By Peter Ackroyd
Nan A. Talese, Hardcover, 9780385531528, 403pp.
Publication Date: November 2, 2010
List Price: $37.50*
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Peter Ackroyd at his most magical and magisterial—a glittering, evocative, fascinating, story-filled portrait of Venice, the ultimate city.
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 readers 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—reading Venice: Pure City is, in itself, a glorious journey to the ultimate city.
“Ackroyd — the marvelously erudite and staggeringly industrious English writer — [has compiled] an encyclopedic amount of general and arcane factual information and then [arranged] it less chronologically than thematically — much as one might encounter it in the course of a long walk over fascinating terrain in the company of a knowledgeable but never pedantic companion. It's an experience rendered all the more agreeable by the independent turn of Ackroyd's critical imagination and lapidary quality of his prose.”
—Los Angeles Times
"Peter Ackroyd fully explores one of the world’s most undeniably glorious cities.... Like his acclaimed London, Ackroyd’s account isn’t a chronological history of this charming Italian metropolis. The structure and style of Venice is engagingly impressionistic and digressive.... Magnificently crafted."
—The Boston Globe
"[Venice: Pure City] is a swarm - a storm - of dazzling details that coalesce into an artful picture.... Ackroyd's is a glittering introduction to Venice. There is not much new that can be said about the city, but Ackroyd says it with ripeness - like those Venetian pears, only now it is the reader's appetite that is whetted. Godspeed."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"Ackroyd's marvelous book certainly adds to the allure of this magical metropolis."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Peter Ackroyd understands Venice, perhaps even better than modern Venetians. Venice: Pure Cityis a grand biography of a subject that is as complicated and labyrinthine as Venice’s tiny alleyways. It is impossible not to get lost there, and that is why Ackroyd may have been the best person to write such an insightful book.... He approaches Venice the way a scholar would a historical figure, because that’s what Venice is. Yet he isn’t locked into a timeline: He enjoys pushing the tides of history back and forth. It’s an engaging technique."
"Thoughtful, thorough and insightful, [Ackroyd] is at least as much interpreter as historian. He brings this iconic city to vivid life ... While Venice is by no means an orthodox traveler's guide, it's a wonderful introduction to a city that has cast a particular spell since the fifth century ... A portrait so vivid it's aromatic ... Intoxicating."
"In an effortless style, [Ackroyd] seamlessly stitches the storied city's crazy quilt of past and present. The watery origins, the architecture that rises and seams to float on a sea of glass, the early settlers and the key players are all rendered with a historian's curiosity and a novelist's feel for plot."
—The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)
“Ackroyd provides a history of and meditation on the actual and imaginary Venice in a volume as opulent and paradoxical as the city itself. . . . How Ackroyd deftly catalogues the overabundance of the city’s real and literary tropes and touchstones is itself a kind of tribute to La Serenissima, as Venice is called, and his seductive voice is elegant and elegiac. The resulting book is, like Venice, something rich, labyrinthine and unique that makes itself and its subject both new and necessary.”
Praise from the UK:
"Ackroyd is hugely intelligent and formidably industrious; there can be few people, Venetian or foreign, who know Venice better than he." —John Julius Norwich, The Telegraph
"Ackroyd covers an immense amount of ground with verve and elegance." —The Independent
"Venice tends to provoke extreme reactions. People love it or hate it. Ackroyd’s response, however, is pleasingly complex. He observes his subject with a forensic yet morally neutral eye. You can tell he is fascinated by the place; but he is not blind to its many flaws." —The Times
"Irresistible, entrancing, occasionally weird but undeniably grand." —Literary Review