Jan Morris’ The World of Venice was one of the first books I read about Venice, and it remains one of my all-time favorites. Beautifully written and packed with detail, it captures the spirit of the city in all its magical and glorious strangeness. Plus, Morris did quirky things like go through the modern phone book to see how many of the Doges’ names are still in use; I love trivia like that!
(Answer: There were 120 doges between the years 697 and 1797 with 67 different last names (the job tended to run in families). In 1960 when her book was published, Morris found 39 of the names in the phone book. She did add the caveat that some might be descendents of servants rather than of the doges themselves).
Morris wrote another book, A Venetian Bestiary, in 1982. It’s a charming book about the animals of Venice, both real and imaginary. So there are the actual animals (pigeons, cats and dogs, sea birds, and strange sea creatures for sale in the Rialto Market), and also animals depicted in art like all the many lions, the four horses of San Marco, San Teodoro’s crocodile, Carpaccio’s little dog, the horse on the porch of Peggy Guggenheim’s house, and all the various dragons and monsters scattered all over the city.
The book was out of print for some time (I found a used copy on Amazon). Then in December, I saw a new edition in several bookshops in Venice. But buyer beware – this new edition doesn’t have any pictures! My copy has lots of color photos and reproductions of paintings, so I recommend looking for a used copy if you’re interested. Here’s what the cover of my copy looks like. It’s a wonderful book.
A note about the photo at the top: I took a picture of every cat I saw in Venice because they are so rare. The city is so filled with cute dogs that I just couldn’t give the dogs equal time, and instead I took only one dog's photo (it’s very representative of the level of canine cuteness you see all over town).