Review: City of Fortune, Roger Crowley

Rating: 3 out of 5

In truth, as much as one can take sides in history—an entirely pointless activity of course—I have never been a fan of the Venetians. Nevertheless, their success, though not unique, is spectacular in world history and deserves to be learned and understood. Any such success is a combination of both the individuals who act within the system and the institutions that enable the existence of the system.

If I take Mr Crowley’s work on Venice and put it in the above context, I come away disappointed. Though the book really expanded my understanding of some events in the republic’s history, it’s not even close to a continuous examination. Rather, the reader is taken from one momentous event to another one. To give credit where it’s due, these parts are described in more than sufficient detail, but then one starts to wonder why certain other momentous events weren’t chosen to be part of the story.

Of the episodes that did make it in, the most famous is that of Enrico Dandolo. This is probably the one I knew most about before, but also one where the Venetian side doesn’t really get brought out in most descriptions of the Fourth Crusade. The fact that the Venetian side is the crux around which the entire story revolves here makes for all the difference and allows to see someone other than who is highlighted in the traditional narrative.

The other glimpses of Venetian history we saw were mostly of naval combat, matches with Pisa or Genoa or the Ottomans, all of which were immensely interesting. However, this interest related to the aspects of naval warfare which were described herein. The side that related to the effects of these battle for Venice or its opponents was not that through. And here, one can always ask whether highlighting one instance of combat over another is justified (or, to be clearer, how justified it is). I don’t know… But I also don’t know the opposite, and this title didn’t show me the opposite of whether another event had a differently impactful significance on the republic.

I enjoyed this, I really did… But the book wasn’t as good I could have hoped for, or perhaps I went into it with unrealistic expectations. It’s a good narration of a few select moments in the republic’s history, but not a military or political history of the nation.

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