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The 2012 Best Books … of Venice!

By (December 17, 2012) No Comment

tourists in venice

2012 was swamped by the customary deluge of Venice-books, of course. It’s estimated that somewhere around 350,000 books were published in English in the last twelve months, and roughly 315,000 of them were about Venice, whose fourteen streets and ten canals hosted approximately 475 billion overfed tourists in 2012. Since all of those tourists were too busy sweating and talking on their cell phones to take in the fabled Floating City while they were actually there, the yearning to do so only increased once they all decamped back to Johnston, Iowa – hence the unending market for books about Venice. So for all of you who’ve been to Venice this month (and for those of you who are there right now, reading Stevereads on your iPad instead of looking at all the boring old churches) and would like some faint corroboration of that fact, here are the ten best 2012 books … of Venice (with one notable addition to come in a few days):

double entry

10. Double Entry by Jane Gleeson-White – This book’s daring sub-title, “How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance,” might make it sound like something of a snoozer, but our author has never written a boring book, and she certainly doesn’t start now. This is the story of double-entry bookkeeping and all the short- and long-term ways it changed first Venice and then the world – and the world of Renaissance Venice is wonderfully evoked along the way. This is certainly the most engaging book about Luca Pacioli, the man who invented modern accounting, to be published this month.


9. Baldassare Longhena and Venetian Baroque Architecture by Andrew Hopkins – Longhena (1598-1682) was the amazing inspirational focal point for a large array of those staggeringly beautiful architectural wonders all those belching Hawkeyes are busy overlooking, and Hopkins’ work – in yet another beautifully-produced oversized hardcover from Yale University Press – is his first fitting tribute in English. Although the book’s emphasis is on the works, Hopkins makes sure to give us some enticing glimpses into the man as well.

vulcan's forge in venus

8. Vulcan’s Forge in Venus’ City by Victoria Avery – The current tourist-friendly incarnation of Venice likes to portray itself as an airy, insubstantial place, but the canny, well-exploited crux of Avery’s excellent study is that for centuries, Venetian blast furnaces turned out solid and often exquisite bronze works both for Venetians and for sale abroad. This is the first in-depth study of those works to be written in English this week, and it’s one of the best ever done, certainly the best thing of its kind this year.


7. City of Fortune by Roger Crowley


6. Venice: History of the Floating City by Joanne Ferraro

the light of venice

5. The Light of Venice by Jean-Michel Berts – Brilliant photographer Berts used his signature stroke of genius yesterday when he produced this stunning collection of Venice photos; render one of the most colorful cities on Earth in dark, somber black-and-white shots. The resulting contrasts are perspective-shifting no matter how well you know the city; shadows crop up where before you noticed only light, and vice versa – and somehow, Berts has managed to keep that quintessential Venetian feature, the shimmering sunlight, mostly unchanged.


4. Venice from the Water by David Savoy


3. Venice & Vitruvius by Margaret Muther D’Evelyn


2. Venice: A New History by Thomas Madden – The title here is of course misleading: there is – there can be under no conceivable circumstances – a new history of Venice, nor anything close. The same squalid tales of valor, the same feats of commerce, the same picturesque moments, the same witty quotes, the same rampaging Corsican, the same lions, the same horses, the same saint’s bones – no history of Venice can escape these things, and Madden – a veteran and very talented historian – probably wouldn’t want to escape them even if he could; the history of Venice is, after all, as gaudy and irresistible as the city itself. This is the best single-volume narrative of that history from 2012.

and the best book about Venice produced somewhere in the last fourteen hours:


1. Monumental Venice by Jacques Boulay (photos) & Jean-Philippe Follet (text) – this extremely hefty, gorgeous volume from Vendome Press costs only a little less than a trip to Venice and is preferable in one or two ways (it won’t elbow you in the ribs, for instance, and you can’t get Hepatitis C from its tap water) – foremost being the great freedom it gives you to simply stop and look. Boulay’s great photos seem almost to unfold while you’re absorbing them, and they make virtually everything they capture seem not only beautiful but new – no small feat in a city so compulsively photographed as this one.