Below are three nonfiction books and two pieces of fiction that I have read and consider the best books about Venice, Italy.
Venice, An Interior by Javier Marías
Marías touched on the tragedy of cruise ships and the massive tourism trade that is dominating one of the great cities of the world, but this is a love story between an artist and an enchanting, singular city. Even if you’re not planning to travel to Venice, you will be captivated by this little book.
If Venice Dies by Salvatore Settis
If Venice Dies by archaeologist and art historian Salvatore Settis is a magnificent read and a warning shot across the bow concerning any historic city.
The barbarians are at the gates of Venice, and they are the tourists. There are 140 tourists to one Venetian. And the Venetian population has been cut in half as they escape to the mainland.
There’s only one business in Venice and that’s tourism. Hotels are being built everywhere. They are considering skyscrapers, too. Monster ships are parking in the Adriatic and disrupting the sea and unloading masses of consumers into the noble city. The old Venice is being sold off and turned into a theme park. City officials have appraised its landmarks as if it were commercial real estate.
What’s most important is Venice is forgetting who she is and what she represented and represents. If Venice Dies by Salvatore Settis is a passionate plea to save Venice’s soul from consumerism and greed.
Venice: A New History by Thomas F. Madden
Venice: A New History opened the door for me to Venice, Italy’s history and meaning. It’s a sublime story from its beginning around 421 AD, when its citizens escaped to the lagoon after the collapse of the Roman Empire to their rise as a sea power and economic juggernaut to the Renaissance to the present. The plagues, battles, scandals, mistakes, victories, and grandeur of the architecture are all here, but what impressed me the most was Venice’s hatred of dictators, and they did not have one for 1,200 years.
Venice has its share of sins. There were the crusades in the Holy Land and their Jewish ghetto, which is where the word “ghetto” originates.
The Venice story is complex and Madden weaves an engaging narrative, capturing the many layers of Venice’s society. I listened it to on Audible and thought the narrator, Edward Ballerini, did an outstanding job of bringing this well-researched tale to life and the book earned a 4.6 out of 5 rating from Audible listeners.
I read four or five history books about Venice, but Venice: A New History by Thomas F. Madden was the most comprehensive and captivating. It is certainly one of best books about Venice, Italy.
Death in Venice and Other Stories by Thomas Mann
Death in Venice is a story of repression and beauty and youth and obsession more than decadence or eroticism.
Gustave von Ashenback is a lonely, aging German writer, battling the demon of living a cerebral and isolated life. Becoming run down, he decides to travel to Venice for some Italian charm, romance, and beauty. It is there that he first sees a fourteen-year-old polish boy of rare beauty named Tadzio. Tadzio is an age where beauty and youth radiate perfect skin, hair, and androgony. The sight of Tadzio begins to stir the lifetime of inhibition in Gustave.
Gustave soon spends his days watching Tadzio on the beach and following him around Venice. Even though there is a cholera plague in Venice, Gustave goes out openly obsessed with the boy. The boy understands the man’s attention and seems pleased with the old man’s adoration. The boy poses and smiles for Gustave, before his guardians notice the lonely old man’s obsession and work to protect Tadzio from the him.
Although he never speaks to or touches the boy, Gustave’s obsession has turned erotic. On the beach, when the boy half-turns to him, Gustave rises but collapses and dies.
I believe all beautiful young men and women have experienced a mild obsession or a sense of admiration in their youth from an adult who obviously is attracted to him or her in an innocent or not so innocent way.
The Mysteries of Game Theory and Other Stories by Joseph Raffetto
Full disclosure: I wrote this book. I don’t compare it to the other books on this list. I included it because part of the collection of stories is the novella “Venice to Venice,” which links Venice, Italy with Venice, California. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking thriller and mystery that gives you a sense of both the Italian and California Venice’s.
Kirkus Reviews wrote “Raffetto’s prose is controlled but always surprising, illustrating vividly ominous scenes for readers. The novellas (“The Mysteries of Game Theory” and “Venice to Venice”) are the strongest pieces in the collection. The author’s muscular prose and penchant for forging puzzling narratives find a home inside the genre’s grittiness.”
Seattle Book Review wrote Mysteries of Game Theory and Other Oddities “explores the ever-present tension between freedom and oppression and the desire to build a functional, sustainable world. The new work includes “Bowie and the Berlin Wall,” a fresh look at David Bowie’s impact on Berlin and the fall of the Wall; “Venice to Venice,” a novella about sacrifice, martyrdom, and civic redemption; “The Mysteries of Game Theory,” a post-pandemic thriller; and “Inside ’75 / Seeds from ’79,” two coming-of-age stories about a young man who fights to escape and find himself.”
Booklife wrote Mysteries of Game Theories and Other Oddities “begins with a well-researched essay on David Bowie that focuses on the time Bowie spent in Berlin…and the monumental trio of late ‘70s albums that resulted. Bowie’s edgy, mercurial sensibility infuses the rest of the collection’s novellas and short stories that run the gamut from espionage thrillers and dystopian political novellas to intimate and deeply felt coming-of-age stories set in 1970s California…. Through essay, novella, and short story, this vivid collection explores conflict, alienation, perseverance, and David Bowie.”
These are the books I consider to be the best books about Venice, Italy that I have read, and I have read about fifteen. I believe you will find them gripping and informative.
Another creative and fabulous novel that is half based in Venice, Italy during the biennial is Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer. You can read Noovella’s review here.
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