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Venice: Pure City

Venice: Pure City

Written by Peter Ackroyd

Narrated by Simon Vance


Venice: Pure City

Written by Peter Ackroyd

Narrated by Simon Vance

ratings:
3.5/5 (11 ratings)
Length:
14 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Nov 9, 2010
ISBN:
9781400187935
Format:
Audiobook

Description

The Venetians' language and way of thinking set them aside from the rest of Italy. They are an island people, linked to the sea and to the tides rather than the land. This latest work from the incomparable Peter Ackroyd, like a magic gondola, transports its listeners to that sensual and surprising city.



His account embraces facts and romance, conjuring up the atmosphere of the canals, bridges, and sunlit squares, the churches and the markets, the festivals and the flowers. He leads us through the history of the city, from the first refugees arriving in the mists of the lagoon in the fourth century to the rise of a great mercantile state and its trading empire, the wars against Napoleon, and the tourist invasions of today. Everything is here: the merchants on the Rialto and the Jews in the ghetto; the glassblowers of Murano; the carnival masks and the sad colonies of lepers; the artists-Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto, Tiepolo; and the ever-present undertone of Venice's shadowy corners and dead ends, of prisons and punishment, wars and sieges, scandals and seductions.



Ackroyd's Venice: Pure City is a study of Venice much in the vein of his lauded London: The Biography. Like London, Venice is a fluid, writerly exploration organized around a number of themes. History and context are provided in each chapter, but Ackroyd's portrait of Venice is a particularly novelistic one, both beautiful and rapturous. We could have no better guide-enjoying Venice: Pure City is, in itself, a glorious journey to the ultimate city.
Publisher:
Released:
Nov 9, 2010
ISBN:
9781400187935
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

PETER ACKROYD is an award-winning novelist, as well as a broadcaster, biographer, poet, and historian. He is the author of the acclaimed London: The Biography, and the History of England series. He holds a CBE for services to literature and lives in London.


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Reviews

What people think about Venice

3.6
11 ratings / 8 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    Ackroyd knows his subject and he knows how to write. This is thematic rather than a chronological history. Full of detail and interesting reflections on how Venice has grown and developed and, now, seems to be dying.
  • (4/5)
    Not really a history; not a travelogue; not a visitors guide; hardly a mention of individual personalities and then only in the sketchiest form. Yet, this book includes all these properties and succeeds in bringing to the reader the essence and character of the city of Venice. Ackroyd is not interested in the historical and technical details of the city - how it came to be, what it looks like, who lives and lived there and what major events shaped Venice - but seems to address all these in his magical and atmospheric descriptions. This must be essential reading for visitors to Venice who want to see just a little beyond the tourist attractions.
  • (3/5)
    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. But I wasn't enamored of it like people seem frequently to be. So, that was my motivation in picking up this title, and I think it helped me understand some aspects of the appeal. Some of the things to consider:- it's unlike any other city in structure. This is perhaps obvious, but it takes a while of walking around to realize what's missing - not only cars, but any form of wheeled transportation. No bikes, no skates, no scooters. The only thing you'll see are strollers (with miserable parents carrying them up and down the steps of all the bridges) and delivery people yelling "Attenzione! Attenzione!"- canals, and what they mean to the city. I was visiting from Gent, so I knew canals. Once you live around some, the romance dissipates. They are filthy things. However, they do make for nice reflections. One point that Ackroyd makes in the book is that these reflections give Venice a dual nature, with the whole city being twin to a more ephemeral version of itself in the water.- speaking of water and ephemeralness, the fact that Venice shouldn't exist at all, and seems to always have someone panicking with fear that it will cease to exist. The city always seems to balancing on the very edge of destruction, but somehow perseveres. It's a very romantic idea.- community. Venice is quite a lot like a prison or a college dormitory - everyone lives close together, everyone has to see each other on a personal level (no getting into your anonymous car and driving to your anonymous supermarket), the houses face onto campi through which everyone will pass in the course of a day. Do your neighbors know your business? You bet.- and conversely, secrecy. The obvious example is Carnival, giving people a period of relief from prying eyes. Even if people could tell who you were under your mask, it was the early version of "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." But even more than that, Venice has had a history of secrecy and subterfuge. Abroad, their diplomats were infamous observers and informers. At home, there were certain mailboxes throughout the city which could be used to anonymously inform on your neighbors. The streets (narrow and full of dead ends) can be considered a physical manifestation of the love of secrecy. The system of addresses is such that giving one to even a life-long Venetian is likely to result in a confused shake of the head.- it's a place of sometimes frustrating traditionalism. In The City of Falling Angels, John Berendt talks about the rebuilding of the Fenice Opera House and how the rallying cry was "com'era, dov'era", which means "as it was, where it was." Well, that's been the case with everything for centuries upon centuries. If a building collapses, it's built in exactly the same form in the same place, often using as many of the same bricks and stones as they can salvage. This creates a timeless city, or perhaps one suspended in time.There's more, including the history and mythology of the city's founding, the character of the Venetian people, the pilfered saints' relics all over the city, the role of art in society, and why Venice was never a literary hotbed (for natives; obviously plenty of foreigners wrote about Venice). A lot of it was really fascinating, but the way the book is structured (around ideas, rather than chronology) leads to repetition and made me feel like I wasn't intended to read it straight through. Also, sometimes Ackroyd lets his literary self have a bit too much free rein and says things that would sound pretty in a novel but seem out of place and overblown in nonfiction.
  • (2/5)
    Well what a disappointment. I'd so much been looking forward to reading this so-called biography of Venice. But it turns out to be not much more than a lazy history of the city. No theme, no analysis, no character, no sense that Peter Ackroyd has ever actually visited the place. The biographical approach is justified by a multiplicity of short chapters on any aspect of the city that comes to mind. But it's really just a way of including everything and the kitchen sink without having to think too much about structure. The book neither brings the city to life nor in any insightful way delivers a new historical approach. Certainly it contains a lot of information but it came across to me as the author mining tomes of notes passed to him by a team of researcher and not being particularly choosy about what to accept and what to reject. I'll have to look elsewhere for an insiders view of the city.
  • (3/5)
    Anyone who has gone swimming in the Lido probably has serious issues with the title of this book. It actually refers to a comment by Italo Calvino, who once wrote that: “every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice.” Ackroyd has organized his book topically, and the lack of chronological structure results in a desultory feeling, with not a little redundancy. The book is not poorly written by any means and contains many interesting comments and reflections. The recurring theme, though, is an odd one. Again and again, Ackroyd insists on the lack of individuality of Venetians, on their typicality. Even such famous names as Casanova, Titian and Marco Polo are presented as examples of common traits in the Venetian psyche. Only when he's forced to deal with Antonio Vivaldi does he encounter someone whose eccentricity is just too formidable to pigeonhole.
  • (2/5)
    I was well-set to read this book. I've visited Venice a couple of times; I've read and enjoyed several other books on this singular city; and I had heard Peter Ackroyd was remarkably good at capturing the essence of places and times.Well, 150 or so pages in, whatever reading magic there might have been is long gone, and I'm abandoning this surprisingly tedious tome.Ackroyd's certainly got a style all his own -- Sudden sentences! Changes of topic -- not just within a paragraph, but within sentences! Within phrases! Squirrel!! Oh, wait, that's the Simpsons.Anyway, Ackroyd's randomly-roaming forays quickly wore me down. Charming for a few pages, perhaps, Ackroyd's lack of discipline grinds down any attempt to find thematic, chronological or aesthetic patterns, as he jumps from time to time, and subject to subject. Ackroyd strikes me as a classic example of an author whose work some may enjoy, but whose idiosyncrasies drive many others (including me) away.Not recommended.
  • (4/5)
    Peter Ackroyd has a knack for crafting biographies of "place" quite as compelling as any biography of a living, breathing human being, and in this latest book he does an impressive job of making Venice -- often described as a dying city -- live and breathe for the reader.True, it's not up to the standard of his books on London and the Thames, and a knowledgeable reader may find that much of its contents are familiar. But it's still an excellent thematic look at this unique city through the eyes of its residents and visitors over the centuries. It's not a straightforward history -- he explores themes and ideas, jumping back and forth in time to address the issue of light, of food, of justice and the family, as they evolved in the unique environment of Venice, which remained a medieval state until Napoleon walked in and took it over in 1797, but which also was a city-state one of whose occupants could declare as early as the 16th century that he saw himself as a free man in a free country. Ackroyd draws on a lot of other well-known Venice observers -- Jan Morris, Ruskin, Mary McCarthy, to name only a few -- as well as the obvious literary commentators, from Byron to Henry James and some lesser known figures of the early Renaissance. For me, it was the tiny details that abound here that made this book fascinating to read, rather than the scope itself -- to those who know a lot about Venice, there's probably very little tremendously new beyond Ackroyd's rather unexpected view of the city as both literally and metaphorically "insular" and one that has always relied on being able to command the attention of outsiders (through trade, or today through tourism).My only quibbles are minor ones: Ackroyd's passion for staccato sentences became annoying after a while, and he has a propensity for repeating himself (I assume it's done deliberately) that became downright annoying. Ultimately, I felt like screaming that I KNOW that Venetians are private and don't like inviting people into their homes, I understood that the last five times it was mentioned!Overall rating: 4.2 stars; recommended. It would make a great gift to someone traveling to Venice, in addition to the standard tour guides with maps and lists of top sights.
  • (5/5)
    I love Venice and I loved this book. It is not organized as a history or as a travelogue, but rather as reflections on the city and its past and its character and its problems, grouped within various subject headings. It's thoughtful and introspective and was a joy to read.