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City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas Hardcover – January 24, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Crowley’s popular histories—this is his fourth—pivot around power politics of the Mediterranean Sea, circa 1453 (2005). Venice is the player this lively narrative focuses on, specifically during the three centuries, from 1200 to 1500, in which it was at the apex of its sway over maritime trade. Accenting the city-state’s mercantile spirit, Crowley supports his narrative of the period’s numerous naval wars with explanations of the commerce they were fought to command. Acquiring an imperial archipelago in the process of serving as spice broker between Europe and Asia, Venice reached around Greece to Constantinople and as far as southern Russia. Anchored by fortresses, linked by galleys, Venice’s commercial empire faced challenges from Mongols, Genoa, and Ottoman Turks, and the diplomatic and military means by which Venice addressed those threats provide the most vivid passages and personalities in Crowley’s account. Had Vittorio Pisano not defeated Genoa in 1380, Venice might not be the tourist attraction of today. A deft writer, Crowley renders the Venetian part in late medieval times interesting indeed to history buffs. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

Praise for City of Fortune

“Crowley...writes with a racy briskness that lifts sea battles and sieges off the page, so much so that at times his sentences seem in danger of bursting their seams” — New York Times Book Review


“Roger Crowley chronicles the peak of Venice's past glory with Wordsworthian sympathy, supplemented by impressive learning and infectious enthusiasm.” — Wall Street Journal
 
 
'Venice receives a stirring account from British historian Crowley…An action-packed political and military history." — Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Roger Crowley’s Empires of the Sea

 
“Crowley has an astonishing gift for narration; his account is as exciting as any thriller.”—John Julius Norwich, The Wall Street Journal
 
“Crowley’s page-turner history . . . deserves to be this [season’s] most recommended nonfiction book. . . . Rich in character, action, surprise, what transpired in those few desperate weeks is one of history’s best and most thrilling stories.”—The Dallas Morning News
 
“[Crowley] offers exquisitely delicate insights and undulating descriptive passages. Yet in his descriptions of the battles, his prose is so taut and tense, it is impossible not to be caught up in the harrowing action.”—The Christian Science Monitor
 
“A masterly narrative that captures the religious fervor, brutality and mayhem of this intensive contest.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Gripping . . . This is a rare combination of a history book that reads with the detail, insight and pace of a novel.”—The Tampa Tribune
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (January 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068207
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068203
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Roger Crowley's exemplary narrative history 'City of Fortune, How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire' (Faber & Faber, 2011) is his third book to deal with aspects of the complex history of the Mediterranean Sea from the 15th to the 17th centuries. His first two books, 'Constantinople: the Last Great Siege' (U.S. title '1453') and 'Empires of the Sea' were, like the present volume, excellent accounts of the power dynamics in the Mediterranean and Black Seas during what scholars now call the Early Modern Period. 'Empires of the Sea' was a New York Times Bestseller and the Sunday Times' (UK) History Book of the Year in 2009. 'City of Fortune' completes this extraordinary trilogy with a flourish.
Having lived in Malta and Istanbul and having come from a family steeped in naval history, Crowley brings uncommon personal insights. His historical research is impeccable and his storytelling riveting. Rarely has any historian managed to be true to the complex gamut of historical facts and yet, at the same time, tell the stories in such a way as to be hugely entertaining. Crowley judiciously uses several primary sources that provide living voices for historical circumstances, such as Felix Faber's detailed late 15th century account of his pilgrimage travels.
Few can tell the story of a war or siege like Crowley. His battle sequences read like cinematic renditions as gripping as the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Yet they are true to the tactical realities of the events and include historically based descriptions of the technologies of war, which were rapidly evolving in these centuries. Crowley's great skill, and this is true of his wider narrative, is that he deftly weaves the big picture of history with the personal experiences of individuals.
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Crowley is entranced by Venice. It has two great lures: the sea, and its status as a very modern state in medieval times. The two led it to become Europe's first economic superpower. Venice was ideally located to provide the sea link between the great Middle East overland spice routes and continental Europe. In the time of feudalism and a landed aristocracy, Venice was a republic "run by and for entrepreneurs," replacing "the chivalrous medieval knight with a new type of hero: the man of business." The city of merchant-princes understood the value of a rational and stable legal system. The two made the Venetian ducat the dollar of its day and provided a model for later naval empires like the British Empire.

City of Fortune has four focal points--the Fourth Crusade, the great struggle for dominance over commerce in the Mediterranean between the Venetians and Genoese, Venice's subsequent rise as the dominant commercial power in the eastern Mediterranean, and the struggle with the Ottoman Empire that led to Venice's decline.

The Venetians were never the most pious of people, but the Pope had no one else to go to for the Fourth Crusade. Only the seafaring Venetians had the naval capacity to transport a Crusade by sea. Venice agreed to transport 4,500 knights and horses and 20,000 foot soldiers in 450 transport ships accompanied by 50 war galleys. It was an incredible commitment that required 2 years of effort by the entire city. The Venetians, as always, had their own commercial interests in mind when negotiating the deal. One has to admire the audacity of a people who respond to a request by the pope to transport crusaders by ship by asking permission to trade with the Muslim world in return!
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I primarily read this book to flesh out my understanding of the sack of Contantinople during the fourth crusade. Most books with a Byzantine focus seem to imply that it all fell on Enrico Dandolo; the wily old Doge with a grudge. This book does an outstanding job of giving intimate details of the fourth crusade. Crowley weaves together the intrigues, politics, and attitudes that led to this seminal event in Venetian (and Christian) history. The attack on Constantinople and the sack of the city are given in great, almost painful detail.

What I found more fascinating is the after effects of the fourth crusade. How Venice controlled key islands in the Aegean that corresponded to their economic and strategic goals. It was all about trade by sea, and it is absolutely amazing to realize how focused the Venetians were. I think Crowley does a good job of demonstrating that Venice was the protoype for global economic thinking.

He also demonstrates convincingly that Venice was also the prototype for colonialism backed by naval power. No, they did not always treat their subject states well since the goals were economic and strategic.

Finally, the incremental rise of Ottoman sea power is contrasted with the slow decline of the Venetian state as the dominant naval power. I think Crowley did a great job in showing how the forgotten battles such as Negroponte had a huge impact on the morale and identity of Venice.

My only complaint is the ending of the book. It is almost as if Mr. Crowley assumes that the reader's history must be adequate enough to know what happens next. The implication being that Venice continues to decline ultimately resulting in the horses of St. Mark's ending up in France as Napoleon takes northern Italy.
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