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The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture In the… (1987)

by Simon Schama

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,3871210,103 (4.12)44
This social and cultural study traces how in the 17th century a modest assortment of farming, fishing and shipping communities, without shared language, religion or government, transformed itself into a formidable world empire, the Dutch Republic.
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» See also 44 mentions

English (11)  Dutch (1)  All languages (12)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
This is a BIG book. Strap yourself in for a word and picture journey through the Netherlands of the 15th and 16th century. This is no history book; you are supposed to be somewhat familiar with it. An understanding of the Dutch language also helps. However, there is lots to learn about Dutch life in that period: family, marriage, children, relations between church and state, eating, housing, relationship between the 'classes' etc. One prominent topic is how the Dutch handled the tension between wealth creation and a Christian (indeed Reformed) attitude to money and charity.
A couple of comments:
- The pictures in my edition were in black and white, and do the details he described in the text were not often to be seen.
- He really flogs a topic to death - shorter is better?
- Knowing the Dutch language helped me (see above)
- There is a fair bit of focus on Amsterdam, and to a lesser degree Leiden and den Haag; the author does acknowledge this.
Anyway, read it and learn a bit about life in Europe and about words. ( )
  robeik | Nov 24, 2019 |
Amo tutto di questo libro: l'autore, la copertina, l'argomento, l'originalità dell'idea, le centinaia di immagini, la vastità e varietà di conoscenza su cui è costruito. Ma non mi nasconderò dietro a un dito (non servirebbe): questo libro è un mattone. Difficile, a volte noioso è lettura solo per chi crede nel detto che l'amore è cieco e se, per caso, l'oggetto del vostro amore fossero i Paesi bassi del '600 ne sareste ampiamente ripagati. Ma forse, come per la maggior parte degli abitanti del pianeta, una cuffietta in zoccoli con un tulipano tra i denti e un dito infilato nella fessura di una diga sono per voi un'immagine sufficiente del paese sott'acqua. Pazienza, forse avrete maggiore fortuna nella vostra prossima vita. ( )
  icaro. | Aug 31, 2017 |
Magnificent. Anyone who wants to understand the Golden Age of Dutch culture or the background of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) or Dutch art needs to read this volume--slowly and carefully. Yes, the prose is overdone and at times too serpentine, but the insights into virtually every aspect of 17C Dutch life make the going worth the journey. Treasures are found at every turn of the page.

The continuous threads are the issues of "vice versus virtue" or "materialism vs. morality" or a "respect for commerce rather than nobility" as experienced in the nursery as well as the Town Hall, but as an art historian, I was particularly interested in the symbolism of Dutch paintings and here's where readers with a similar interest will strike gold--symbols of punishment (p. 392 ), metaphors of virtue (p. 416 ), symbols of marital fidelity (pp. 425-6 ), symbols of wantoness (pp. 461-2 ), etc. etc. As in Chinese art ([b:Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery|3911674|Chinese Art A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery|Patricia Bjaaland Welch|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1364138720s/3911674.jpg|3957082], virtually every decorative aspect of a Dutch painting has a symbolic meaning --puppies, bowls of fruit, artichokes, a pipe, oysters, apes, maps, a block of cheese, a beached whale, a cripple's crutch, a spinning top, a pretzel, a Chinese blue & white platter, a red stocking, a string of coral beads around a child's neck, a slab of fish.

This said, such riches are not easily found as readers will look for such references in the Index in vain--there are no entries under Maps, Cartography, Apes, Dogs, Puppies, Coral, Pretzels etc. This translates into reading each and every of 622 pages...a task that could have been lightened by more maps, a better index and an explanatory paragraph or two here and there explaining those points of Dutch history that reared up 'out of nowhere' now and then. However, this book is a keeper and one that will, in a few years, inevitably show its value on my bookshelves by having acquired many well-thumbed pages. ( )
2 vote pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
Schama covers in amazing detail the culture and history of the Netherlands during the peak of its Golden Age in the seventeenth century. He provides great insight on some of the origins of the traits we associate with the Dutch - strong business sense, open mindedness, high value for cleanliness and a great work ethic. Although reading this entire book (700 pages) is a bit of a grind, the book is filled with photos of art from the Dutch masters and his descriptions of how they depict the culture of the Netherlands was fantastic. I wish I had read this before vacationing in Amsterdam this summer. Definitely a thoroughly researched and fascinating look at the Dutch Golden Age. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Simon Schama’s book is unusually difficult to review, for it is a frustrating mixture of the very good and the surprisingly bad.
 
In ''The Embarrassment of Riches'' Simon Schama has not set out to rewrite Motley's ''Rise of the Dutch Republic''; it is rather Johan Huizinga's sketch of ''Dutch Civilization in the Seventeenth Century'' he has sought to comprehend and expand. Yet his erudite and engrossing study far transcends the interests of only Dutch, or art, historians. It is a fascinating panorama as busily animated and skillfully composed as scenes by Hendrick Avercamp or Jan Steen (whose ''Fat Kitchen'' and ''Thin Kitchen,'' along with scores of other pictures in the book by many artists, speak to Mr. Schama's argument).
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Harold Beaver (Jul 19, 1987)
 
This monumental book has one monumental shortcoming. Not unlike the golden Dutch that Schama so eloquently describes, it tends to undo by overdoing. Nevertheless ...
 

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Schamaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dabekaussen, E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dabekaussen, EugèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dabekaussen, EugèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lange, B. deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lange, Barbara deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maters, TillyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"Let those who have abundance remember that they are surrounded with thorns, and let them take great care not to be pricked by them."

John Calvin
'Commentary on Genesis', 13:5,7
Dedication
For Ginny, with all my heart
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This social and cultural study traces how in the 17th century a modest assortment of farming, fishing and shipping communities, without shared language, religion or government, transformed itself into a formidable world empire, the Dutch Republic.

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