Venice is one of those historically unique cities that defies description: built in the swamps and lagoons of the upper end of the Adriatic Sea, one might have good reason to marvel at how it became one of the key commercial entrepots of medieval Europe. Historian Madden produces a very readable and fascinating account of how this port city led the way in revitalizing the European economy of the day through expanded trade and commerce. The merchant class of Venice were always looking to make their living off the sea, by trading in preciosities like spices, silks, precious metals, and jewels from the orient. To do this effectively, Venice had to maintain its political independence from the Holy Roman Empire to the north, the Papacy to the west, and the Turks to the east by forging timely alliances, raising critical cash, and introducing radically new commercial practices. From its humble beginnings centuries back, when a group of raiders audaciously reclaimed the bones of St. Mark (the city’s patron saint) from Alexandria, Venice has always been on the cutting edge. Venetians led the way in defending the interests of Christianity in the east part of the old Roman empire, sending the likes of the Polo family out into the far-flung corners of the Orient in search of new markets, bank-rolling numerous crusades to capture Jerusalem and Acre, constructing one of the most extensive commercial fleets in the Mediterranean, and introducing the world to double-entry bookkeeping. What makes this book worth reading is that it balances the good with the bad. Venice’s history of taking to the sea, regularly defeating its political foes, while maintaining its autonomy was not without many challenges: invasions, sieges, defeats, uprisings, and plagues. As a city-state cum republic, Venice even had to execute one of its more famous doges because he stepped out of line by forging a disadvantageous pact with a neighboring state. While much is said about Venetian architecture and art over the centuries – palaces and churches that combined a magical mixture of Byzantine and Gothic – nothing equals its indomitable will to change with the times without compromising its will to remain master of its own fate. When trade tailed off in the fifteenth century, Venetians became immersed in the Renaissance by promoting humanism, becoming patrons of the arts, and publishing exciting new works of scientific renown.