Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Venice: A New History” as Want to Read:
Venice: A New History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Venice: A New History

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  920 ratings  ·  136 reviews
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 has weaves a spellbinding story of a place and its people, tracing an arc from the city’s humb
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published October 25th 2012 by Viking
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.08  · 
Rating details
 ·  920 ratings  ·  136 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Venice: A New History
Jo Walton
I never understood Venice before. Everything I read always said "Venice is different" or "except for Venice", and when I was there I was struck by how much it wasn't Western Europe, and I have read a bunch of stuff about it before, but it took reading this to make me understand. Venice isn't actually part of European civilization. It's a sibling civilization, also a descendant of our common Roman parent, but a completely different evolution. The Venetians fled from civilization to the lagoon whe ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
It does the job. There are lots of great anecdotes, the major periods are covered, and it is an easy, fun read that is written well. There is a habit, throughout, however, of treating Venice as an organic, living body, with a relatively undifferentiated populace (despite the recurring theme of shifts in power relations between doge, elites, etc.). Adjectives are attributed to the whole, and its history told in the style of a national history of the rise and fall of some great monumental creature ...more
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: italy, venice
As the story of Venice unfolds with each chapter you can see that this author knows and loves his subject.

Without the Roman army to protect them, residents of the Italian peninsula were vulnerable. When the Huns invaded the lands at the north end of the Adriatic Sea, the residents fled to the islands of the lagoon. Thomas Madden shows how due to the unique geography these refugees started an unusual nation.

With no land for farming Venetians escaped feudalism and developed a complex democracy, mu
Bob H
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A succinct, vividly-written, and sweeping history of the city on the lagoon, and, moreover, of the Most Serene Republic of Venice that dominated Mediterranean trade for centuries. It's a new history, more compact than the magisterial history of Venice by John Julius Norwich, but goes further by telling the history of Venice from the fall of the Republic in 1798 to Bonaparte, and brings it up to the present day. This book also tells us of the city's contributions to art, literature, cinema and th ...more
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Listened to on Audible. A comprehensive history of Venice from its founding to the modern day. The book does a good job, I believe, separating the myth from the fact. Particularly good discussion of its early years (before 1400), especially regarding the Fourth Crusade and Venice's relations with Constantinople. The history correctly traces its decline to the rise of the age of exploration.

The author could be criticized for an uncritical view of Venice and its institutions. I felt the author's d
Jun 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Picked this up on a whim and was initially bored: too many dates, not enough people. But I really got into it. The author argues that Venice was not the oligarchy most have assumed because there were no hereditary rulers but an elected Doge whose sons could not inherit his position. Elections were carried out by an elaborate series of committees working one after another, organized in such a way that no one person could either dominate or or form a clique to so. Furthermore there were multiple w ...more
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
Mar 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf-history
This book traces the history across the centuries of the city called the jewel of the lagoon. The magnificent city and its fiercely independent people are the protagonists, this famous conservative republic based on international commerce and trade, that valued stability and, of course, money (aka sghei).

The reader travels across time from humble beginning as a community of refugees to the peaks of its medieval power, from its renaissance splendour to its inevitable commercial decline, from Napo
Lauren Albert
A rare breed--a truly popular history based on deep archival research. I learned a lot from this and enjoyed it as well (for instance, thank Attila for the foundation of Venice). He answers questions I didn't even know to ask: How did Venice's unique geographical situation create its particular political and economic situation? What was Venice's relation with the Byzantines (a Catholic Christian people and an Eastern Christian power)? ...more
Jeff Scroggin
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
I never knew Venice had such a fascinating and complex history! The author does a great job integrating lots of interesting factoids in a readable and well presented chronology. I would definitely recommend this book. The last chapters, dealing with recent history, seem a bit rushed and sporadic - in part I suppose because the more recent events haven't been worn, and smoothed, by the sands of time. ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history of one of the world's most powerful commercial empires. What it really lacked -- and needed desperately, in my opinion -- was maps showing the cities and various borders the author describes, particularly since the borders tended to shift throughout history. Still, an enjoyable read for any student of history. ...more
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I've been meaning to read this history of Venice for a while, and thoroughly enjoyed it when I did. As always, Thomas F Madden is an engaging writer, and the book is very readable, walking a good line between explaining what makes Venice such a fascinating, romantic place; and paying proper heed to the more mundane aspects of its history, such as banking and finance.

Madden is very concerned to right what he sees as misconceptions about the Republic of Venice, arguing that it was not an oligarch
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, italy
If you are looking for a perfect book about the history of Venice before travelling to this city or just out of overall curiosity for its history, don't look any further. This book is engaging, well written and informative. The history of Venice is presented since its establishment to the present time in a well-researched, balanced and vivid way. I really liked it! ...more
Mary Soon Lee
I note that this is the only history of Venice that I have read, so I cannot compare it to rival works. It's an accessible, informative overview of Venetian history from the fifth century right through to the twenty-first century. For the most part, I found it readable and entertaining, though at times it was wearing to keep track of the names of the different doges, etc.

The author did an excellent job of emphasizing enduring features, such as the fact that Venice was--for over a millenium--the
I really liked a line near the end where Madden compares modern Venice (as in post enlightenment) to an abandoned mansion, all the crumbling elegance is left behind but the inhabitants have long gone. This was the impression I had when I visited Venice back in about 2002. I loved Venice, it was winter, snow dusted parked gondolas. We would get lost every day, wondering down narrow cobbled streets, even washing lines hanging between windows, ornate doorways that lead into hidden churches where a ...more
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in history
Shelves: favorites
This was just a wonderful book, and extremely well written. This is definitely not your father's "history book". It doesn't quite read like a novel (nor should it, some would say), but it's darn close. It's written in such a smooth, flowing and compelling manner that it does draw the reader in and move along in such a way that it does "feel" almost like reading a very exciting work of fiction. I literally could not put this book down. Not only does this book provide a detailed history of the ris ...more
Jun 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed learning about the founding and evolution of Venice, a place that to me has always been simply a romantic tourist destination. The author combined chapters that were chronological narratives with a few that were more thematic (the arts, commerce, etc.), and he wove all of the pieces together coherently and in an interesting manner. I have a newfound love of Venice, the Republic, and what it represented, and I share the author's sadness at its demise. There are lessons here for modern-d ...more
Chris Witkowski
Jul 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Just returned from a visit to Venice with my husband and in my obsessive desire to learn everything about this most enchanting city, I picked up this book. Not one to read non-fiction, I was afraid I would only make it through a few pages before I gave up, but this is a surprisingly readable book and I found myself looking forward to reading it. I am now a little smarter about the history of the most unique city I have ever visited.
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Another tremendous book by Thomas Fadden; the story of Venice runs parallel to Fadden’s other book Istanbul, but starts later with Venice’s beginnings around 450 A.D. Venetians, Fadden writes, were in an interesting position, on a lagoon (physically), and politically between two entities, the East (Constantinople) and the West. Its unique geography created a tension that contributed to their tumultuous history.

Venice: A New History begins with the city's starting in 400s AD and takes the reader
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a detailed history of Venice, once an empire that ruled the seas, now better known as a tourist destination. At first I struggled with all the names, places, and dates, but finally I found my rhythm for listening to this fascinating history. Since this is the first history of Venice I've read, I can't say it skipped anything, but sometimes it felt as though an event important to me was too lightly covered. Then I remembered the scope of the book and realized what I thought was glossed o ...more
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
What started as an enjoyable read ended a seemingly interminable slog. The ending itself is good - I like that he discusses modern issues in Venice like tourism, industry, and water levels, but all the conclusions he tries to assert through the second half are so often trivial or wrong that the book loses its way (and his treatment of Italian unification is suspect...I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt because of its brevity, but I’m guessing that I’d pressed for detail his account woul ...more
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This should be required reading for anyone heading to Venice on a holiday. It really paints a portrait of how Venice came to be, how it was a world leader in trade, and how it evolved into the tourist attraction it is today. I also particularly liked the author's explanations of important relationships with Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire, the Adriatic, and other world powers. The tail end of the book had a good overview of current concerns.

I will say that this book was a little dense for th
Mike Violano
Mar 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italy
This history of Venice spans 1500 years. Established by refugees of the the Hun invasion in 452 author Madden has crafted a fine history that is heavy on Doges and politics. As with any sprawling survey the highlights are swiftly dispatched which is a weakness. The rise of the republic is well told starting with the powerful city state that emerged circa 1000. Crusaders and Marco Polo take the stage and exit followed by the Great Plague in the 1340s that killed nearly half of Venice. I wished fo ...more
Colin Buchanan
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Pretty good popular/general history read. More like a 3.5 - 3.7.

Not sure that the author really wows with his writing, but the subject matter definitely carries the day here. This book really fills in the gaps of what you may or may not know about Venice.

It is very political history oriented, with single chapters dedicated to art, architecture, people, etc, even though these subjects too vary throughout time. Only time dedicated to writing about women is when Venice was famous for prostitutes,
I read this book a couple of months ago, right before heading to Venice. When a book is not fresh, I tend to keep my writings short. Like many history books, it has its moments. it can be really interesting sometimes and kind of dry and hard to follow at other times.

The dry and hard parts to follow were the discussions of the medieval times in which there were various popes, emperors, Doges etc. It was hard to keep track.

The more interesting portions were about how Venice tended to look towards
Federico Bergstein
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very good book, somewhat marred by the author letting his political opinions shine a bit too much (especially noticeable for me since they are opposed to mine :) )
Nonetheless its a readable and complete book , I specially like the attention dedicated to the very early and the very late eras of Venice (the refugees flying to the lagoon and the story of Venice after the end of the Republic)

Muy buen libro, algo estropeado por el autor dejando sus opiniones políticas traslucir demasiado (especialmen
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Overall a very interesting read. It went into the right amount of depth for me (except for the extended discussion of Lord Byron which I felt was less Venice-oriented than Byron-oriented). I preferred the first half but probably because I know much less about the Middle Ages than other parts of European history, so learning something new is always exciting for me.

I understand other readers’ complaints regarding the author’s potential blindness to the city’s faults, but when they occurred, he di
Helena Bannor
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, favorited
This is a meticulously researched and thorough history of Venice, but it's so much more than that. Throughout the book, somehow the author has given me an emotional as well as intellectual connection to Venice. I felt joy and pain with the city's changes in fortune, and there were moments in the end when I was brought to tears by the circumstances of Venice and the way in which the author presented the city's fate. 10 stars out of 5 if I could. If you've been to Venice and loved it, or if you ar ...more
Mar 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
This is a comprehensive history, beginning in the 5th Century and ending in the 21st. Interestingly written and very thorough, it gave me a more complete picture of a city I love. My copy is full of post-it notes marking sites I need to see on my next visit to Venice - even though I've already seen many of them before. I'll be looking at them with new eyes on my next trip.

My only quibble with this book is that it could have used more maps. There were only three, and they weren't detailed enough
J. Maximilian Jarrett II
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. Total immersion in Venetian history over the past week or so while “ reading” it has deepened my long felt love of the values and example and experience of the Venetian republican city state and empire immensely. Those who know me well know that I don’t like “nation states” much at all and prefer city states and regions. In my humble opinion, the city state of Venice at its height was one of the best examples of responsible, successful Western style republican governanc ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • A History of Venice
  • The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization
  • The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall
  • The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
  • Venice: Pure City
  • City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire
  • Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All
  • Day
  • Light on Lucrezia (Lucrezia Borgia, #2)
  • Saving Savannah
  • The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England
  • Alpha and Omega
  • Did God Kill Jesus?: Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution
  • Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli in his World
  • The City of Falling Angels
  • Metternich: Strategist and Visionary
  • Notre-Dame: A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals
  • Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry
See similar books…
Thomas F. Madden (born 1960) is an American historian, the Chair of the History Department at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, and Director of Saint Louis University's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

He is considered one of the foremost historians of the Crusades in the United States. He has frequently appeared in the media, as a consultant for various programs on the His

News & Interviews

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
5 likes · 1 comments
“Without deposit banking modern economies would be impossible. Banks are not only a means of safeguarding money, but also a method of maintaining a constant and energetic flow of capital within a complex economy. Without deposit banking money that is saved is hidden away and removed from the economy—it does nothing except preserve its original worth. Deposit banking, however, allows saved money to be loaned and invested, thereby producing more wealth.” 3 likes
“Once did She hold the gorgeous East in fee; And was the safeguard of the West: the worth Of Venice did not fall below her birth, Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty. She was a maiden City, bright and free; No guile seduced, no force could violate; And, when She took unto herself a Mate, She must espouse the everlasting Sea.” 1 likes
More quotes…