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City of fortune by Roger Crowley (2012)


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I visited Venice in midwinter many years ago now, and stepping around the multitudes of dead pigeons and machine gun-toting Carabinieri, I saw the grandeur of St Mark’s Square (and had the customary heart attack all tourists have upon discovering how expensive a coffee at the café there is), the Doge’s Palace and the Horses of St Mark’s, and wondered how Venice became the richest, biggest city in the world, and how it fell from grace. “City of Fortune” answers some of those questions.

Rather than a complete history of Venice from its founding in the ninth century to its defeat by Napoleon, Crowley decides to focus on some key moments, such as Venice’s role in the sack of Constantinople and the ongoing tussles with Genoa and the Ottoman Empire. These sections are incredibly vivid and showcases Crowley’s impressive writing abilities. What was odd though was what Crowley didn’t cover; for example he mentions in passing that Venice once controlled Cyprus, which I thought deserved coverage of at least a few pages, and while Crowley writes as if the Ottoman Empire would inevitably destroy Venice, he doesn’t mention Napoleon’s role at all. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Apr 20, 2017 |
Crowley opens with a vivid retelling of the Fourth Crusade (1203) that reads like a novel. Then for 300 years there are innumerable conflicts with the Genoese, Byzantines and Ottomans for control of the sea trade in the eastern Mediterranean. The Middle East was the gateway to India. Europeans with access to ships could build a sea empire moving goods from the Middle East to the European continent across the Mediterranean, where caravans from Germany would move goods further north. The Venetians perfected just on time delivery, regularity of delivery, abundance of choice. It was a kingdom found and ruled by entrepreneurs, where almighty profit sat above all else, except patron Saint Mark. The Venetians were a people of great solidarity who often died in horrific numbers, in Crowley's focus. Life on a ship was harsh. At some point the Venetians outsourced the hard work, a great divide emerged between and among the elites, and the ability to lead diminished. A lesson not lost in our own age.

Chronologically, this is the first Crowley book followed by 1453 and Empires of the Sea and finally the latest on Portugal. I read Empires first and was somewhat lost on background, which City fills in. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | May 15, 2016 |
Exciting and detailed narrative history of the rise and fall of Venice, the most Serene Republic, Married to the Seas, Europe's first economic superpower.

Crowley covers an unjustly ignored part of history, and he does so with a riveting style and generous quotations from primary sources. The sack of Constantinople and the Battle of Lepanto are especially vivid.

Very enjoyable history, and I'll have to get the 'sequels'. ( )
1 vote HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Another of Crowley's well-written books about the narrative of empire in the Mediterranean before the rise of the Atlantic powers, where he follows the arrival of Venice as a full-fledged empire in the wake of the Fourth Crusade and how attrition and changing structural realities brought that empire low. For Crowley, the climax came at the battle of Zonchio in 1499, where failure of nerve led to strategic failure in the face of the Ottoman offensive; the confidence was never really rebuilt. ( )
  Shrike58 | Sep 11, 2012 |
City of fortune is an entertaining read that fills in the gaps between Crowley's earlier titles. The best part is his account of the notorious sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, in which the Venetians redirected a crusader army against their former Byzantine master. A further fascinating tale is the commercial and military rivalry with Genoa which Venice also won. The big weakness of the book is its ending. As Crowley's book "Empires of the Sea" has covered much of 16th century Venetian history, City of Fortune ends at its start, rather inexplicably. A better solution would have been in referring to the book and treating the siege of Candia in detail. Perhaps this will be the focus of his next book. Overall, highly recommended as a fast read. ( )
2 vote jcbrunner | Aug 31, 2012 |
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Ballerini, EdoardoNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Draws on firsthand accounts of pitched sea battles, skillful negotiations, and diplomatic maneuvers to offer a complete history of Venice's centuries-long reign as a naval power and maritime trading empire.

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