Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

Meredith F. Small. Pegasus, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64313-538-0
Small (Our Babies, Ourselves), an anthropology professor at Cornell University, catalogs a dizzying array of Venetian innovations in this illuminating account of how “one small place had an outsized influence on the development of Western culture.” She discusses scientific research into how and why humans invent things, and examines how the origin myths of Venice, among them that God directed St. Mark to the island that became the Rialto, fostered innovation by verifying the Venetian identity as “unique, capable, strong, fearless, and independent.” Small organizes her study by category, beginning with Venetian contributions to maritime exploration (the first map to show a route around the Cape of Good Hope, the wind gauge, Marco Polo), and ending with “entertainment firsts,” including the first casino (the Ridotto, 1638). She also credits Venetians with inventing government bonds, the book copyright, and child labor laws, and discusses more troubling developments, including the creation of the first Jewish ghetto. The book’s final chapter looks at the impact of climate change and tourism on the city. Small enlivens her research with personal anecdotes about her love for Venice, and moves fluidly from one topic to the next. The result is a delightful and informative cabinet of wonders. Agent: Wendy Levinson, Harvey Klinger Agency. (Dec.)
Reviewed on : 09/21/2020
Release date: 12/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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