The best books about Venice

7 authors have picked their favorite books about Venice and why they recommend each book.

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The Companion Guide to Venice (Companion Guides)

By Hugh Honour,

Book cover of The Companion Guide to Venice (Companion Guides)

Every visitor, regardless of how often he or she has been somewhere, needs an engaging, accurate, and timely guidebook. Hugh Honour’s Companion Guide to Venice is my choice because it was written by an art historian who lived in Italy (he died sadly in 2016) and because it falls into that rarified category of guides that not only describe what you are seeing and how to get there but also places the artwork, building or site in a broader context. Thus, the book functions as a history of Venice and Venetian culture and an insight into its unique society. It is also beautifully written in carefully crafted and modulated sections that evoke the grandeur of the city and its lagoon.


Who am I?

My first encounter with Venice was as a PhD student consulting the state archives in the former monastery attached to the basilica of the Frari, a place redolent of the history and culture of the city, lined with the tombs of doges. This inspired me to learn more about this improbable city, a curiosity that has never waned. Since then, I have visited the city more times than I can count, taking students, cultural tours, and visiting my many friends. Consequently, I was invited to produce my Essential Italy for Smithsonian Journeys and later their first virtual reality tour of the city. I can never tire of Venice nor completely know it.


I wrote...

The Smithsonian Guide to Essential Italy: The Great Courses

By Kenneth R. Bartlett,

Book cover of The Smithsonian Guide to Essential Italy: The Great Courses

What is my book about?

The Guide to Essential Italy is your own grand tour of Italy focussing on the most historically and culturally compelling experiences. It is an Italian itinerary designed to present a fascinating picture of this captivating destination, a circuit that explores some of the most significant sites to illustrate the rich historical and cultural legacy of the peninsula. A breathtaking travel journey, this 36-segment video tour and travelogue lets you walk the streets and savour the heritage of Italy’s premiere destinations of Rome, Tuscany, and Venice, with side trips to additional treasures of Italian civilization.

The World of Venice

By Jan Morris,

Book cover of The World of Venice

The greatest travel writer of her generation (she died in November of 2020) produced a popular introduction to the city, mixing fact and story in her uniquely engaging style. It is a book that rivals Honour’s guide but focuses more on the patterns and rituals of life in Venice, linked by a profound appreciation for that unusual place, a city where the “streets are full of water”. If you like Morris, you might also be interested in her old but still engaging Venice, written when she was still James Morris.


Who am I?

My first encounter with Venice was as a PhD student consulting the state archives in the former monastery attached to the basilica of the Frari, a place redolent of the history and culture of the city, lined with the tombs of doges. This inspired me to learn more about this improbable city, a curiosity that has never waned. Since then, I have visited the city more times than I can count, taking students, cultural tours, and visiting my many friends. Consequently, I was invited to produce my Essential Italy for Smithsonian Journeys and later their first virtual reality tour of the city. I can never tire of Venice nor completely know it.


I wrote...

The Smithsonian Guide to Essential Italy: The Great Courses

By Kenneth R. Bartlett,

Book cover of The Smithsonian Guide to Essential Italy: The Great Courses

What is my book about?

The Guide to Essential Italy is your own grand tour of Italy focussing on the most historically and culturally compelling experiences. It is an Italian itinerary designed to present a fascinating picture of this captivating destination, a circuit that explores some of the most significant sites to illustrate the rich historical and cultural legacy of the peninsula. A breathtaking travel journey, this 36-segment video tour and travelogue lets you walk the streets and savour the heritage of Italy’s premiere destinations of Rome, Tuscany, and Venice, with side trips to additional treasures of Italian civilization.

The City of Falling Angels

By John Berendt,

Book cover of The City of Falling Angels

Berendt, the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, provides a parallel exposé of Venice and its many worlds, a complex intertwined collection of stories, events, and personalities that begins with the fire that gutted the Teatro La Fenice in 1996. Fuelled by newspaper stories, gossip, conspiracy theories, and convincing evidence, the book digs into the unseen traditional world of Venetian society and official corruption and incompetence, revealing an extraordinary cast of characters both Venetian and foreign. It is a book you will either love or hate, but its narrative struck a chord, as my Venetian friends will agree.


Who am I?

My first encounter with Venice was as a PhD student consulting the state archives in the former monastery attached to the basilica of the Frari, a place redolent of the history and culture of the city, lined with the tombs of doges. This inspired me to learn more about this improbable city, a curiosity that has never waned. Since then, I have visited the city more times than I can count, taking students, cultural tours, and visiting my many friends. Consequently, I was invited to produce my Essential Italy for Smithsonian Journeys and later their first virtual reality tour of the city. I can never tire of Venice nor completely know it.


I wrote...

The Smithsonian Guide to Essential Italy: The Great Courses

By Kenneth R. Bartlett,

Book cover of The Smithsonian Guide to Essential Italy: The Great Courses

What is my book about?

The Guide to Essential Italy is your own grand tour of Italy focussing on the most historically and culturally compelling experiences. It is an Italian itinerary designed to present a fascinating picture of this captivating destination, a circuit that explores some of the most significant sites to illustrate the rich historical and cultural legacy of the peninsula. A breathtaking travel journey, this 36-segment video tour and travelogue lets you walk the streets and savour the heritage of Italy’s premiere destinations of Rome, Tuscany, and Venice, with side trips to additional treasures of Italian civilization.

Secret Venice

By Thomas Jonglez, Paola Zoffoli,

Book cover of Secret Venice

If you truly want to know a city, you must go beyond even the best guidebooks into those specialized collections of stories, myths, gossip, and suppressed facts. Much cultural history is in fact officially recorded gossip, so there is no opprobrium in enjoying the salacious, highly local, and fascinating stories that are known only to oral history. This is such a book: a fascinating collection of legends, myths, gossip, and generally little-known stories about Venice.


Who am I?

My first encounter with Venice was as a PhD student consulting the state archives in the former monastery attached to the basilica of the Frari, a place redolent of the history and culture of the city, lined with the tombs of doges. This inspired me to learn more about this improbable city, a curiosity that has never waned. Since then, I have visited the city more times than I can count, taking students, cultural tours, and visiting my many friends. Consequently, I was invited to produce my Essential Italy for Smithsonian Journeys and later their first virtual reality tour of the city. I can never tire of Venice nor completely know it.


I wrote...

The Smithsonian Guide to Essential Italy: The Great Courses

By Kenneth R. Bartlett,

Book cover of The Smithsonian Guide to Essential Italy: The Great Courses

What is my book about?

The Guide to Essential Italy is your own grand tour of Italy focussing on the most historically and culturally compelling experiences. It is an Italian itinerary designed to present a fascinating picture of this captivating destination, a circuit that explores some of the most significant sites to illustrate the rich historical and cultural legacy of the peninsula. A breathtaking travel journey, this 36-segment video tour and travelogue lets you walk the streets and savour the heritage of Italy’s premiere destinations of Rome, Tuscany, and Venice, with side trips to additional treasures of Italian civilization.

Venice

By Jan Morris,

Book cover of Venice

Jan Morris’s book is a fantastic discussion about the evolution of Venice. It explores why the city looks as it does, why the inhabitants behave in a particular manner, it explains how the buildings are constructed, why the boats are shaped as they are, how the navy constructed their Arsenale, what is best to eat, and when, what the climate is like and how this has informed behaviour and so much more...


Who am I?

For more than thirty years I have been discussing, formulating ideas, and writing about Architecture, Building Reuse, and Interiors. I lead the MA Architecture and Adaptive Reuse programme and direct graduate atelier Continuity in Architecture at the Manchester School of Architecture. I am currently the Visiting Professor at the University IUAV of Venice where I am conducting research on the sustainable adaptation of existing buildings with particular emphasis on the environmental concerns within the inherently fragile city of Venice.


I wrote...

Inside Information: The Defining Concepts of Interior Design

By Sally Stone,

Book cover of Inside Information: The Defining Concepts of Interior Design

What is my book about?

Inside Information is a chatty and well-informed conversation about the theoretical ideas that inform the interior. Written as a collection of 26 conversations, from Ante to Zeitgeist, Inside Information explores the rich diversity of areas that inform the subject, and ideas that underpin it. This thesaurus of interiors transcends the boundaries and genres that often define interiors, providing a comprehensive view of the concepts and vocabulary of interior design. It is a practical introduction for the professional, a set of provocation for the scholar, a ‘good read’ filled with anecdote and speculation for the amateur, and primer for the students.

Venice Is a Fish

By Tiziano Scarpa,

Book cover of Venice Is a Fish: A Sensual Guide

Venice is a Fish is the book to carry to Venice so that you can sit in a campo somewhere (or at a café with a spritz) and read it during your stay. A funny, fun, and informative book about Venice as it is now, as well as over its long history. Then you can follow in the book’s footsteps and go for a walk and get lost.

Who am I?

I am an anthropologist who became attached to Venice after spending time in Italian language school there and returning over and over, often staying for months. What tourists see is the superficial beauty of the city. But Venice is a place of incredible depth and complexity, both historically and today. During my many visits, I began to hear (on the street) and read (in museums) of the many inventions that happened in Venice. I soon started making a list and, with additional reading, this list grew to 220 inventions—such as quarantine and the paperback book—and realized how much we owe to Venice for how we navigate the world today.


I wrote...

Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

By Meredith Small,

Book cover of Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

What is my book about?

An epic cultural journey that reveals how Venetian ingenuity and inventions—from sunglasses and forks to bonds and currency—shaped modernity.

How did a small, isolated city—with a population that never exceeded 100,000, even in its heyday—come to transform western civilization? Acclaimed anthropologist Meredith Small examines the unique Venetian social structure that was key to their explosion of creativity and invention that ranged from the material to the social.

Veneziaenigma

By Alberto Toso Fei,

Book cover of Veneziaenigma: Thirteen Centuries of Chronicles, Mysteries, Curiosities and Extraordinary Events Poised Between History and Myth

Toso Fei is a Venetian author who writes about the quirks and mysteries of Venice. He has several books about ghost stories, strange events, and inventions. All his books are great because he not only writes well but is knowledgeable as only an insider can be.


Who am I?

I am an anthropologist who became attached to Venice after spending time in Italian language school there and returning over and over, often staying for months. What tourists see is the superficial beauty of the city. But Venice is a place of incredible depth and complexity, both historically and today. During my many visits, I began to hear (on the street) and read (in museums) of the many inventions that happened in Venice. I soon started making a list and, with additional reading, this list grew to 220 inventions—such as quarantine and the paperback book—and realized how much we owe to Venice for how we navigate the world today.


I wrote...

Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

By Meredith Small,

Book cover of Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

What is my book about?

An epic cultural journey that reveals how Venetian ingenuity and inventions—from sunglasses and forks to bonds and currency—shaped modernity.

How did a small, isolated city—with a population that never exceeded 100,000, even in its heyday—come to transform western civilization? Acclaimed anthropologist Meredith Small examines the unique Venetian social structure that was key to their explosion of creativity and invention that ranged from the material to the social.

A Venetian Affair

By Andrea di Robilant,

Book cover of A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century

This creative non-fiction book is both the real history of a couple in love and the story of di Robilant discovering their letters in the family palazzo. The drama plays out during the 18th century, a time when Venice is heading for decline. His other books are also wonderful, especially Irresistible North about the Zen brothers exploring the North Sea.

Who am I?

I am an anthropologist who became attached to Venice after spending time in Italian language school there and returning over and over, often staying for months. What tourists see is the superficial beauty of the city. But Venice is a place of incredible depth and complexity, both historically and today. During my many visits, I began to hear (on the street) and read (in museums) of the many inventions that happened in Venice. I soon started making a list and, with additional reading, this list grew to 220 inventions—such as quarantine and the paperback book—and realized how much we owe to Venice for how we navigate the world today.


I wrote...

Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

By Meredith Small,

Book cover of Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

What is my book about?

An epic cultural journey that reveals how Venetian ingenuity and inventions—from sunglasses and forks to bonds and currency—shaped modernity.

How did a small, isolated city—with a population that never exceeded 100,000, even in its heyday—come to transform western civilization? Acclaimed anthropologist Meredith Small examines the unique Venetian social structure that was key to their explosion of creativity and invention that ranged from the material to the social.

Venice Observed

By Mary McCarthy,

Book cover of Venice Observed

Here you get McCarthy’s whit and her fine descriptions about living in Venice. Although her stay happened long ago, her stories about interacting with her landlord and other Venetians, and all the adjustments one must make when living in a water-bound city, ring true today as well.

Who am I?

I am an anthropologist who became attached to Venice after spending time in Italian language school there and returning over and over, often staying for months. What tourists see is the superficial beauty of the city. But Venice is a place of incredible depth and complexity, both historically and today. During my many visits, I began to hear (on the street) and read (in museums) of the many inventions that happened in Venice. I soon started making a list and, with additional reading, this list grew to 220 inventions—such as quarantine and the paperback book—and realized how much we owe to Venice for how we navigate the world today.


I wrote...

Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

By Meredith Small,

Book cover of Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

What is my book about?

An epic cultural journey that reveals how Venetian ingenuity and inventions—from sunglasses and forks to bonds and currency—shaped modernity.

How did a small, isolated city—with a population that never exceeded 100,000, even in its heyday—come to transform western civilization? Acclaimed anthropologist Meredith Small examines the unique Venetian social structure that was key to their explosion of creativity and invention that ranged from the material to the social.

The Passion

By Jeanette Winterson,

Book cover of The Passion

In my opinion, one of the finest living writers in the English language, Winterson masterfully spins a tale of historical, poetic, eccentric, dreamy and highly sensual, and gender-bending eroticism involving an androgynous hero during the Napoleonic era, and taking place in the kitchens of the emperor, on the battlefield and along the freezing march into Russia, as well as amid the canals of Venice. Always thought-provoking and rife with magical realism and plain heart-stopping imagery, tension, and poetry, Winterson tells her story in a manner that willif not change your ideas about everythingcertainly challenge them. I always feel inspired to stretch my understanding widerand I actually fall deeply in love with the world all over againeach time I finish a novel by Winterson.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing stories and poems with erotic themes since I first entered the spoken word scene in 1980s San Francisco. As a young queer boy, raised in the highly eroticized Catholic Church, I was actually comfortable talking about and writing about sex and eros as I’d been stigmatized by it, and it got me fascinated with what the big deal was and why writers were afraid to approach it or why they did so in a corny/predictable/idealized and/or often dishonest and clumsy way. Soon I was teaching erotic writing and have been integrating it into my writing in honest, fresh, and enlivening ways—and helping others do soever since.


I wrote...

A Horse Named Sorrow

By Trebor Healey,

Book cover of A Horse Named Sorrow

What is my book about?

Part road novel, part elegy for a San Francisco long gone, A Horse Named Sorrow introduces us to the quirky callow youth, Seamus Blake, tending to his dying lover, Jimmy, at the close of the 20th Century. An orphan in the sense of the land of misfit toys that was San Francisco, Seamus, confounded by grief and the riddle of life, sets out on a journey cross-country by bicycle to return Jimmy’s ashes to Buffalo, NY, honoring his lost boyfriend’s final request to take me back the way I came.’ Along the way, the story becomes a journey into the underworld, an American book of the dead, and a meditation on grief, love, sexuality and eroticism, family and genocide as Seamus befriends two native men.

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