Venice: Recommended Reading and Viewing
By Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw
To get a feel for Venice past and present, consider these books and films:
A History of Venice (Norwich) covers the city from its beginnings until Napoleon ended the Republic's independence. Venice: A Maritime Republic (Lane) explains how dominance on the high seas brought in piles of riches. Venice: Lion City (Wills), another city history, has a more academic tone. Francesco's Venice (da Mosto), based on a BBC series, balances history with coffee-table-book illustrations.
Filled with stories of a woman abroad, Venice Observed rings with Mary McCarthy's engaging voice. The City of Falling Angels, by best-selling author John Berendt, hinges on a devastating fire at La Fenice Opera House. Based on once-hidden letters found in a palazzo, A Venetian Affair (di Robilant) tells a true love story. Venice: A Cultural and Literary Companion (Garrett) also covers the nearby islands, while A Literary Companion to Venice (Littlewood) includes walking tours of the city, as does Strolling Through Venice (Freely). For a traveler's insight into Venice, consider picking up Barrie Kerper's Venice: The Collected Traveler.
Henry James set many of his best books in Venice, including The Wings of the Dove, Italian Hours, and The Aspern Papers and Other Stories. Thomas Mann also chose this city for his doomed tale Death in Venice.
Invisible Cities (Calvino) takes place during the era of Genghis Khan and Marco Polo, while The Palace: A Novel (St. Aubin de Terán) has the Italian Risorgimento as its backdrop. Set in the Napoleonic era, The Passion (Winterson) is both a complex love story and a work of literary fiction. In the Company of the Courtesan (Dunant) is a novel that chronicles the drama and romances of Renaissance Venice.
Venice's murky waters make a perfect setting for intrigue. Mystery fans will enjoy Dead Lagoon (Dibdin), Dirge for a Doge (Eyre), Stone Virgin (Unsworth), and The Haunted Hotel (Collins). In Death at La Fenice, one of a dozen of her novels set in Venice, Donna Leon chronicles the adventures of detective Guido Brunetti and his wife Paola.
Summertime (1955) sends melancholy Katherine Hepburn to Venice for romance. Death in Venice (1971), based on the book (see above), shows the devastating impact of a troubling infatuation.
Only You (1994) is a cute (and even sappy) love story, while Bread and Tulips (2000) — equally romantic, but firmly grounded in reality — shows the power of Venice in reviving a wounded soul. Dangerous Beauty (1998), meanwhile, keeps love out of the picture in the story of a 16th-century prostitute.
The 2003 version of The Italian Job begins its fluffy, fun crime caper in Venice (before ending in L.A.). Shakespeare fans will appreciate The Merchant of Venice (2004), which won raves for Al Pacino. The Oscar nominated The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) is set alternately in Venice and the Amalfi Coast. The Woody Allen musical Everyone Says I Love You (1997) is partially set in Venice. Another recent Hollywood flick filmed here is Casanova (2005), starring the Heath Ledger as the master of amore.