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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nurturing a new republic
From a rich foundation of material and an exquisite writing style, Schama guides us through the formative years of the Dutch Republic. The politics of that creation, however, he leaves to others. Instead, he addresses the underlying conditions of Dutch society of the period. At the outset, he decrees he will avoid Culture in favour of culture. This welcome departure makes...
Published on 29 Aug. 2005 by Stephen A. Haines

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fine if you're already an expert ...
Not for the first time, the difference between Schama the TV presenter and Schama the historian is laid bare. Frankly I prefer the former. This book is full of dense thickets of facts and anecdotal detail but is all but unreadable. I find his prose style florid and self-indulgent. It is full of contemporary observations but there is no sense of a coherent narrative. He...
Published 3 months ago by Shove Coupler


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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nurturing a new republic, 29 Aug. 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
From a rich foundation of material and an exquisite writing style, Schama guides us through the formative years of the Dutch Republic. The politics of that creation, however, he leaves to others. Instead, he addresses the underlying conditions of Dutch society of the period. At the outset, he decrees he will avoid Culture in favour of culture. This welcome departure makes this book a treasure of information. However, it isn't a volume for the novice. Much background history in Enlightenment Europe in general and the Dutch role in particular, is required before tackling this book.
That a beached whale can become a cultural artefact seems aberrant at first glance. The Dutch, as Calvinists, could find a moral message in a wide disparity of events. Whale beachings proved no exception. Pamphlets, articles, even books could make use of cetacean corpses to invoke metaphors of nationalism, extravagance, profit, indulgence and divine messages. Schama shows how easily the besieged Protestant nation at the edge of Catholic Europe found means to justify and define their existence. This form of thinking and expression gave the Dutch strength to sustain a novel experiment in society and nationhood. It also refutes the suggestion that the Dutch were governed by a dogmatist Calvinism. Flexibility and tolerance, no matter how often challenged, remained the foundation of Dutch culture. Against all odds, the Republic survived and flourished.
The flourishing becomes the pivotal point in Schama's account. The influx of riches from global trade challenged aspects of Calvinist values. Extravagance was condemned, but not impaired. The lure of commerce was strong and the accumulation of wealth too rapid to be hampered. Calvinist ministers might rail at the influx of gold, but their wrath was constrained by a society manifestly stable. Excesses remained rare as the burghers pursued their wealth soberly. Ostentation, Schama notes, didn't mean extravagance.
As Schama clearly describes, flourishing trade opened minds as well as purses. Opinions flourished with bank accounts and the Dutch Enlightenment attracted exiles from more dogmatic societies. He pulls together many threads in weaving his tapestry of Dutch culture, enhanced by numerous illustrations conveying the wealth of allegorical images used to influence social and national mores. The varieties of thinking meant that the Dutch Republic came into existence without an underlying ideology or dogma. Even the Republic's borders remained too fluid to establish a certain national identity from them.
If there are faults in Schama's sweeping account, they are few, but significant. An introductory chapter on the chronology of events would ease the novice's entry to this weighty narrative. His focus, while a needed supplement to general histories, is a bit tight. He spends many pages recounting the history of a single midwife as exemplary. On the other hand, the role of immigrants is given short shrift. Jewish contacts in Iberia and the New World were an important facet of economic growth. Trade with the Far East is granted only marginally more attention. As the roots of "the embarrassment of riches" one would expect more attention be given them. He ignores many major thinkers, perhaps slotting them into his disdained Culture. Yet many major figures of the era go begging for ink space in his book - Spinoza, Descartes and others were not writing for themselves. Even posthumously, their opinions affected the thinking of literate Dutch - and in a burgher society, there were many of those. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding cultural interpretation of the Dutch Republic, 30 Mar. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
This is narrative, factually dense history at its best. Schama demonstrates an immense range of knowledge and insight in this analysis of the rise and fall the 17th century Dutch Republic. Using art particularly, but Dutch culture of the Golden Age as a whole, he shows the heart of the nation with all its neuroses and religious idiosyncracies. A fantastic tour de force. One of the best history books I've read.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book: erudite yet very readable, 8 Nov. 2000
This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
A fascinating insight into the origins of one of our closest neighbouring states. Wonderfully readable, superior in this respect to many other bestselling history books. The themes are often surprising (the popularity of breakfast paintings, for example) but help to demonstrate how widely distributed was the wealth of the nation in that era. It's interesting to consider the confluence of trade and democracy in such a centrally-located country, when all around was despotism, and to reflect on its importance in sowing the seeds of liberal democracy to its neighbours in succeeding centuries.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of a book for research and enjoyment, 25 Nov. 2012
This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
Intimate details of the Dutch obsession with hygeine and their indulgent attitude to children, brought this book alive for a modern reader. The author's style is reminiscent of his quirky TV appearance. I could almost see him as I read his wonderful book. It kept me captivated from start to finish. I was reading to research for my own book,(John Lofting available on Amazon),but it stood in its own right as a real gem for me, and now takes pride of place on my bookshelves for dipping into again later.
John LoftingJohn Lofting: 1
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This was very good & he whizzes along, 2 Jan. 2015
This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
Having had Dutch family members (ex-sister-in-law, guardians), I realised how much we have got from them (or copied) & I enjoyed this book. It was incredibly informative, frank & thorough about whole way of life & the art. The photographs were particularly good. I'd read it again as it's the only book I know of its type. He whizzes along with serious, important information rather like on tv. I think this is the best of his books that I've read (Rough Crossing & History of Britain). I will certainly be reading more of Simon Schama's - maybe on more art.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Embarrassment of Riches, 22 Nov. 2009
By 
Geoffrey H. Fearnley "Geoff. Fearnley "lo... (I am a tyke from Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
I purchased this excellent book as a reference for my BA (hons) degree dissertation which I am in the process of writing. The book was recommended by my tutor as part of my reading material. I keep dipping into the pages and I must say that those areas that I have used for my research, so far, have been most helpful and enlightening I shall not be using the book to read from cover to cover(700 pages),for it is not intended to be a novel but will use it as a reference to assist me in theorising my subject. The book is well written and extremely well researched. The bibliography is endless and the references are numerous. Michael Schama's enthusiasm for his subject is obvious. The book also contains an abundance of images helping him to make his point.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fine if you're already an expert ..., 4 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
Not for the first time, the difference between Schama the TV presenter and Schama the historian is laid bare. Frankly I prefer the former. This book is full of dense thickets of facts and anecdotal detail but is all but unreadable. I find his prose style florid and self-indulgent. It is full of contemporary observations but there is no sense of a coherent narrative. He keeps skitting about: "so-and-so said in 1644 ... a view repudiated in 1647 when ... just as, ten years earlier, so-and-so commented ... " you lose any sense of whereabouts in time you are, or who's views you are reading, or why you should care. OK, history isn't a coherent narrative but that's what I want the historian to make of it! The book is lavishly illustrated, but, in the paperback edition, in black and white; reasonalbe enough for a small engraving or pamphlet, but reducing an entire painted ceiling to a two-inch grey-and-white square seems pretty pointless.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Embarrassment of Riches, 26 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
Schama is always accessible and a delight, he makes learning and understanding easy. This text is no different. A useful adjunct to more weighty tombs
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27 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars History for professional historians. An endurance test., 6 Jan. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
This is a work of erudition and painstaking research. So much so that I suspect it presents a dense thicket of quirky historicism to the average reader. Schama seeks out the collective self image, the self identity of the Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries. His tool is metaphor; in this case it is dyke building by the Dutch in their reclamation of land. Holding back the waters has a dual biblical and political significance which defines the mentality of the Dutch federacy. Schama's preoccupation is assembling evidence in support of the existence of a collective national consciousness and its evolution and dialogue with daily life and commerce. If one disagrees that such phenomena exist, or even if they do, that they can be exhaustively analysed in Schama's terms, then this work may be difficult to endure. There is a vast amount of information in the work; some astounding, some funny, but mostly dry unless Dutch history is your forte. As a non historian, I found this work prolix, pedantic and ultimately self indulgent. However, I would have nothing but admiration for the scholarship involved in the work.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 13 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Paperback)
somewhat heavy going - but immensly informative about the Golden Age - Dutch Culture
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