It's a history of Venice back in the days when Venice was a big deal. If you think that Realpolitik is hardass nowadays, go read your history and weep for the soul of humanity.
Venice came to power in the Fourth Crusade. The Fourth Crusade nicely illustrates papal infallibility. The pope called upon Christian nations to seize Israel back from the followers of Islam because, you know, Jesus is love. Some armies got together and planned an invasion. But Venice was ferrying the armies and wanted to stop off along the way to strongarm one of their more uppity colonies a bit. Despite the pope's infallibility, he seemed somewhat surprised by this, sending angry letters that everyone would be excommunicated if they did this strongarming. The army's leaders didn't share the letters with the soldiers and so this Christian crusading army started out by intimidating other Christians. Then they got to talking with a pretender to the throne of the Byzantine Empire and decided to invade there. (They were promised that they would be welcomed as liberators, a story which has tricked America into invading countries on a few occasions. That story never gets old.) The pope had promised the Byzantine folks that nobody he controlled would invade them, but hey. At least he sent off more letters threatening excommunication.
The craziest thing about this little force of Crusader knights taking on big ol' Constantinople is that the Crusaders won. Being fine upright knights on a holy mission, they sacked Constantinople and stole everything. They also claimed parts of the former empire. Thus, the Venetians came away with a lot of gold; they also picked up some port colonies (some of which were OK with switching emperors, others of which resisted, many of which "got away").
They never got around to invading the holy land. Thank, infallible pope. For other viewpoints on this story, I tried googling fourth crusade debacle but that didn't work so well because apparently the other crusades were debacles, too.
The Venetians cared more about making money than about doing good. Back in those days, people didn't know much about economy or ethics. As it turned out, greedily trying to make money from imperial hegemony worked out a lot better than the more ethically-oriented governments of the day. The Venetians seemed to do a better job of anticipating the actions of other governments; perhaps it was their superior understanding of greed.
There was a rivalry with Genoa, another merchant empire, which got interesting when the Genoese invaded Chioggia, a town at the south end of Venice's lagoon. The fact that Genoa was able to do this suggested that all might be lost. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Venice. But they managed to turn things around, figured out how to cut off the invaders. They blocked the lagoon exits by scuttling ships; before this, the perception was that the Venetians were trapped in this lagoon with the Genoese guarding the exit; afterwards, the Genoese felt trapped in with the Venetians.
In the end, the Ottoman Turks rose up, built a mighty navy, and conquered the Venetians, reminding us that the course of empire is a roller coaster.
Speaking of razed things, this is the last book report in my "backlog". Back when I had a long bus commute, I read a lot. I read more books than I even wanted to post book reports of because, wow, too many book reports. So I saved them up. A year+ ago, my commute got short, and I read less, I still posted ~a book report a week, but a lot of those came from the backlog I'd saved up. Nowadays I'm in the middle of a couple of books... that I've been in the middle of for about five weeks. Depending on how long it takes me to finish one of them, it might be a darned long while before my next book report. Somehow, I think you'll endure their absence OK. I believe in you.