The embarrassment of riches : an interpretation of Dutch culture in the golden age /

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Main Author: Schama, Simon
Format: Book
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Review by Choice Review

Schama (Harvard), the author of this unconventional book, has written two other interesting books-Patriots and Liberators (CH, Nov '77) and Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel (CH, Apr '79). Here, Schama traces the development of simple farming, fishing, and shipping communities without shared language, religion, and government, into a formidable world empire commonly known as the Dutch republic. In this profusely illustrated work, the author explores the land and the collective personality of the Dutch people, using contemporary collections of documents, contemporary literature of all sorts, paintings and drawings, and even cookery recipes, sign boards, and stained-glass windows. His canvas is, indeed, enormous and his multitude of characters highly interesting and amusing. Schama sees the central dilemma of the 17th-century Dutch as how to be moral and rich at the same time. The Dutch had been taught by their spiritual leaders that great wealth was given as a test of moral fiber. They had to live with it to survive, but they were commanded to disdain it so that they might endure. This beautifully produced book has 314 illustrations, excellent bibliographical guide, highly useful appendixes, detailed footnotes, and a good index. For scholars and general readers alike.-E. Anderson, San Jose State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Despite Calvinist sermons on thrift, the Dutch upper and middle classes flaunted their wealth in the consumer paradise that was 17th century Hollandbut they lived uneasily with material riches. How the Dutch reconciled piety with their commitment to profits is just one of the conundrums explored in this cultural history by a Harvard professor. Netherlandic seafarers built a world empire in just two generations; the Dutch nation's precocious rise to power as presented here helps to explain their defensive patriotism, the mania of housewives for cleanliness and the ideal of the family as a miniature commonwealth. The Dutch urge to classify was evident in everything from their tulip classification system to paintings of children's games. Delving into customs, beliefs, popular art and quirks of behavior, Schama has fashioned a tour de force, a profound, unconventional and rewarding portrait of a people. Photos not seen by PW. Reader's Subscription Book Club alternate. (May 31) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Scholarly, exhaustively researched, packed with highly esoteric information, this massive study is less daunting than it might seem at first glance, thanks to Schama's lively writing style and his eye for the colorful and thought-provoking detail. Specialized, but likely to instruct and, more importantly, entertain the general reader. Focusing his attention on the Netherlands during the 17th century, Schama investigates the linkage that the citizens who wrested their lands from the sea felt with the waters lapping their shores. The sea, quite understandably, was viewed as an enemy and, in a particularly evocative section, the author discourses at length on the identification the Dutch felt with the Children of Israel, especially the Jews of Exodus and their flight through the Red Sea. It is intriguing to speculate on how Netherlander attitudes influenced our Puritan forebears during their stay in the Low Countries. Puritan talk of founding the ""New Jerusalem"" and the Calvinist emphasis on Old Testament teachings owe much lo the Pilgrims' sojourn in the Netherlands. Equally provocative are the insights given into Golden Age attitudes toward sexuality--chastity was demanded and. again, had something to do with Old Testament attitudes, this time toward ""cleanliness."" Not that women were secluded, as they were in Latin countries; they were, in fact, quite liberated in their social intercourse, but a Dutch woman's reputation had to be as spotless as her doorstep. The dichotomy between apparently uninhibited public behavior and the strictest private morality confused and shocked both Catholic visitors and Puritan moralists. Among other topics that come under Schama's scrutiny are art, superstition. finance and child-rearing during the period when the Dutch Republic was one of Europe's superpowers. In each area he explores, Schama discovers details that prompt far-ranging speculations about religion, philosophy and the human condition. A stimulating and important dissection of a little-known but constantly fascinating era. A lavish compilation of 325 photographs (not seen) illustrates the text. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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