Siria's Reviews > A History of Venice

A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich
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's review
Jun 05, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: history, italian-history
Read in June, 2005

This book is another prime example of why Lord Norwich is one of my favourite current popular historians, and though a smaller work, is just as much of an achievement as his monumental History of Byzantium. Even though his book runs to something a little less than a page for each year of the existence of Venice as an independent city state, he still manages to cover in detail the sometimes tortuous twists and turns of Venetian politics with clarity and skill - there is no confusion between the four Doges who gloried in the name of Alvise Mocenigo, for example. Where Lord Norwich really comes into his own, however, is in his keen and sympathetic understanding of human nature, and the dry wit he likes to use when talking about this. When the history of a state is as complicated and as full of unexpected shifts as Venice's is, that really is a welcome asset.

The only slight complaints I would have with the book is that it focuses on the political and economic at the expense of the social and artistic. However, in fairness, Norwich does try to include some of the major artistic and social events when they bear on the events that he describes, and he does state - with a great amount of truth - that to have included all those things would have doubled, if not trebled, the size of an already large book. Another little niggling flaw is the tendency to include pieces from the original sources, but not always to translate them. While I have no problem with the French, I am really not able to puzzle my way through anything more than the most basic of basic inscriptions in Latin or Italian. I am aware this is a horrendous failing for a student of classical archaeology, but unfortunately I have neither the time nor the money required to take on an extra diploma so that I can learn Latin - certainly not in the near future, anyway. I'm always a little irked by the tendency of some historians to presume that anyone reading their work will have the ability to learn Latin - not everyone interested in history has that opportunity - and I would like to see that corrected.

Still, all in all, an excellent book, and an excellent scholarly work, and one that I am sure will become the standard English-language history of Venice.

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