City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas
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City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  552 ratings  ·  80 reviews
“The rise and fall of Venice’s empire is an irresistible story and [Roger] Crowley, with his rousing descriptive gifts and scholarly attention to detail, is its perfect chronicler.”—The Financial Times

The New York Times bestselling author of Empires of the Sea charts Venice’s astounding five-hundred-year voyage to the pinnacle of power in an epic story that stands unrival...more
ebook, 464 pages
Published January 24th 2012 by Random House (first published January 1st 2011)
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Roger Crowley's Empire of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World was one of my top ten reads in 2011. His latest book, City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire provides the prelude to the events described so well in Empire of the Sea. In telling the story of Venice's rise from backwards lagoon to the dominant commercial martime empire in the 1400s he tells the story of the Mediterranean and all of the powers which contested...more
I loved the subject matter of the book. I am glad to have read it. But it was not an enjoyable read. Something about the order bothered me. It seems that he was going chronologically, ( he was) but all of a sudden he would go back and forth. I have read many history books in my life, and studied history, but something about his back and forth lost me. It felt disjointed.
It was however a book based on original sources and I appreciated the effort and the information, it was just not fun, and usua...more
Venice today is an Italian-Disneyland that provides little instruction as to its former economic grandeur and empire. This book provides a riveting description of the Stato del Mare’s rise to glory, its trading brilliance, its imperial expansion to every corner of the Western Mediterranean and its ultimate defeat due to maritime innovations and the failure of Christian Europe to put aside its petty differences and unite against the Moslem tide. The depictions of the battles and far-flung frontie...more
This is an enjoyable history of a unique medieval empire—a republic based on trade. There is much wonder to be had that the things chronicled in this book actually did occur-- the old blind doge waving is banner outside the walls of Christian Constantinople in 1204, the yearly sensa (a ritual that takes place on an enormous gilded ship by which a doge confirms Venice’s connection to the sea), the just-in-time precision of the muda (a word which could be thought of as describing a trading enterpr...more
Damian Streets
I'd always thought it odd that a tiny city like Venice kept popping-up in history books as a major power. Crowley explains how Venice grew to be a major empire on the back not of claiming land - but of owning trade routes.

I like history that downplays king-lists and battles won through the glory of God and destiny; and takes a more modern slant. Crowley does that pointing out the commercial realities of the Crusades, for example all the while the Crusaders were warring with the Turks they were t...more
I loved this book. Just loved it. If you have any interest in history and adventure, you will enjoy this book. Crowley is a gifted storyteller, and had a magnificent story to tell. The characters he writes jump off the page, and the description of the fourth crusade is the first time that conflict ever made any sense to me. It was still an incredible human tragedy, but now I kind of understand how it happened (the lesson- make sure the people in charge are serviceable at math).

Every schoolchild...more
I was collecting Kindle samples of books about Venetian history, and accidentally pressed 'buy' for this one. It was good value. Better than anything else I have read, it makes clear the economic and strategic logic behind the colonial activities of the Serene Republic. Every step in the tragic, disasterous Fourth Crusade is shown to make perfect sense in this book - a bungle generated ultimately by over-optimistic projections of how many crusaders would turn up. The unique circumstances that ma...more
John Park
A fascinating, even gripping, account of an era and geographical area—the rise and fall of the Venetian empire—that were unfamiliar to me. (I assume the author has got his facts right. The book is meant for general readers, so the author lists sources but does not reference specific facts—though quotations can apparently be indentified on a website.) Crowley's prose is fluent and lively with only the occasional blemish such as an ambiguous pronoun and the trendy use of epicentre for centre.

The f...more
Robert Morris
Crowley weaves a great tale. He is clearly very familiar with the material, and he has covered aspects of this story elsewhere. Venice, and its battles, first with other Italian cities, and then with the Ottoman Empire, make for great stories. He brings the characters of the era to life in a rousing manner.

I gave this three stars rather than four because it over-promises a bit. Crowley's other books in this vein: 1453, which tells the story of a single battle, the conquest of Istanbul; and Empi...more
হাঁটুপানির জলদস্যু
ইতিহাস নিজেই বর্ণিল, তার ওপর কষ্ট করে রং চড়াতে হয় না, তবে প্রচুর ঘষামাজা করতে হয়। ইতিহাস বর্ণনা কতো মসৃণ, গতিময় আর আকর্ষী হতে পারে, তা এ ধরনের বই না পড়লে ঠাহর করা মুশকিল। ভেনিস প্রজাতন্ত্রের উপনিবেশ বিস্তার নিয়ে সংক্ষেপে জানার জন্যে একেবারে লাগসই একটি বই। রজার ক্রাউলি একজন সুপণ্ডিত ও পরিশ্রমী লেখক, ভক্ত হয়ে গেলাম।
James Adams
Crowley does an excellent job of describing the psyche of a people whose sole purpose is to make nothing and trade everything. Trading, securing ports whether by force or by negotiation, was the basis of all that happened in Venice. The city did not feed itself, did not clothe itself, did not house itself. But it was the richest city in the world in the highest degree of doing so. They built trading ships. They built fighting ships. They trained their children in math and languages. There was a...more
Once again Crowley impresses with his ability to add a personal touch to history. Instead of simply telling you what has already happened, he absorbs you in vivid battles and magnificent descriptions of historical cities in a way few authors can.

The book covers roughly 500 years of Venetian history--from humble beginnings, to rise, and then to fall. One of my only complaints would be that he perhaps spends too much time describing Venice's battles that landed them on top (though they are thrill...more
For as interesting as the subject matter is and as obviously well-informed as the author is on the subject matter (and given that I recently got the chance to go to Venice myself, so reading about it is TOTALLY cool), I still had a hard time paying attention during parts of this. That's not to say I couldn't follow it - I just couldn't keep my attention on the writing. My guess is that's partially the problems when your subject covers 500 years of history; it becomes hard to keep everyone straig...more
Crowley is one of my favorite historical writers. In City of Fortune he gives a history of Venice's rise and fall. The early part of the book focuses on Venice's huge financial gamble of taking the crusaders to Egypt in the fourth crusade. Only they never got near Egypt, but rather took care of business by sacking one of their Christian recalcitrant partners. Next they attacked Constantinople and broke a chain blocking the harbor that had protected the city from naval attack for centuries. The P...more
"Largely uninterested in the well-being of its subjects, centrifugal in nature and economically exploitative, it [Venice] foreshadowed what was to come" from European colonialism.

"City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas" chronicles the three centuries of Venetian maritime dominance, from the ill-fated Fourth Crusade and the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 to the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499–1503, which saw the Ottoman Turks supplant the Venetians as the preeminent naval power in the Mediter...more
A good first book on the history of The Republic of Venice, but I felt the pacing hurt. The first third or so was great, basically the rise of Venice from a backwater to sacking Constantinople. Learning the story of Enrico Dandolo was probably enough to justify the read. After that I thought it stumbled through the middle, the narrative was not very good, a lot of dropping snippets of history and events events events but not drawing them together into a cohesive narrative very effectively. It di...more
Dean Hamilton
City of Fortune is a vivid, engrossing historical account of the rise (and eventual fall) of the the city of Venice. Crowley traces the establishment of Venice as a small trade port and pulls together the fine threads of profit, technology, commercialism, power and hubris that allowed Venice to build an empire, without any natural resources to draw upon but themselves.

"The sea was at once their protection, their opportunity, and their fate; secure in their shallow lagoon with its deceptive chan...more
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 busines...more
City of Fortune focuses on 3 centuries of Venetian history, from about 1200 to 1500. The beginning date marks the notable rise of Venice as a power in the Mediteranean, the end its decline. Venice did very well out of the Fourth Crusade (about 1204), which ended up attacking not a Moslem power, but the Orthodox Christian empire of Constantinople. Although Venice does not seem to planned that outcome (which is a different view from what I had previously understood), it definitely benefited beyond...more
This book is a history of the Venetian Empire, not a history of Venice. That is OK - it is an interesting story. The book charts the rise of Venice as a maritime trading state, its ascendance to dominance in trade with the Levant, the Byzantine Empire, and subsequently with the Ottoman Turks. The last part of the book charts the decline. Spoiler alert - Venice ends up losing its dominant position as the Ottoman Empire expanded and Portugal, Holland, and England developed ocean trade.

The book is...more
I had no idea what to expect from this book. Going into it I was completely unaware of Venice's powerful past, it's governmental and social structures or it's prowess on the seas. Now, I feel well-versed in all of these areas, at least as they pertain to medieval Venice up through the Age of Discovery. Roger Crowley did an excellent job conveying the precarious nature of the republic's continuing existence throughout. Much was made of the yearly ritual in which the Venetian Doge ceremonially mar...more
Situated in the middle between the East and West, Venice's rise to commercial power was a constant battle that Crowley manages to capture in this book. It wasn't just about being in the right place at the right time--it was a determined will to look beyond the major issues of the day - religious differences being a huge obstacle - to build a city out of nothing. Reading about the constant struggle they faced to be the masters of the Mediterranean was sometimes tedious. It seemed that there was n...more
Daniel Hulmes
I found this book to be a little patchy. It is split into three parts; Part 1 focuses on the fourth crusade, part 2 on the rise of the empire and part 3 on the decline due to the expansion of the Ottomans. I absolutely flew through parts 1 and 3 but part 2 was often a struggle.

I found it interesting that very few individuals stood out during this 500 year account. At first I thought it was probably part of Crowley's writing style but actually it is probably because of the unique political cultur...more
If you thought the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was horrible, meet the Fourth Crusade: when people say airily that the Venetians brought back treasure from Constantinople, they are glossing over the hideous pillaging of that city, with innumerable treasures melted down, chopped in half, gone forever, to say nothing of the slaughter of fellow Christians on their way to kill the "infidel," which came a far second in Venice's calculations. One of Crowley's strengths, in addition to a conversa...more
If you are thinking of reading this, be forewarned: this is strictly a military history of Venice. If you like battles described in play-by-play detail with all of the gory details (and there was a lot of gore), then this book is for you. Otherwise, there is relatively little time spent on art, architecture and social evolution. More ink is spilled describing battles at Constantinople then on Venice itself. Venice is mostly mentioned as the source of orders for military leaders at the distant ba...more
The story of Venice's rise is very interesting, but it was easy to get lost in the string of similar names (all those Dandolos!) I would have liked better illustrations. The corporate structure of the Venetian state makes for interesting comparisons with modern cities.
Note: I read the Kindle version of City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas which I'm assuming is the same book. The history of Venice is fascinating and this book does a solid job of recount the story. The author is especially gifted at depicting the battle scenes with just enough detail to inspire the reader's imagination. It was an exciting read and that says quite a bit about a piece of non-fiction. The biggest drawback to the book was the archaic vocabulary and this is my biggest plug for...more
Well-written, informative book! I hadn't realized how powerful the Venetians were and for how long. If ever you could stereotype a population as type A, this might be the one! I learned a huge amount about their shaky relationship with the papacy and their constant warring with the Genoese. The book begins in the 13th century and ends in the 16th.
I absolutely loved Crowley's previous two works on Constantinople and Empires of the Sea. They were fast paced ripping yarns. If it wasn't for the sprinkling of dates, facts and conjectures you would be forgiven for thinking this was a work of fiction, rather than a historical narrative. City of Fortune was good, but it just didn't have the pace of the previous two. At times, such as the description of the Fourth Crusade, you see the fantastic gripping writing that Crowley can produce.

This is pr...more
I really don't recall learning much about Venice during my high school and college history courses so this was really rather refreshing. The book goes through 500 years of fascinating characters and events. The two themes I really found interesting is how the Venetians overcame their geographical disadvantages to build a far-flung empire, and their uneasy relationship with the rest of the Christian world.
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Roger Crowley was born in 1951 and spent part of his childhood in Malta. He read English at Cambridge University and taught English in Istanbul, where he developed a strong interest in the history of Turkey. He has traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean basin over many years and has a wide-ranging knowledge of its history and culture. He lives in Gloucestershire, England.
More about Roger Crowley...
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