Usually books on Venice focus on the city or the state – the city itself is the obvious attraction nowadays, and the republic was run in such a way as to diminish the impact of individuals. Here Paul Strathern consciously sets himself apart by trying to tell some of the stories of (some of) the people of Venice. Some of the choices are obvious – Marco Polo and Casanova begin and end the book – but others are more obscure. The Jewish scholar Leon of Modena, the condottiero Bartolomeo Colleoni, or the courtesan Veronica Franco. They are, however, all notable people – you’re not going to find out about everyday life here.
During the book, Strathern refers to and quotes from the books of Peter Ackroyd and John Julius Norwich. In truth, he does seem to play a very much secondary role to their books. They (and countless others) describe the city, the architecture, the culture and the mystery that so captivates people around the world. In this book that feels incidental to a good adventure story, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that but it feels like a shame to leave the city in the background. There’s plenty to enjoy here, but if you only read one book on Venice I would look elsewhere.