10 books like The Embarrassment of Riches

By Simon Schama,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Embarrassment of Riches. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Vermeer's Hat

By Timothy Brook,

Book cover of Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World

Brook uses artifacts portrayed in six paintings by the Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer to show how, several centuries before the World Wide Web, the local and the global were intimately connected. He surprises his readers by showing that people and goods and ideas moved around the 17th-century world in ways that – rather like us – their ancestors would have considered impossible. Perhaps because Brook is a Canadian historian of China who is familiar with Europe, he provides a truly global history and almost every page contains a “gee whiz” fact. I also love the idea that “Every picture tells a story.”

Vermeer's Hat

By Timothy Brook,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Vermeer's Hat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the epicentre of Delft in the Netherlands Brook takes the paintings of Johannes Vermeer and uses details of them as a series of entry points to the widest circles of world trade and cultural exchange in the seventeenth century. An officer's beaver hat in 'Officer and the Laughing Girl' opens up the story of Champlain's dealing with the native peoples of Canada and the beaver trade. A china dish on a table in another painting uncovers the story of the Chinese porcelain trade. Moving outwards from Vermeer's studio Brook traces the web of trade that was spreading across the…


The Death of Woman Wang

By Jonathan D. Spence,

Book cover of The Death of Woman Wang

We know more about “ordinary people” from the 17th century than any previous period. Some wrote their autobiographies; others left life histories written by friends or family; others still appeared in multiple sources that historians can link to reconstitute their existence. Most of the surviving evidence concerns males, but Jonathan Spence’s book about a region in northwest China examines the impact of floods, plagues, famines, banditry, and heavy taxation on women as well as men. One of those women was an unhappy wife – we don’t even know her name – who ran away from her husband with her lover but reluctantly returned when abandoned by the lover. Her husband then murdered her. Woman Wang thus epitomized the verdict of her English contemporary, Thomas Hobbes, that life in the 17th century was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

The Death of Woman Wang

By Jonathan D. Spence,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Death of Woman Wang as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Spence shows himself at once historian, detective, and artist. . . . He makes history howl." (The New Republic)

Award-winning author Jonathan D. Spence paints a vivid picture of an obscure place and time: provincial China in the seventeenth century. Life in the northeastern county of T'an-ch'eng emerges here as an endless cycle of floods, plagues, crop failures, banditry, and heavy taxation. Against this turbulent background a tenacious tax collector, an irascible farmer, and an unhappy wife act out a poignant drama at whose climax the wife, having run away from her husband, returns to him, only to die at…


The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661

By Carla Gardina Pestana,

Book cover of The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661

Between 1640 and 1660, England, Scotland, and Ireland experienced civil war, invasion, religious radicalism, parliamentary rule, and the restoration of the monarchy. None of that will surprise historians of Britain, but they may not realize the impact of these events on Britain’s new colonies across the Atlantic. Some of them remained loyal to the king until his victorious opponents sent the first major Transatlantic expeditionary force to subdue them. 

Pestana shows how war and rebellion in Britain increased both the proportion of unfree labourers and ethnic diversity in the colonies. Neglected by London, several of them developed trade networks; some entered the slave trade. By 1660, the English Atlantic had become religiously polarized, economically interconnected, socially exploitative, and ideologically unstable.

The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661

By Carla Gardina Pestana,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 1640 and 1660, England, Scotland, and Ireland faced civil war, invasion, religious radicalism, parliamentary rule, and the restoration of the monarchy. Carla Gardina Pestana offers a sweeping history that systematically connects these cataclysmic events and the development of the infant plantations from Newfoundland to Surinam.

By 1660, the English Atlantic emerged as religiously polarized, economically interconnected, socially exploitative, and ideologically anxious about its liberties. War increased both the proportion of unfree laborers and ethnic diversity in the settlements. Neglected by London, the colonies quickly developed trade networks, especially from seafaring New England, and entered the slave trade. Barbadian planters…


The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner

By Daniel Defoe,

Book cover of The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner

Good historical novels concentrate on gaps in the historical record, and use fiction to fill them – and in doing so, they illuminate the facts. Robinson Crusoe, the first historical novel in English (some claim the first English novel), used the story of a fictional sailor who left home in 1651 and returned in 1687 to show how the mental world in which his character grew up, riven by confessional conflict and civil war, differed from the mental world of his readers, in which colonies and capitalism had combined to produce great wealth. 

Among more recent works of fiction set in the 17th century, I particularly enjoyed Günther Grass, The meeting at Telgte (1981), set in Germany in 1647; and Iain Pears An instance of the fingerpost (1997), set in Oxford in 1663. Both include real historical figures.

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner

By Daniel Defoe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a reproduction of a classic text optimised for kindle devices. We have endeavoured to create this version as close to the original artefact as possible. Although occasionally there may be certain imperfections with these old texts, we believe they deserve to be made available for future generations to enjoy.


The Autumn of the Middle Ages

By Johan Huizinga, Rodney J. Payton (translator), Ulrich Mammitzsch (translator)

Book cover of The Autumn of the Middle Ages

Huizinga’s book was first published more than 100 years ago, in 1919, but it retains its value as a sparkling and original evocation of the world of late medieval Europe: its values, its thought, its violence, and – one of its great strengths - its visual arts. This last is not surprising, since the author’s main focus is on the Netherlands and northern France, where oil painting, the realistic portrait, and the landscape began in European art. The book has been translated into English more than once, with significantly different titles: in 1924 as The Waning of the Middle Ages, then – 72 years later! - as The Autumn of the Middle Ages. In 2020 there appeared yet another version - Autumntide of the Middle Ages. The book is ever young.

The Autumn of the Middle Ages

By Johan Huizinga, Rodney J. Payton (translator), Ulrich Mammitzsch (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Autumn of the Middle Ages as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a portrait of life, thought and art in 14th- and 15th-century France and the Netherlands. Regarded as an historical classic by many scholars, it has also been criticized and incorrectly translated. This edition corrects changes made by other translators to the original Dutch text of 1919. For Huizinga, the 14th and 15th centuries marked not the birth of a dramatically new era in history - the Renaissance - but the fullest, ripest phase of medieval life and thought. However, his work was criticized at home and in Europe for being "old-fashioned" and "too literary". Franz Hopman adapted, reduced,…


Faring to France on a Shoe

By Valerie Poore,

Book cover of Faring to France on a Shoe

We live close to the Canal du Midi and regularly enjoy blissful dog walks on the towpath. Spotting this memoir about faring to France immediately piqued my interest. 

The author’s colourful descriptions gently transported me to her watery world. Through Val’s narrative, I admired the scenery, both industrial and pastoral, and I could almost hear the wavelets lapping against the bows of her beloved barge, the Hennie H. 

Throughout Val and her partner’s trip, the reader is given fascinating history snippets. And, as with all great writers, there’s drama and fun, too. Val made me giggle, especially with her vignettes about their simple living arrangements aboard.  

This book contains both humour and depth, it is a celebration of this author’s excellent writing.

Faring to France on a Shoe

By Valerie Poore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Faring to France on a Shoe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A travelogue about a dream come true. After seven years of owning their barge, Hennie-Ha, seven years involving catastrophe and crisis, Val and her partner finally go 'faring' to France for the first time. This travelogue is about the places they visit and the people they meet along the canals on their route from the Netherlands, through Belgium and into northern France. It tells a gentle story about how they experience their life on board during the four weeks they spend cruising. Written as a journal, the reader joins them on their travels through rain and shine and reveals how…


The Waning of the Middle Ages

By Johan Huizinga,

Book cover of The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms of Life, Thought and Art in France and The Netherlands in the XIVth and XVth Centuries

I love this classic study in which Huizinga vividly portrays the colorful era in which my heroin, Christine de Pizan, lived. Huizinga shows that late medieval society was full of striking contradictions, among them chivalry vs cruelty, courtly love vs vengeance, blissful visions of heaven vs horrific visions of Hell. 

The Waning of the Middle Ages

By Johan Huizinga,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Waning of the Middle Ages as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“To the world when it was half a thousand years younger,” Huizinga begins, “the outline of all things seemed more clearly marked than to us.” Life seemed to consist in extremes—a fierce religious asceticism and an unrestrained licentiousness, ferocious judicial punishments and great popular waves of pity and mercy, the most horrible crimes and the most extravagant acts of saintliness—and everywhere a sea of tears, for men have never wept so unrestrainedly as in those centuries.

First published in 1924, this brilliant portrait of the life, thought, and art in France and the Netherlands in the 14th and 15th centuries…


Lions Roaring Far From Home

By Aselefech Evans (editor), Kassaye Berhanu-MacDonald (editor), Maureen McCauley (editor)

Book cover of Lions Roaring Far From Home: An Anthology by Ethiopian Adoptees

The prevailing narrative regarding adoption, at least in the U.S., is crafted by adoption professionals and adoptive parents and largely overlooks the experiences of the parties directly impacted—the adoptees themselves. As an adoptee—one who undertook a search for and was reunited with my first family, reassuming the name I was given at birth—I am always on the lookout for the work of other adoptees. Only we truly understand what it is like to be “split” between two families, to lose our roots and culture, and—perhaps most devastating—not to have our losses acknowledged. These stories, by Ethiopian adoptees, challenge traditional narratives that cast adoption as a benevolent practice, revealing the racist, classist, and colonialist roots that give rise to the modern institution. The stories speak to themes of displacement, bewilderment, and what it is like to grow up estranged from one’s culture, identity, and roots.

Lions Roaring Far From Home

By Aselefech Evans (editor), Kassaye Berhanu-MacDonald (editor), Maureen McCauley (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lions Roaring Far From Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lions Roaring Far From Home: An Anthology by Ethiopian Adoptees includes the essays and poems of 33 writers, ages 8 to over 50, raised in six countries (the US, Canada, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, and Australia). It is the first ever anthology by Ethiopian adoptees.

This anthology shares Ethiopian adoptees’ wide range of experiences, from childhood into adulthood, through the voices of the adoptees themselves. There is more than one mention of grief, confusion, and loss. The writers also talk about their strengths, hopes, happiness, and love for family. Along with sadness and anger, there is also compassion, grace, and…


Paris

By Colin Jones,

Book cover of Paris: The Biography of a City

The subtitle Biography of a City disarmingly conceals the author’s success in telling the story of Paris while connecting it with the history of France as a whole. This history skilfully threads together the construction and growth of Paris as a city with its politics, its everyday life, and the humanity that has populated its streets and neighbourhoods. This is above all a well-paced narrative that captures the evolution of the city and its people – in turns turbulent, cultured, contentious, and refined.

Paris

By Colin Jones,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Paris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Roman Emperor Julian, who waxed rhapsodic about Parisian wine and figs, to Henry Miller, who relished its seductive bohemia, Paris has been a perennial source of fascination for 2,000 years. In this definitive and illuminating history, Colin Jones walks us through the city that was a plague-infested charnel house during the Middle Ages, the bloody epicenter of the French Revolution, the muse of nineteenth-century Impressionist painters, and much more. Jones's masterful narrative is enhanced by numerous photographs and feature boxes-on the Bastille or Josephine Baker, for instance-that complete a colorful and comprehensive portrait of a place that has…


The Dutch and Their Delta

By Jacob Vossestein,

Book cover of The Dutch and Their Delta: Living Below Sea Level

This book tells the story of how the people of the Netherlands – the country where I’ve lived for more than a decade, and which I wrote my first book about – have not just managed to survive below sea level, in a land riddled with rivers and canals, but managed to turn their boggy environment to their advantage, becoming grandmasters at building dikes, draining land and constructing water-pumping windmills. The book isn’t a heavy read – the emphasis is on photos, maps, and interesting factoids – but it’s full of insights into everything from how Amsterdam was built to why the Dutch aren’t too worried about climate change. Perfect reading when I’m sitting in my garden in the Dutch countryside, with water on both sides.

The Dutch and Their Delta

By Jacob Vossestein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dutch and Their Delta as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All over the world, people learn in school that the Netherlands is a country that lies below sea-level. Dikes, polders, windmills and wooden shoes are well-known icons of this unusual nation, while its sturdy dams and storm surge barriers also enjoy world fame. But how does it all work? How can a country exist under such circumstances and even be prosperous? One would expect the Dutch to panic about climate change but they don’t seem to be; how come? This book will tell you all about it, both in words and photos, striking a balance between developments in the past,…


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Interested in the Netherlands, civilization, and France?

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