Venice: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw

To learn more about Venice past and present, check out a few of these books and films.

Books: Nonfiction

  • The City of Falling Angels (John Berendt, 2005). A best-selling author slowly solves the real-life mystery of a 1996 fire that destroyed Venice's La Fenice Opera House.
  • A History of Venice (John Julius Norwich, 1977). English Lord Norwich's engaging account spans more than a century, from Venice's fifth-century origins to the arrival of Napoleon.
  • A Literary Companion to Venice (Ian Littlewood, 1992). Seven detailed walking tours show Venice's impact on writers such as Byron, Goethe, James, Proust, Lawrence, and Pound.
  • The Science of Saving Venice (Caroline Fletcher and Jane da Mosto, 2004). This readable introduction to the ecology of Venice's lagoon asks if Venice can survive in the 21st century.
  • Venice: Lion City (Garry Wills, 2001). One of America's greatest historians tackles the provocative history of Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries.
  • Venice Observed (Mary McCarthy, 1963). This snappy and engaging memoir details the Venetian ethos through the eyes of a sharply critical writer.
  • Venice: The Tourist Maze (Robert C. Davis and Garry R. Marvin, 2004). This history of tourism in Venice warns how the city is now being loved to death.
  • A Venetian Affair (Andrea di Robilant, 2003). Based on letters found in a palazzo, this is a true love story between an aristocrat and an illegitimate girl in 18th-century Venice.
  • The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage (Jan Morris, 1990). Morris brings a maritime empire to life in this book that illustrates the city's place on a larger historical canvas.

Books: Fiction

  • The Aspern Papers and Other Stories (Henry James, 1894). An American editor travels to Venice in search of letters written to his mistress. Other James works about Italy include Italian Hours and Daisy Miller.
  • Death at La Fenice (Donna Leon, 1992). This chilling Venetian mystery and the others in Leon's Commissario Brunetti series reveal more about "real" Italy than many memoirs do.
  • Death in Venice and Other Tales (Thomas Mann, 1912). The centerpiece of this collection is an eloquent classic that explores obsession, beauty, and death in plague-ridden Venice (also a 1971 film).
  • The Glassblower of Murano (Marina Fiorato, 2009). A 17th-century glassblower reveals the secrets of his trade to the French, which has repercussions for his descendants in the 21st century.
  • Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino, 1972). Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan about his many travels through the Mongol Empire — or is he merely describing the many facets of his beloved Venice? — in this series of prose poems by the master of Italian modernism.
  • Italian Journey (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1786). In his 18th-century collection of writings, Goethe describes his travels to Rome, Venice, Sicily, and Naples.
  • The Merchant of Venice (William Shakespeare, 1598). In addition to Merchant, other Shakespearean plays set in Italy include Romeo and Juliet (Verona), Much Ado About Nothing (Sicily), The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Taming of the Shrew (Padua).
  • The Passion (Jeanette Winterson, 1987). Set in the Napoleonic era, this is both a complex love story and a work of magical-realist fiction.
  • The Rossetti Letter (Christi Phillips, 2007). Shifting between past and present, this novel explores the legacy of a mysterious courtesan in 17th century Venice.

Movies

  • Bread and Tulips (2000). A harassed Italian housewife left behind by her family at a roadside café discovers beauty, love, and her true self in Venice.
  • Casanova (2005). This comic romp, set in 18th-century Venice, stars Heath Ledger as the master of amore.
  • Dangerous Beauty (1998). A 16th-century prostitute accused of witchcraft confronts the impossible choices for women in Venetian society.
  • Don't Look Now (1973). Venice is both threatening and beautiful when a couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) — grieving the death of their daughter — encounter what may be her ghost.
  • Letters to Juliet (2010). A would-be writer comes to Verona and discovers a 50-year-old letter left at a statue of Juliet — sparking several unexpected romances.
  • Summertime (1955). Director David Lean's film follows a melancholy Ohio schoolteacher (Katharine Hepburn) who travels to Venice looking for romance and finds more than antiques in Rossano Brazzi's shop.
  • The Wings of the Dove (1997). Based on the Henry James novel, this romantic drama is a tale of desire that takes full advantage of its Venetian locale.

Gene Openshaw is the co-author of the Rick Steves Venice guidebook.