The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age

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Schama explores the mysterious contradictions of the Dutch nation that invented itself from the ground up, attained an unprecedented level of affluence, and lived in constant dread of being corrupted by happiness. Drawing on a vast array of period documents and sumptuously reproduced art, Schama re-creates in precise detail a nation's mental state. He tells of bloody uprisings and beached whales, of the cult of hygiene and the plague of tobacco, of thrifty housewives and profligate tulip-speculators. He tells us how the Dutch celebrated themselves and how they were slandered by their enemies.

"History on the grand scale...An ambitious portrait of one of the most remarkable episodes in modern history."—New York Times

"Wonderfully inclusive; with wit and intense curiosity he teases out meaning from every aspect of Dutch seventeenth-century life."—Robert Hughes

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
PI Holland Taylor is a former cop with an African American associate who covers his back, a high-level friend on the police force and a very smart lady who tries to keep him on the straight path. He also practices martial arts, brews exotic coffee and favors a special brand of local beer. But Housewrightwho won an Edgar for best first novel with Taylor's debut in Penance 1996does more than merely echo Robert B. Parker's Spenser in this second episode: he tells a good story in a setting he makes his own. Taylor works out of Minnesota's Twin Cities, far from Boston; the black associate is Freddie Sidney Poitier Fredricks, a venal and definitely downscale PI who wouldn't last two minutes up against Parker's Hawk. The cop friend keeps tossing Taylor into jail. The lady is Cynthia Grey, a lawyer who used to be a stripper. Taylor's martial arts practices may well compensate for his slight build. Housewright's plot is as open-faced as his genial homage. Asked by his father to help an 85-year-old neighbor recover the life savings stolen from her by Levering Field, an oily investment counselor, Taylor uses a cross-dressing computer genius to harass the swindler. But just as Field is ready to cave in, he's found deadand somebody with very good aim is also shooting at Taylor. Housewright's wit, while making the most of the bow to Parker, should earn him an acclaim all his own. Nov.
Library Journal
When and how did the Dutch become Dutch? At the start of the 16th century, they possessed neither common political heritage, religion, nor tongue. ``The most extraordinary invention of this country . . . was its own culture,'' says Schama. He catalogs the elements of the Dutchman's identity. His gluttony, obsession with cleanliness, pursuit of wealth, love of family and children, and enshrinement of the home all point to dichotomies and ambivalences that shaped Dutch character. The Dutch sought a way to safeguard themselves from a fall from grace while permitting them to enjoy the bounteous benefits of the material world. The Scriptures set the framework for this discourse, humanist teachings shaped their answers. A satisfying addition to the growing literature on sensibilities in the early modern era. Recommended. David Keymer, Dean of Students, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Utica
Library Journal
Brian Emerson returns with a deadpan Dragnet reading as Holland Taylor. This PI caper opens with a series of trite high school pranks as Hollands first attempt to squeeze out the embezzler of elderly Mrs. Gustafsons life savings. Millions of dollars and the reputations of high-profile Twin Cities citizens are at stake as a hired gun stalks Holland and key suspects Levering and Amanda Field. Housewright does a meager job of characterizing Taylor and Cynthia Gray, Taylors love interest cum lawyer, while others are left with cardboard personalities. Recommended only where recorded PI stories are very popular.Sandy Glover, West Linn P.L., OR
Kirkus Reviews
When you're in business to bilk sweet old widows out of their life savings, you deserve whatever happens to you. So when St. Paul shamus Holland Taylor's parents ask him to go after the $287,000 that trusting Irene Gustafson gave to investments counselor Levering Field, and when Field and his smiling attorney Monica Adler tell Taylor that Mrs. Gustafson will be dead long before a court ever orders him to pay her a penny—and besides, he's prudently placed all his assets in his teenaged daughter's name—he figures he's well within his rights in ruining Field's life. And that's what he and his cross-dressing computer-expert friend Steve (a.k.a. Sara) VanderTop set out to do. Some of their harassments are ingenious, others merely satisfyingly petty, but soon they've got Field crying uncle. Sadly, that's practically the last thing he does cry before Taylor, followed closely by the cops, stumbles over his dead body. Homicide chief Lt. Anne Scalasi turns Taylor loose when he can prove an alibi, but his troubles are just beginning. For one thing, somebody's shooting at him, too—and with the same .32 that killed Field; for another, he's getting a double dose of all the dirty tricks, from unwanted pizza deliveries to threatening phone calls, that he pulled on Field. With Field dead, who could be looking for revenge? And who could possibly want both Field and Taylor dead?

Housewright follows up his Edgar-winning debut (Penance, 1995) with a greased-lightning tale of scam and counterscam that's still bubbling merrily when the fat lady sings.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679781240
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/1997
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 251,315
  • Product dimensions: 6.63 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Schama
Simon Schama

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University; a bestselling, prize-winning author and broadcaster; and an art critic and cultural essayist for The New Yorker whose writing has also appeared regularly in The New Republic, The Guardian, and The New York Review of Books.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2001

    Take a Netherlands primer first...

    While this book contains vast, deep information about the Dutch Golden Age and the uneasy relations they had with their wealth, success and place in the world, it is thin on background information. Names like William the Silent are tossed around as if they are as well known as George Washington. My advice would be to first go to Encarta or some other online encyclopedia and read up on a general history of the Netherlands, especially during this period. I did this in the middle of the book and wish I had done it earlier. The book assumes a general knowledge of Dutch history and those who don't read an overview will feel a bit left out of the book's basic assumptions.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I knew Schama from his A History of Britain series via BBC/Histo

    I knew Schama from his A History of Britain series via BBC/History and I have been interested about the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, so that's what brought me to this book. My usual history reading were usually biographies or general histories, so a book dealing with cultural attitudes was something new for me. Overall it was very informative and Schama gives ample examples with engravings and prints thus showing his thorough research. But during some sections, it was a grind to read so much so that I was barely making a dent in the book as time went on. I started this book at the beginning of March and instead of getting through by the end of the month, I still had a ways to go. After taking a break to read a fictional work, it took me only 8 days after picking this book up again to finish. But don't let my own troubles dissuade you from purchasing this book, the insight into Golden Age Dutch culture gives one a basis in viewing Dutch's political, diplomatic, and military decisions during Europe's early modern period.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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