Humblebragging: I started reading this book on holiday in Venice, but only managed to finish it at home – so I did a lot of after the fact realization about the titbits of information in this book. In a way, that’s fine – it’s a very good book for picking up things about Venice but not in a systematic way. It’s far from a guide book. Peter Ackroyd describes the history and culture of the city in thematic chapter that never quite fit within chronology or location. But that is a good encouragement for actually seeing the city: Ackroyd uses his themes to suggest concepts one should look out for – stylised depictions of the sea, contrasts between public display and private parsimony, references in names and art. It encourages you to just get lost and see what you see, rather than looking to tick off the boxes.
I understand that this was based on a TV show and I think that explains some of the uneven-ness; the mix of too much detail and not enough; the structure that jumps around. It’s not quite guidebook, not quite history, not quite travelogue (in fact for something based on a TV show, I might have expected more personal input from Ackroyd). It is rather good though at portraying that sense of magic that Venice has. It’s not without an ethical side, the author does describe the issues that tourism has had on the city, and that’s in a pre-Air B&B world.