The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Ageby Simon Schama
Pub. Date: 12/28/1997
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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… See more details below
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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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.
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.