Meredith Small is a best selling author, award winning anthropologist, Professor Emerita at Cornell University, and Visiting Scholar in the Department of Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Meredith’s upcoming book, Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization discusses the historical and anthropological influences of Venice, Italy, on Western society through a long list of uniquely Venetian inventions. 


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Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization by Meredith F. Small

Release Date: December 2020

Kirkus Review just out for Inventing the World

“Venice does not lack for admirers, but this is an inventive addition to a crowded genre. An anthropologist at Cornell, Small emphasizes the city’s social structure as she describes “how one small place had an outsized influence on the development of Western culture.” Venice lovers already familiar with plaudits by other travelers and historians will enjoy this different perspective. At its peak, historical Venice was far from the largest city in Italy, let alone Europe. A republic for more than 1,000 years, its government was an oligarchy with a weak leader (duke or “doge”) and an economy based on trade. Throughout history, an obsession with making money, although unattractive in an individual, was a feature of the most liberal societies. “Cutthroat” competition among Venice’s businessmen was rarely taken literally, which was not the case in other nations, where disagreements in religion or politics routinely ended in bloodshed. A center of European culture and science during the Renaissance, Venice paid little attention to papal strictures. Galileo’s  troubles with religious authorities took place after he left. Taking advantage of the first copyright laws, Venetian established great publishing houses and invented the paperback, most punctuation marks and the thesaurus. Small gives its heralded arts a nod but focuses mostly on its spectacular stream of new ideas, techniques, and inventions. To facilitate business, Venetians invented double-entry bookkeeping, national banks, government bonds, and reliable currency. Modern experimental medicine began at the University of Padua, then part of Venice. Other firsts include patent laws, eyeglasses, a department of health, public defenders, and national surveys and maps. Most readers know that rising seas are a critical danger, but Small also points out that Venice maybe be the first city destroyed by tourism. Its shrinking population of about 50,000 hosts 22 million visitors per year, who pack its streets and canals more densely than Disneyland in an area not much bigger. The book includes a “chronology of Venetian inventions.” An enthusiastic and appreciation of a unique, increasingly vulnerable city. “

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