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Publishers Weekly Review:

“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.)”

Kirkus Review 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 may 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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 9/22/2020 – Inventing the World is one of the main selections for December 2020 on the History Book Club.

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9/22/2020 – Inventing the World is also be an alternate selection for December 2020 on the Military Book Club.

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9/22/2020 – Inventing the World is also be an alternate selection for December 2020 on the Library of Science Book Club.