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

At the apogee of its powers in the seventeenth century, Holland was a tiny island of prosperity in a sea of want. Its homes were well-furnished and fanatically clean; its citizens feasted on 100-course banquets and speculated fortunes on new varieties of tulip. Yet, in the midst of plenty, the Dutch were ill at ease. In this brilliantly innovative book--which launched his reputation as one of our most perspicacious and stylish historians--Simon Schama explores the mysterious contradictions of a nation that invented itself from the ground up, attained an unprecedented level of affluence, and lived in dread of being corrupted by its happiness.

Drawing on a vast array of period documents and sumptuously reproduced art, Schama re-creates, in precise and loving detail, a nation's mental furniture. 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. The Embarrassment of Riches is a book that set a standard for its discipline; it throbs with life on every page.

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