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Publisher's Summary

The rise and fall of the Venetian empire stands unrivaled for drama, intrigue, and sheer opulent majesty. In City of Fortune, Roger Crowley, acclaimed historian and New York Times bestselling author of Empires of the Sea, applies his narrative skill to chronicling the astounding five-hundred-year voyage of Venice to the pinnacle of power. Tracing the full arc of the Venetian imperial saga for the first time, City of Fortune is framed around two of the great collisions of world history: The ill-fated Fourth Crusade, which culminated in the sacking of Constantinople and the carve-up of the Byzantine Empire in 1204, and the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499–1503, which saw the Ottoman Turks supplant the Venetians as the preeminent naval power in the Mediterranean. In between were three centuries of Venetian maritime dominance—years of plunder and plague, conquest and piracy—during which a tiny city of “lagoon dwellers” grew into the richest place on earth.

Drawing on firsthand accounts of pitched sea battles, skillful negotiations, and diplomatic maneuvers, Crowley paints a vivid picture of this avaricious, enterprising people and the bountiful lands that came under their dominion. Defiant of emperors, indifferent to popes, the Venetians saw themselves as reluctant freebooters, compelled to take to the open seas “because we cannot live otherwise and know not how except by trade.” From the opening of the spice routes to the clash between Christianity and Islam, Venice played a leading role in the defining conflicts of its time—the reverberations of which are still being felt today. Only an author with Roger Crowley’s deep knowledge of post-Crusade history could put these iconic events into their proper context. Epic in scope, magisterial in its understanding of the period, City of Fortune is narrative history at its most engrossing.

©2011 Roger Crowley (P)2013 Recorded Books

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Scot
  • Bloomfield Hills, MI
  • 06-12-14

A Wonderful Listen

I love history, but I have never read (or listened) to a book about the history of Venice. This book is really not about the city of Venice, but about the influence that Venice had on the period of history from approximately 1000 to 1600. It was like listening to a well thought out story. Honestly I could hardly stop listening, and when it was finished I felt like I had lost a friend. It was that good. Mr. Crowley also wrote a book 'Empires of the Sea' which is equally as good. I would recommend both books to those who love history and those who love a riveting story. I hope that Mr. Crowley rights many many more books as he has a unique knack for interwinding facts with insight of those who were alive at that time. Again, simply a wonderfully good book.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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An Excellent Presentation

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

The story is beautifully crafted and the narrator did a splendid job of presenting the story of how Venice became such an important city-state.

What other book might you compare City of Fortune to and why?

I would compare it to stories about other great city-states, such as the ancient Greek cities of Athens and Sparta. Each of these cities had developed a personality and skill set that, while not exclusively their own, was the pinnacle of each city's success.

What does Edoardo Ballerini bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He can speak Italian beautifully and presents the story in a brilliant fashion. Bravo!

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

It really was. I found it informative, fascinating, and extremely well presented.

Any additional comments?

If the reader has any interest in European History during the five hundred years between 1000 and 1500, this is a wonderful main avenue to take a gondola ride upon.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Experience Venetian history in vivid detail.

Where does City of Fortune rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Near the top of my list, City of Fortune enabled me to understand the rise and fall of the Venetian empire and its interaction with the Byzantines, Rome, Genoa, and the Turks.

What other book might you compare City of Fortune to and why?

The Iliad. It is a story of heroes and their follies.

Have you listened to any of Edoardo Ballerini’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not, but he is a spectacular narrator.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The moment when Enrico Dandolo, the old blind doge, outwits the Turks and takes Constantinople.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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A Staggering Epic

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

History before this audible on Venice was all US and Western Europe with never a mention of the Venetian Empire epic years of 10th to 15th century, covered in this narrative. Even Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" a historic mystery until now.

The narrator is superb, keeps the pace absorbing, every interesting. .

What was one of the most memorable moments of City of Fortune?

The revelation of the that impelled Western Europe to bypass Venice's monopoly and find new routes to India and China. The forces that what impelled Columbus, a Genoan, to seek passage around the Ottomans and Venice, and thus discover the new world.

How Venice Ruled European riches, 10th to 15th Century Europe, a Europe then in the Dark Ages, until the Ottoman Empire paralyzed Venice and further impelled Europe to find new routs to the riches of Asia, India and China.

It covers parts of Europe and Asia little known to any European and American, due to the life-long myth making and pride and self-absorption in Western European and American Histories, and how they ignore the glory of historic forces impelling these Histories.

What does Edoardo Ballerini bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

A mountain of information and impressive research and vivid word pictures with sensuous nothing held back excitement. Conveyed the human characters in near cinematic exactness. The writer is not timid in wording the way is was, a standout in writing that keeps the listener absorbed.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Oh yes. But alas, the depth and length of the book made me, at times, have to return to earth and get on with daily life. But left a deep longing for my to return to the narration.

Any additional comments?

I have been listening to books, lectures and internet downloads for years now and this book is an stunning stand-our experience.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Pamela
  • Bigfork, Montana
  • 01-18-17

Why was Venice so important?

This is a good overview of how Venice came to power, how the merchants controlled the republic and how the city finally fell because they lost control over the trading routes.

It starts with a very long section on the Venetian role in the Crusades. As I have already done extensive readings on the Crusades, this was repetitive. A couple of hundred pages cannot provide much new insight and can only give the most superficial coverage to this extraordinary period in European history. If you don't know much about the Crusades, this should definitely whet your appetite: the characters, strategies, technological advantages and the cruelty of almost all of the players is more intricate than "Game of Thrones" - and should keep anyone on the edge of their seat.

The other two thirds of the book gave me quite a few new perspectives and insights. The book is well written and narrated. I would certainly recommend it to anyone planning to visit Venice who does not really understand what all the fuss was about.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Good to know How Venice Ruled the Sea

Yes, I loved it. Nattation was excellent. I'm glad to know how such a small city was able to rule the sea. Thanks.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A little flowery for my taste

This book is pretty dang sympathetic to the Venetian point of view, painting the city in its most heroic light. It doesn’t flinch away from the truly heinous stuff it did, either, but it couches everything in Venice’s justification for its atrocities. That said, I still enjoyed this book immensely. I feel like I have a great sense of what the Venetians thought of themselves, and I have a much greater understanding of how their empire fit into the late Middle Ages and how it helped to bring about the Renaissance. Good read.

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The Adriatic Empire Built upon Commerce

Having visited the spectacular city of Venice several times, it has been on my list to read a history of the Stati del Mare for some time. Roger Crowley’s “City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas” fit the bill perfectly for this read. While the book does not cover the breadth of Venetian history (for example, only touching on the mythical roots of the origins of the city built upon sand flats in a lagoon), it covers the most important period of time which formed Venice into the fantastical city we find today. Beginning with the Venetian attack upon Constantinople in 1204 and ending with the finality of the Ottoman-Venetian war in 1503, the book covers the amazing rise of this city built upon trade, and ends with its sad decline, succumbed to forces from the east and west. Venice truly was a city built upon trade and commerce; however, it is worth noting from the book how such city-states inevitably fall prey to the same tides of war as any other nation. As such, Venice built a powerful navy, and used it to great effect to secure their navigational rites of the sea. Another thing that the book did a great job of describing was how the influence of Venice in the Easter Mediterranean, along with its famous and frequent wars with Genoa, played a significant role in the fall of the Byzantine Empire, and the rise of the Ottomans. It also describes in detail the challenges Venice faced in maintaining its many colonies spread throughout the Mediterranean Sea; a challenge many other European nations would discover for themselves in the years ahead. Overall, this was a wonderful and engaging read. For any person interested in the Stati del Mare, this book is highly recommended.

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Vivid and Engrossing

The best kind of history book, in my opinion, is one that makes its subjects so compelling you can't resist doing a bit of side research on various topics midway. This book epitomizes that - found myself researching Constantinople, various ports on the Black Sea, captains and Doges, and the weaponry of the era between car rides listening to the book.

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Wonderful

Great book. Edoardo Ballerini's voice was authoritative yet soothing and all of the Italian words and place names are pronounced so beautifully. The story of Venice is one-of-a-kind and Crowley brings all of the naval battles and political intrigue to life seemingly effortlessly. I will never forget his account of the sack of Constantinople. The city was full of contradictions: it was surrounded by water but suffered from a shortage of safe drinking water; it went to aid the Catholic Church many times at its own expense yet was looked down upon by the Pope and other Christian nations; the merchant city was so serious and yet the buildings and canals looked like they were plucked out of a dream world. I learned so much from this book and highly recommend it.