ABOUT THIS BOOK
Venice came to life on spongy mudflats at the edge of the habitable world. Protected in a tidal estuary from barbarian invaders and Byzantine overlords, the fishermen, salt gatherers, and traders who settled there crafted an amphibious way of life unlike anything the Roman Empire had ever known. In an astonishing feat of narrative history, James H. S. McGregor recreates this world-turned-upside-down, with its waterways rather than roads, its boats tethered alongside dwellings, and its livelihood harvested from the sea.
McGregor begins with the river currents that poured into the shallow Lagoon, carving channels in its bed and depositing islands of silt. He then describes the imaginative responses of Venetians to the demands and opportunities of this harsh environment—transforming the channels into canals, reclaiming salt marshes for the construction of massive churches, erecting a thriving marketplace and stately palaces along the Grand Canal. Through McGregor’s eyes, we witness the flowering of Venice’s restless creativity in the elaborate mosaics of St. Mark’s soaring basilica, the expressive paintings in smaller neighborhood churches, and the colorful religious festivals—but also in theatrical productions, gambling casinos, and masked revelry, which reveal the city’s less pious and orderly face.
McGregor tells his unique history of Venice by drawing on a crumbling, tide-threatened cityscape and a treasure-trove of art that can still be seen in place today. The narrative follows both a chronological and geographical organization, so that readers can trace the city’s evolution chapter by chapter and visitors can explore it district by district on foot and by boat.
This is an excellent book. The history of the city is recounted as if it were a story, which makes the whole work eminently readable. The history of Venice is as meandering as its canals, and to have achieved an overall straightforward path through it is no small feat. McGregor's book is a perfect introduction to Venice. Italians themselves would read it with profit.
-- Piero Boitani, Professor of Comparative Literature at University of Rome La Sapienza
[This is a] district-by-district guide to the ancient city's profusion of art, architecture and artifacts integrated with its essential history and dominant cultural themes...A thinking person's guidebook, well supported by illustrations, maps and rich perspectives.
-- Kirkus Reviews
McGregor has written a wonderful historical guide to the city of Venice...He explores the history, architectural landmarks, and artistic achievements of each of the geographical districts that form, arguably, the most beautiful city in the world...Armchair and real-life travelers will enjoy it.
-- Robert J. Andrews Library Journal
Whether an armchair traveler or a gondola aficionado, the romantic will enjoy James H.S. McGregor's Venice from the Ground Up. This handsomely produced and always entertaining narrative history of the city of canals is full of useful information for tourists, lovely color photos and detailed maps.
-- Jay Strafford and Sue Harris Richmond Times-Dispatch
More than a travel guide, this scholarly yet readable volume by James H.S. McGregor weaves the story of how art and architecture were used to create one of the world's most enduring cities. For the armchair reader and those planning to visit Venice, this second-in-a-series guide (Rome was published in 2005) to the Queen of the Adriatic connects the city's incredible history with daily life.
-- Terry Richard Sunday Oregonian
James H. S. McGregor marches us through the city, stopping off at his favourite sites, and offering along the way extended discussions of the main features of the medieval and subsequent periods of Venetian history. Moreover, he gives a much fuller account of the city's political structure, its distinctive social patterns, and its cultural commitments than a guide normally allows...This may well be the best short account of the structure of [St. Mark's Basilica] and the programme of its mosaics now in print. It is full of fascinating detail and acute observation...As a sourcebook of fascinating detail about Venice, laced with a splendid invective against Napoleon, this is a work that will profit even long-time visitors.
-- Theodore K. Rabb Times Literary Supplement
This well written portrait is superbly produced. Color photographs and maps of great quality are included.
-- Ann Geracimos Washington Times
James McGregor's historical portrait of Europe's strangest and most beautiful city shows how Venice's architecture and character came about in response to the peculiar environmental challenges of its location and its precarious political position. This book is organized topographically and chronologically, allowing the reader to explore the city's monuments and canals through both space and time.
-- London Review of Books