, but I can tell you from firsthand observation that the vast--or even small--tribes of cats that Ackroyd evokes as a contemporary reality of Venice simply do not exist. You will generally be lucky to see 1 or 2 lolling on window ledges of some apartments.

I honestly have a hard time imagining who this book is intended for.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Dancing Bear on December 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This was a very pleasant read. He gets right down into the dialect and persona of the Venetian citizen and makes a pretty convincing argument that their City and its history molded their character and world-view. There is a good overview of how the city was built over time. Their amazingly successful political structure is explained. He comes pretty close to capturing and expressing the mystique of Venice. When I go there, it is always a chameleon. Sometimes as old, filthy and smelly as a destitute subway platform. Sometimes, as charming, and ageless as a dreamscape that unfolds before your eyes. It's a unique city. If you've been there yourself, this book will add to your understanding of what you've experienced; and if you haven't been there, the book will introduce you to a fascinating people and place.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The variations in response to this book VENICE: PURE CITY by Peter Ackroyd are puzzling at best. Perhaps the history of the writer's output has polarized the readers. Perhaps the integration of emotional and intellectual responses in the history of the rise and present sate of Venice makes the book uncomfortable for some. This reader became immersed in the mysteries that surround the history, the socialization of a swamp, the creation of a city on water, the ingredients that create the flavor of Venice visually, aurally, the particular types of influences of art (painting and music and architecture et al) and the interaction of this city with the great minds of our time such as Wagner, Proust, Henry James, Freud, Thomas Mann, Benjamin Britten, John Singer Sargent and on and on and on -it is simply a feast for the mind in Ackroyd's brilliant prose and in the many drawings and photographs and reproductions of the art and the city that grace this book.

Yes, there are likely more focused and accurate history books that take the reader on a chronological voyage through the rise and development of Venice, and if that is what the reader desires there are many books available that do just that. But what Ackroyd does that is so fascinating is to relate the history thematically, bouncing back and forth with contemporary knowledge of the Venice we know as played against the Venice of the past - all smoke and mirrors and delectable commentary. There is more to discover about the blend of society and the church and the wars and the peculiar aspects of a part of Italy that is actually not joined physically to that country. Ackroyd gives fine insights to the immigrant status of the sectors of Venice that few others have the courage to define.
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