Venice: A New History

Venice: A New History

3.5 4
by Thomas F. Madden
     
 

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An extraordinary chronicle of Venice, its people, and its grandeur

Thomas Madden’s majestic, sprawling history of Venice is the first full portrait of the city in English in almost thirty years. Using long-buried archival material and a wealth of newly translated documents, Madden weaves a spellbinding story of a place and its people, tracing anSee more details below

Overview

An extraordinary chronicle of Venice, its people, and its grandeur

Thomas Madden’s majestic, sprawling history of Venice is the first full portrait of the city in English in almost thirty years. Using long-buried archival material and a wealth of newly translated documents, Madden weaves a spellbinding story of a place and its people, tracing an arc from the city’s humble origins as a lagoon refuge to its apex as a vast maritime empire and Renaissance epicenter to its rebirth as a modern tourist hub.

Madden explores all aspects of Venice’s breathtaking achievements: the construction of its unparalleled navy, its role as an economic powerhouse and birthplace of capitalism, its popularization of opera, the stunning architecture of its watery environs, and more. He sets these in the context of the rise and fall of the Byzantine Empire, the endless waves of Crusades to the Holy Land, and the awesome power of Turkish sultans. And perhaps most critically, Madden corrects the stereotype of Shakespeare’s money-lending Shylock that has distorted the Venetian character, uncovering instead a much more complex and fascinating story, peopled by men and women whose ingenuity and deep faith profoundly altered the course of civilization.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This is a savory, tantalizing, but not-so-serene history of La Serenessima—a tale of invasion, plunder, and ultimate elevation to one of the leading merchant cities in Europe. As Madden relates, the earliest Venetians were former citizens of the crumbling Roman empire and desperate survivors of Attila the Hun's 452 devastation of such cities as wealthy Aquileia and Patavium. In 697, the scattered lagoon dwellers elected their first "doge" to unify the region. By 810, fledgling Venice was able to repel an invasion by the most powerful force in Europe—the Frankish king Charlemagne's son Pepin. and in the 11th century, the Norman invasion of Byzantium disrupted Venetian shipping in the Adriatic. But a Venetian war fleet reestablished dominance in the area, and Venice was the second-largest city in western Europe. Its economy damaged by the Fourth Crusade, its population decimated by the bubonic plague, by 1490 Venice had nevertheless reached the pinnacle of its power and with wealth, symbolized by the stunning family palazzi towering over the Grand Canal (although Madden also contends that medieval and Renaissance Venetians are often portrayed unfairly in modern histories as conniving and greedy). St. Louis Univ. history professor Madden's (Empires of Trust) makes use of thousands of Venetians' personal documents from the Middle Ages to present an authoritative history. Agent: J Thornton, The Spieler Agency (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"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

“Madden paints a vivid portrait of “a city without land, an empire without borders.” His engaging work enters a sparse historiography that includes Roger Crowley’s City of Fortune (2012) and John Julius Norwich’s enduring A History of Venice (1982) 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.”
—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

“A lively and lucid survey of Venice's colorful history.”

—The Seattle Times

“A savory, tantalizing, but not-so-serene history of La Serenessima

—Publishers Weekly

 “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. It’s all here: free enterprise and free thought, voyages and empire-building between East and West, and some of the world’s most magnificent achievements in architecture, painting, and music. All the threads of Venetian history are traced with a scholar’s zeal for accuracy. But Madden is also a born storyteller, with a keen eye for the illuminating detail that can bring a scene to life, from Roman refugees fleeing Attila the Hun to modern tourists invading the Rialto. For those who think they know Venice, Madden’s book will be a revelation. For newcomers, this comprehensive overview is essential reading.”
—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

Library Journal
Madden (history, St. Louis Univ.) 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, which survived as a republic for a thousand years. ("It is always crumbling, but it never falls," Venetians are fond of saying.) Though aristocratic in nature, Venice's government was neither closed nor tyrannical; it kept the city stable while other states were in turmoil and held the allegiance of all elements in society. And while Venetians had a reputation for sharp dealing, their reputation for piety was equally well deserved. Madden's description of the process to select a new doge is fascinating: nine bodies, 282 electors in all, were chosen in succession, largely by lot, just to reach the point of nominating the doge. The process wasn't meant to be streamlined. "Quite the opposite," writes Madden, "it was meant to be so cumbersome that only God could influence it." VERDICT This is a bumper year for Venice aficionados: Joanne Ferraro's Venice is for more academic readers but will please serious lay readers. Madden's will satisfy scholars but is intended for an interested lay audience. It is as enjoyable as it is astute.—David Keymer. Modesto, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Solid, informative survey, emphasizing La Serenissima's stature as the world's longest-lived republic and a great commercial power. "The first Venetians were Romans," writes Madden (History and Medieval and Renaissance Studies/St. Louis Univ.; Empires of Trust: How Rome Built--and America Is Building--a New World, 2008, etc.), "proudly refusing to cooperate with a world in collapse." Fleeing fifth-century barbarian invasions of the Italian mainland, they rowed into a lagoon off the Adriatic Sea where they could fish and trade in peace. Its location made Venice a crucial nexus for commerce between Europe and the East, and its leading families valued political stability and a broad-based ruling class. In the post-Roman world of agrarian feudalism, Venice was an urban commercial republic. Its complicated political system would remain unique to Venice, but its financial innovations, from deposit banking to double-entry bookkeeping, were the foundation of modern capitalism. Venice stood at the forefront of world commerce until newly aggressive nation-states like England and France established colonial empires that overshadowed its older, merchant-oriented economy beginning in the 16th century. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 didn't help; Venice had always been a loyal ally of the Byzantine Empire, and the city stood at the front lines for over a century as the Turks repeatedly threatened to invade Europe. Madden admires Venice's conservative elite and defends it as being no more oppressive than any other pre-Enlightenment state. Once the 1,000-year-old republic was forced to surrender to Napoleon in 1797, Madden loses interest and whips briskly through the next two-plus centuries of decay and tourism. 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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101601136
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/25/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
266,747
File size:
7 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

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Meet the Author


Thomas F. Madden is professor of history and director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University. He lives in Saint Louis, Missouri.

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