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Venice: Pure City

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  1,100 ratings  ·  175 reviews
In this sumptuous vision of Venice, Peter Ackroyd turns his unparalleled skill at evoking place from London and the River Thames, to Italy and the city of myth, mystery and beauty, set like a jewel in its glistening lagoon.His account is at once romantic and packed with facts, conjuring up the atmosphere of the canals, bridges and sunlit squares, the churches and the marke ...more
Hardcover, 403 pages
Published September 3rd 2009 by Chatto & Windus (first published October 1st 2007)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
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 ·  1,100 ratings  ·  175 reviews


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Kalliope
Nov 09, 2012 rated it really liked it

The City as Spectacle






Do come in, Ladies and Gentlemen, come in and savour a visit to the gentle and mythical Venice, the city of Dreams, the ideal city. Watch it from your own seats, and all for a good price.

You will enjoy a 360º view. You will have not experienced anything like this before.

This way, Ladies… In the stand over there you can chose a beautiful mask which you can wear while you relish the spectacle. We have all forms and colours. Suit your fancy. Welcome to the Carnival, the le
...more
·Karen·
Oct 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Ackroyd is a lush, expansive writer and his main theory, that the geography and political situation of Venice, surrounded by water and set between the West and the East has been decisive in the development of its particular culture and form of government is a very beguiling one. There's a true cornucopia of information in this book, it pours out in a glittering mass that enchants and instructs, but it isn't always situated in history very precisely, there is no timeline to give the whole thing a ...more
Anna
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
On the cover of my copy of this book there is a praze from “The Times” that says only one word: “Sumptuous” - and if I was to describe this book with only one word then this is the one I would use.

Sumptuous was Venetian republic during the thousand years of its history, and surprisingly sumptuous is Peter Ackroyd prose. It kept me mesmerized and glued to its pages that cover everything from the city’s origin, through its long lasting greatness, until its final decline and uncertain future. There
...more
Antonomasia
[4.5] Which is to say it was the right book for me - although I can see why it may not be for everyone, especially those with no background in the history of Venice. If you already have some chronological political history as a framework, a thematically organised general history can be a great way to fill in gaps and find interesting social & cultural material, but as an introduction, it may feel jumbled. "Jumbled" may, however, in this instance, be appropriately evocative: travel-writing about ...more
Grady
Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
'Venice and Venice's Image are inseparable.'

The variations in response to this book VENICE: PURE CITY by Peter Ackroyd are puzzling at best. Perhaps the history of the writer's output has polarized the readers. Perhaps the integration of emotional and intellectual responses in the history of the rise and present sate of Venice makes the book uncomfortable for some. This reader became immersed in the mysteries that surround the history, the socialization of a swamp, the creation of a city on wate
...more
Bettie
fileopenonlaptop = it'll take a while.
For Alison Samuel
Opening: They voyaged into the remote and secluded waters. They came in flat-bottomed boats, moving over the shallows. They were exiles, far from their own cities or farms, fleeing from the marauding tribes of the North and the East. And they had come to this wild place, a wide and flat lagoon in which fresh water from the rivers on the mainland and salt water from the Adriatic mingled. At low tide there were mud-flats all around, cut throug
...more
James Cambias
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
I love Venice, and I have enjoyed Peter Ackroyd's work in the past, so I was very pleased and excited when I got this book. But as I read it I became more and more frustrated and disappointed.

Mr. Ackroyd is trying to paint a portrait of Venice, incorporating its history, its art, its mix of fantastic romance and hard-nosed commerce, its architecture, its people, and its effect on visitors over the years. It's a laudable goal, but I'm afraid the book falls short. The problem is one of organizati
...more
SlowRain
Ah, Venice! The most serene city.

Readers looking for a detailed history of Venice won't find it here. While it's impossible not to glean an overall understanding of the city's history, this book is mainly about the personality of the city and its inhabitants. It focuses more on the culture than on the events that make up its character. And character it is, for the book treats the city as if it were a person.

Another thing to be aware of is the writing is not the typical matter-of-fact style of no
...more
Kim
Feb 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Venice certainly has an interesting history. Peter Ackroyd reviews Venice in slices. He warms up with a brief history lesson but then breaks Venice down into multiple and overlapping parts, City of Saint Mark, Ship of State, Republic of Commerce, Living City, Sacred City, et cetera, which are each broken down further into several subchapters. Then he covers that angle of Venice from beginning to present day. So some aspects of Venice are covered several times but from slightly different angles. ...more
Judy
Jan 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: italy, non-fiction
To me this book wasn't as good as Gary Wills' Venice:The Lion City. It felt formulaic. I haven't read Ackroyd's other work but I wondered if he started with an outline of what he wanted based on how he apprached other city storis. If so, it wouls explain why this been doesn't seem to come from the heart.

For an individual and humurous account of Venice, I'd recommend No Vulgar Hotel by Judth Martin.
Cruiseportatlas.com JohnMorn
Jan 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: History majors with a high tolerance for abstraction
Shelves: italy
If you like the adroit mental wanderings of a poetic social historian then Peter Ackroyd's book about Venice is a good choice. I'm being a bit harsh with the 3 stars, because I genuinely enjoyed the book. The problem is that it's hard to say exactly what he is trying to accomplish. Certainly he has tried to explain the soul of the city. He picks and chooses historical, cultural and geographical details and then extrapolates on their meaning. So often I would think "Where is he going with this?" ...more
Dan Walker
Oct 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, economics
This book helped me understand Venice at a much deeper level. I've visited Venice and was ambivalent: I thought Verona was better. At least now I know more about why Venice is the way it is.

I found Peter Ackroyd's writing to mirror the most serene city. It was haunting, poetic - kept me reading the book when I otherwise might have put it down. It was also very quotable: I was so surprised by some of the quotes that I wrote them down:

"...in the realm of King Money, all subjects are instrinsically
...more
Sarah
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: my-list
Now that I have finished the book, I will acknowledge that I learned a lot about the history and culture of Venice. But it was torture to read. While the author is a talented writer, I do not enjoy sentences like "The passion for color existed, like the veneration of light, as a token of energy and bravura" or "It is a city of doubleness, of reflections within reflections, in every sense. The mask is a sign of ambiguity" or "The image in the mirror may in some sense be a guarantee of identity an ...more
Sara
Jan 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
My God, does this book need a good editor. The repetition, the contradictions (even within 3 pages of each other) were infuriating. Not to mention, Ackroyd hangs onto his beloved London and seems to unconsciously compare everything, in this case, Venice, to his beloved country of origin....but it is never stated. (Read his London book and one can see the difference.) Granted I am biased towards my love of Venice, but nonetheless I learned very little from this book that I didn't already know fro ...more
Kathy
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italy, read-in-2011
What a pity Peter Ackroyd doesn't have anything interesting or original to say about Venice. This is just a series of seemingly unrelated and unsubstantiated assertions, without the benefit of any argument or evidence. Poor. I, too, could make far-reaching and sweeping generalisations about Venice, but why would I? And who would believe me? I don't believe Peter Ackroyd and I don't know why any publisher felt that there was a need for this book.
Roman Clodia
Jul 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
A work of synthesis and integration as Peter Ackroyd reads everything that has been written about Venice rather than uncovering new sources or conducting original research, but what he adds to the material is a poet's imagination in making metaphorical connections which colour his - and our - view of this version of Venice.

This is often more like a collection of thematic essays rather than a linear 'biography' of the city: some of it is relatively well-known - the Venice of the nuns and courtes
...more
Gergely
Aug 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
It seems that Ackroyd, following his incredible success with London: A Biography, saw an opportunity to cash in on his fame as a city Biographer by picking the world's most famous settlement to eulogise about.

If you have not been to Venice yet, this book is next to useless in building a picture of the city and it's history. The story behind the rise of Venice as an economic empire is only thinly revealed, partly due to the book taking a thematic rather than chronological structure, and partly du
...more
Michael Pryor
Oct 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Discursive, impressionistic, piquant.
Nick
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This turned out to be quite a difficult book to review. On the one hand it was certainly interesting, but it leans heavily towards a psychological examination of the city and its people over time rather than a more traditional examination of the history itself. It is broken up and discussed by specific themes rather than chronologically, so we jump forward and back quite often.

The primary reason for a hesitation in recommending this book however comes from a single section late in the text - whe
...more
Colin Ellard
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written and mesmerizing celebration of Venice. Not at all a tourist gloss or a guidebook but an indispensable companion that would probably be enjoyed more after a visit (but before the next visit!).
Ursula
What follows are more some thoughts on Venice: Pure City than a review. I was hoping it would help me understand some of the mystique surrounding Venice. When I visited there, I thought it was interesting, and sort of pretty, but I wasn't really transported by the experience. I liked wandering the streets aimlessly (on my first day trip there, I didn't buy a map, with the idea that getting lost was kind of the point), and I liked the glimpses of actual Venetian life going on around the tourists. ...more
Keeley
Oct 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: someone who desires to be bored to death
I'm so glad to be done with this awful, tedious book. Ackroyd's extended, repetitive and at times nonsensical meditation on Venice probably doesn't belong in the nonfiction section, but since he never cites any of his sources, it's really hard to track down where he's wrong or making stuff up.

I read Ackroyd's biography of Thomas More fifteen years ago and quite liked it. My one reservation was that the endnotes were not always sufficient -- sometimes, I wanted a little more information so that I
...more
Marguerite Kaye
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This wasn't so much a history (though there's plenty of history in here) but a hymn to Venice. Lyrically written, beautifully evoked, the story of the city from its earliest origins right up to now is told with such feeling, humour and depth of knowledge that this was a joy to read. I've never been to Venice, but now I really want to go. I want to see the light hit off the canals, I want to see the canals change colour, I want to imagine the carnival at its decadent height, and I want to see beh ...more
Brian Eshleman
Feb 05, 2015 rated it liked it
This is the type of book that reminds me what a blessing libraries are. I never would have bought a book on the city of Venice. It's not a particular passion of mine. As far as I can remember, I've never read a book on a particular city, but I lost nothing by trying something different. In fact, at some point I was fascinated by the ways in which the author connects the geography and history of the city with the character of the people. These shaping forces reminded me of the dangers of the mate ...more
Nancy
Jul 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
The history of Venice is a fascinating story of a city constantly under threat from the waters around it. However, I found this particular history unsatisfying. There was a lot of repetition, a lot of generalisation and the structure of the book seemed to lack logic. The concluding chapter didn't feel like it should have concluded the book, and the sections that the chapters were divided into didn't really assist. I would have liked more detail, more specifics. I understood that Venice was and a ...more
Margaret Sankey
Aug 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ackroyd discusses Venice as a place where geography shaped culture and political destiny, as control of the lagoon may well have created the republican form of government, then helped to solidify its stratification, secrecy and relationship with trade. Using vivid examples, he explores how the intersection of people and religion created the first ghetto, the sea's demands forced sophisticated engineering of artificial islands and the creativity of artists painting dappled light, money and locati ...more
Jay
Dec 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Despite the many very positive reviews, I didn't find this catching my interest. Sure, there are some interesting stories about sex, and religion, and sex, and power, and sex...that stuff that makes history come to life. But it didn't hang together well. I found the thematic approach to history here left the summation and analysis a bit disjointed. I understand this was the basis of a television series, or vice versa, and it feels like a history TV series where you can catch any episode and be s ...more
Kristy
Apr 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this in Venice and loved learning the history and details of the city. I do think the author could have benefitted greatly from a good editor. He repeats himself a lot and goes into more detail than necessary in places. I found this book easy to skim and to skip the boring parts, since it is well organized by relatively short chapters of idenitifiable topics.
Abhishek Ganguly
Aug 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Nothing like Peter Ackroyd, if you really want to know a city.
The author doesn't just talk about how the city grew, he talks about how itlived.

Precise and passionate, this is a must read.
Although more difficult than following the stupendous BBC documentaries, believe me, the patience is worth it. Mr. Ackroyd paints a beautiful masterpiece with words. After all, it's Venice!!
Jane Greensmith
Dec 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm not far into this book, but Acroyd's prose on Venice veers into poetry--lovely to read slowly.
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Peter Ackroyd CBE is an English novelist and biographer with a particular interest in the history and culture of London.

Peter Ackroyd's mother worked in the personnel department of an engineering firm, his father having left the family home when Ackroyd was a baby. He was reading newspapers by the age of 5 and, at 9, wrote a play about Guy Fawkes. Reputedly, he first realized he was gay at the age
...more

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