100 books like The Embarrassment of Riches

By Simon Schama,

Here are 100 books that The Embarrassment of Riches fans have personally recommended if you like The Embarrassment of Riches. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Geoffrey Parker Author Of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century

From my list on the 17th Century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I teach history at The Ohio State University. This project began when I listened in 1976 to a radio broadcast in which Jack Eddy, a solar physicist, speculated that a notable absence of sunspots in the period 1645-1715 contributed to the “Little Ice Age”: the longest and most severe episode of global cooling recorded in the last 12,000 years. The Little Ice Age coincided with a wave of wars and revolution around the Northern Hemisphere, from the overthrow of the Ming dynasty in China to the beheading of Charles I in England. I spent the next 35 years exploring how the connections between natural and human events created a fatal synergy that produced human mortality on a scale seldom seen before – and never since.

Geoffrey's book list on the 17th Century

Geoffrey Parker Why did Geoffrey love this book?

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.”

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…


Book cover of The Death of Woman Wang

Henrietta Harrison Author Of The Perils of Interpreting: The Extraordinary Lives of Two Translators between Qing China and the British Empire

From my list on Qing Dynasty China from an Oxford historian.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian of modern China in the department of Chinese at the University of Oxford. I started off working on the twentieth century but have been drawn back into the Qing dynasty. It’s such an interesting and important period and one that British students often don’t know much about! 

Henrietta's book list on Qing Dynasty China from an Oxford historian

Henrietta Harrison Why did Henrietta love this book?

This short classic was one of the first books I read when I began studying China, and that drew me into the subject of rural life.

The story of the death of Woman Wang (nothing more is known of her name) is gripping and tragic, and it is beautifully written.

By Jonathan D. Spence,

Why should I read it?

2 authors 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…


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

Geoffrey Parker Author Of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century

From my list on the 17th Century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I teach history at The Ohio State University. This project began when I listened in 1976 to a radio broadcast in which Jack Eddy, a solar physicist, speculated that a notable absence of sunspots in the period 1645-1715 contributed to the “Little Ice Age”: the longest and most severe episode of global cooling recorded in the last 12,000 years. The Little Ice Age coincided with a wave of wars and revolution around the Northern Hemisphere, from the overthrow of the Ming dynasty in China to the beheading of Charles I in England. I spent the next 35 years exploring how the connections between natural and human events created a fatal synergy that produced human mortality on a scale seldom seen before – and never since.

Geoffrey's book list on the 17th Century

Geoffrey Parker Why did Geoffrey love this book?

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.

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…


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

Geoffrey Parker Author Of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century

From my list on the 17th Century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I teach history at The Ohio State University. This project began when I listened in 1976 to a radio broadcast in which Jack Eddy, a solar physicist, speculated that a notable absence of sunspots in the period 1645-1715 contributed to the “Little Ice Age”: the longest and most severe episode of global cooling recorded in the last 12,000 years. The Little Ice Age coincided with a wave of wars and revolution around the Northern Hemisphere, from the overthrow of the Ming dynasty in China to the beheading of Charles I in England. I spent the next 35 years exploring how the connections between natural and human events created a fatal synergy that produced human mortality on a scale seldom seen before – and never since.

Geoffrey's book list on the 17th Century

Geoffrey Parker Why did Geoffrey love this book?

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.

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.


Book cover of The Autumn of the Middle Ages

Robert Bartlett Author Of Blood Royal: Dynastic Politics in Medieval Europe

From my list on a look at medieval Europe as a whole.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have had an interest in the Middle Ages as long as I can remember. In boyhood, this took the form of model knights, trips to castles, and a huge body of writing about an imaginary medieval country called Rulasia. Later it was disciplined by the study of the real medieval world, in particular by finding an ideal subject for my doctoral dissertation in Gerald of Wales, a prolific and cantankerous twelfth-century cleric, whose writings on Ireland and Wales, on saints and miracles, and on the Angevin kings (Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and John), were the ultimate inspiration for my own books on medieval colonialism, the cult of the saints and medieval dynasties.

Robert's book list on a look at medieval Europe as a whole

Robert Bartlett Why did Robert love this book?

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.

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,…


Book cover of Faring to France on a Shoe

Beth Haslam Author Of Fat Dogs and French Estates, Part 1

From my list on set in France to inspire and excite the imagination.

Why am I passionate about this?

My love affair with France began years ago with a holiday to St Malo. Since then, it’s been hard to stay away. Luckily, my husband felt the same way and eventually, we decided to buy a country estate in the rural southwest. Today, I write about our wacky lives here, how we refurbished our home and came to live with so many animals. We’re immersed in a quirky farming community that lives in harmony with the seasons. Honestly? Nothing much has altered for the past thirty years. It’s magical. Oh, and when we have time, we’ll explore our locality. We still have so much here to discover.

Beth's book list on set in France to inspire and excite the imagination

Beth Haslam Why did Beth love this book?

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.

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…


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

Tania Bayard Author Of In The Presence of Evil

From my list on a remarkable medieval woman, Christine de Pizan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an art historian and a horticulturist, specializing in the art, architecture, and gardens of the Middle Ages, and I’ve published a number of books on these subjects. But I’ve always loved mystery stories, and I dreamed of writing one of my own. When I discovered Christine de Pizan, an extraordinary personage who defied all the stereotypes about medieval women, I decided to write a series of mystery novels featuring her as the sleuth.

Tania's book list on a remarkable medieval woman, Christine de Pizan

Tania Bayard Why did Tania love this book?

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. 

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…


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

Carol LaHines Author Of Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity & Loss

From my list on themed anthologies.

Why am I passionate about this?

The anthology form unites diverse voices around a common theme—in the case of Distant Flickers, identity and loss. The stories in the anthology explore intense personal relationships—of mother and child, old lovers, etc. Some of the stories are in the moment and some recounted with the perspective of time, some are fable-like, some formal, and others more colloquial. Reading them the reader is struck by the variety of approaches a writer might take to a subject. The device of the contributor’s notes enables the reader to see the story behind the story and how life informs art—life furnishing the raw material or day residue of the story.  

Carol's book list on themed anthologies

Carol LaHines Why did Carol love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of Paris: The Biography of a City

Katrina Lawrence Author Of Paris Dreaming: What the City of Light Taught Me About Life, Love & Lipstick

From my list on the history of Paris (and Parisians).

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been obsessed with Paris since the age of five. For most of my life I’ve travelled there regularly and read every book on the subject I could find. After working as a beauty editor, I decided to try to make my passion my day job. That inspired me to write Paris Dreaming: What the City of Light Taught Me About Life, Love & Lipstick, and launch a travel consultancy business, Paris for Dreamers. I work with like-minded lovers of Paris, who constantly yearn for the city’s beguiling beauty and fascinating history, and who are always planning their next trip—or visiting Paris virtually, through the pages of a book!

Katrina's book list on the history of Paris (and Parisians)

Katrina Lawrence Why did Katrina love this book?

If you’re new to the history of Paris, this is an ideal book to start with. It’s a sweeping account of this fabled city’s story, from Roman times to the turn of the twenty-first century, but while lofty in aim it’s charmingly fun to read, the author being adept at packaging wide-ranging information into a fast-paced narrative. One neat feature is the way Jones highlights certain Parisians or Paris locations, giving them breakout sections that allow readers to delve deeper into the likes of Madame de Sévigné, Rose Bertin, and Josephine Baker. You realise that Paris is so much more than the sum of its stones. Yes, it’s about beautiful monuments, but just as much about the people who have breathed such life into Paris that their spirit lives on to this day.

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…


Book cover of How to be Orange

Diane Lemieux Author Of Culture Smart! Canada

From my list on understanding the locals.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in Quebec, have lived in eleven countries, and speak four languages. In my 20+ years as an author and journalist, my goal has always been to create bridges between cultures and to tell stories that enable individuals to better understand each other. For me, a trip to a new country, no matter how short or long, is incomplete unless I’ve had the chance to meet locals.

Diane's book list on understanding the locals

Diane Lemieux Why did Diane love this book?

This is a guidebook on Dutch culture written by a long-time American resident of the Netherlands.

It is a quirky, funny book that, unlike many books that attempt to describe another culture, makes explicit the personal bias of the author.

This is clearly Greg Shapiro’s take on the Dutch, and his keen eye and sense of humour make this a great read for short- and long-term visitors.

I’ve married into the Dutch culture and chuckled my way through the book.

By Gregory Scott Shapiro, Floor de Goede,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to be Orange as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gregory Shapiro – the American Netherlander – brings you a must-have alternative to the Dutch assimilation course. What is the true Dutch identity? Shapiro shares his hilariously clumsy assimilation into Dutch culture and blasts some well-known stereotypes along the way. The book includes questions from the real Dutch Assimilation Exam, whose logic Shapiro delightfully dissects to reveal the Dutch identity they’d rather you didn’t know. How to Be Orange includes a photo essay of the most awkward Dutch product names and is illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Floor de Goede.

How to Be Orange makes you redefine the Holland you thought…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Netherlands, civilization, and France?

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