The most recommended Dutch East India Company books

Who picked these books? Meet our 14 experts.

14 authors created a book list connected to the Dutch East India Company, and here are their favorite Dutch East India Company books.
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Book cover of China in the Tokugawa World

Constantine Nomikos Vaporis Author Of Samurai: An Encyclopedia of Japan's Cultured Warriors

From my list on Tokugawa Japan.

Who am I?

I’ve spent all of my career teaching and writing about Japan. Within that country’s long history, the Tokugawa or early modern period (1600-1868) has always fascinated me, going back to my teenage years when I went to Japanese film festivals in Boston with my father and brothers. This fascination stems in part from the period’s vibrancy, color, drama, and the wealth of historical documentation about it that has survived warfare as well as the ravages of time. From these rich sources of knowledge, historians and other scholars have been able to weave rich narratives of Japan’s early modern past.

Constantine's book list on Tokugawa Japan

Constantine Nomikos Vaporis Why did Constantine love this book?

This book pairs well with Kaempfer’s History, because it challenges the notion that Japan was cut off from the rest of the world except for its relations with the Dutch VOC. The author (disclosure: my Ph.D. adviser at Princeton) challenges this idea of seclusion through his focus on Japan’s relationship with its closest Asian neighbors, particularly China, through the port of Nagasaki. The book skillfully analyzes the impact of the China trade on Japan’s political, economic, and cultural history. Based on a series of lectures, this relatively short book (160 pages) is quite an enjoyable read, even for people who already know a lot about the period.

By Marius B. Jansen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked China in the Tokugawa World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book challenges the traditional notion that Japan was an isolated nation cut off from the outside world and its influence in the early modern era. This familiar story of seclusion, argues master historian Marius B. Jansen, results from viewing the period solely in terms of Japan's ties with the West, at the expense of its relationship with closer Asian neighbours. Taking as his focus the port of Nagasaki and its thriving trade with China in the 16th century through the 19th centuries, Jansen not only corrects this misperception but offers an important analysis of the impact of the China…


Book cover of The Real Taiwan and the Dutch: Traveling Notes from the Netherlands Representative

John Grant Ross Author Of Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan, Past and Present

From my list on Taiwan and why you should visit.

Who am I?

I’m a Kiwi who has spent most of the past three decades in Asia. My books include Formosan Odyssey, You Don't Know China, and Taiwan in 100 Books. I live in a small town in southern Taiwan with my Taiwanese wife. When not writing, reading, or lusting over maps, I can be found on the abandoned family farm slashing jungle undergrowth (and having a sly drink). 

John's book list on Taiwan and why you should visit

John Grant Ross Why did John love this book?

An enjoyable read and a practical guide for those looking to explore Taiwan’s aboriginal cultures and the vestiges of Dutch rule on Taiwan in the seventeenth century. It’s a beautifully illustrated book containing hundreds of photographs and useful travel information. The focus is on getting off the beaten path, and the book details fascinating places not covered by other guidebooks, which is a testament to the two authors’ expert knowledge.

By Menno Goedhart, Cheryl Robbins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Menno Goedhart was the Representative of The Netherlands for eight years. He traveled, together with tour guide Cheryl Robbins, to parts of Taiwan that most tourists do not see and met and befriended many indigenous people. This book contains a selection of fascinating places, with explanations on how to get there, where to stay, and what to eat. In the 17th century, Taiwan was occupied by Dutch East India Company forces. From their base in the southern city of Tainan, they explored the island, leaving behind many stories, some of which are also included in this book.


Book cover of The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan

Cees Heere Author Of Empire Ascendant: The British World, Race, and the Rise of Japan, 1894-1914

From my list on East Asia in the age of empire.

Who am I?

I am a historian of empire and international relations, and have worked at universities in Britain and the Netherlands (where I was born). I’m fascinated by the ways in which empires have shaped – and continue to shape – the world we live in. Empire Ascendant was my first book, and I am currently working on a global history of the Dutch colonial empire.  

Cees' book list on East Asia in the age of empire

Cees Heere Why did Cees love this book?

Histories of Japan’s encounter with the West typically start from the premise that prior to its “opening” by the American Commodore Perry in 1853, Japan was a “closed” society that shunned contact with the outside world. This book, which explores the relationship between the Tokugawa shogunate and the Dutch East India Company (the VOC), presents a radically different story: one in which one of the world’s most ruthless commercial operators was forced to humble itself before the shogun. It’s an essential corrective to anyone who equates “world history” with the rise of the West.

By Adam Clulow,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Dutch East India Company was a hybrid organization combining the characteristics of both corporation and state that attempted to thrust itself aggressively into an Asian political order in which it possessed no obvious place and was transformed in the process. This study focuses on the company's clashes with Tokugawa Japan over diplomacy, violence, and sovereignty. In each encounter the Dutch were forced to retreat, compelled to abandon their claims to sovereign powers, and to refashion themselves again and again-from subjects of a fictive king to loyal vassals of the shogun, from aggressive pirates to meek merchants, and from insistent…


Book cover of Lord of Formosa

John Grant Ross Author Of Taiwan in 100 Books

From my list on novels set in Taiwan.

Who am I?

I’m a Kiwi who has spent most of the past three decades in Asia. My books include Formosan Odyssey, You Don't Know China, and Taiwan in 100 Books. I live in a small town in southern Taiwan with my Taiwanese wife. When not writing, reading, or lusting over maps, I can be found on the abandoned family farm slashing jungle undergrowth (and having a sly drink).

John's book list on novels set in Taiwan

John Grant Ross Why did John love this book?

Recounting Taiwan’s single most gripping historical episode, Ming loyalist warlord Koxinga and his fight with Dutch forces in southwestern Taiwan, Lord of Formosa sticks close to the known facts. Koxinga’s life intertwines perfectly with that of the Dutch presence on the island. He was born in 1624, the year that the Dutch East India Company established a settlement on Taiwan, and he died in 1662, the year the Dutch were expelled. Dutch-born author Bergvelt adds flesh and breath to a fascinating cast of real-life figures, making them accessible for modern readers.

By Joyce Bergvelt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lord of Formosa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The year is 1624. In southwestern Taiwan the Dutch establish a trading settlement; in Nagasaki a boy is born who will become immortalized as Ming dynasty loyalist Koxinga. Lord of Formosa tells the intertwined stories of Koxinga and the Dutch colony from their beginnings to their fateful climax in 1662. The year before, as Ming China collapsed in the face of the Manchu conquest, Koxinga retreated across the Taiwan Strait intent on expelling the Dutch. Thus began a nine-month battle for Fort Zeelandia, the single most compelling episode in the history of Taiwan. The first major military clash between China…


Book cover of Nathaniel's Nutmeg: Or, the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History

Eleanor Ford Author Of The Nutmeg Trail: Recipes and Stories Along the Ancient Spice Routes

From my list on to spice up your shelves.

Who am I?

In my writing, food is a means to explore culture and understand the world. I’ve been described as a ‘culinary detective’. I collect and create eclectic, evocative recipes from around the globe so I can travel from my kitchen when I'm back home in London. The Nutmeg Trail follows my multi-award-winning books, Fire Islands and Samarkand.

Eleanor's book list on to spice up your shelves

Eleanor Ford Why did Eleanor love this book?

Delving into the bloodiest and most tragic period of spice’s past, Milton’s novel reveals the extraordinary link between nutmeg and colonisation. It was the seed from which the British Empire grew. If fiction is your preferred way to explore history – and what a history spice has! – then this is the book for you.

By Giles Milton,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Nathaniel's Nutmeg as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A true tale of high adventure in the South Seas.

The tiny island of Run is an insignificant speck in the Indonesian archipelago. Just two miles long and half a mile wide, it is remote, tranquil, and, these days, largely ignored.

Yet 370 years ago, Run's harvest of nutmeg (a pound of which yielded a 3,200 percent profit by the time it arrived in England) turned it into the most lucrative of the Spice Islands, precipitating a battle between the all-powerful Dutch East India Company and the British Crown. The outcome of the fighting was one of the most spectacular…


Book cover of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Jonathan Meiburg Author Of A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World's Smartest Birds of Prey

From my list on taking you to another world.

Who am I?

If you’re curious about the world, you can find secret doors that open onto sudden vistas. For me, exploring the lives and origins of the caracaras unveiled an astonishing story about life on Earth—and though the books in my list are mostly nonfiction, they all explore real worlds as absorbing as any fantasy. 

Jonathan's book list on taking you to another world

Jonathan Meiburg Why did Jonathan love this book?

David Mitchell's fantasia of life in the closed world of Edo Japan is a visceral, eerie, and profound novel that's also great fun, and it has everything: love, honor, treachery, bureaucracy, magic, a terrifying cult, a debauched ape, and the delightfully arch proto-scientist Dr. Marinus. As with many of his novels, it has the feel and richness of great cinema, and his depiction of life on an island in Nagasaki harbor where representatives of the Dutch East India Company are permitted to trade with a secretive nation they barely understand is so well-researched that you'll almost believe it happened.  

By David Mitchell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Sunday Times Number One Bestseller, from the author of CLOUD ATLAS and THE BONE CLOCKS.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010

'Brilliant' - The Times
'A masterpiece' - Scotsman

Be transported to a place like no other: a tiny, man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki, for two hundred years the sole gateway between Japan and the West. Here, in the dying days of the 18th-century, a young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune. Instead he loses his heart.

Step onto the streets of Dejima and mingle with scheming traders, spies, interpreters, servants and concubines as two…


Book cover of Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny

Keith Grint Author Of Mutiny and Leadership

From my list on mutiny, and how to lead or avoid them.

Who am I?

My academic writing is focused on leadership, and leading mutinies is probably the most dangerous thing any leader can do: the chances of success are slim and the likelihood of the leaders surviving even a successful mutiny are negligible. So why do it? The book suggests an answer through a typology of dissent that is rooted in the environment mutineers find themselves in, but that still doesn’t explain by very similar conditions generate very different outcomes. To explain that I turned to two ideas: the importance of the moral economy and the role of the puer robustus – the inveterate recalcitrant who takes it upon themselves to resolve the despotic situation.

Keith's book list on mutiny, and how to lead or avoid them

Keith Grint Why did Keith love this book?

If ever there was a mutiny that road roughshod over the romantic assumptions that mutineers were the ‘better angels’ of these events, then the mutiny on the Batavia is it. In 1628 the largest ship owned by the Dutch East India Company during the Golden Age of the Netherlands is shipwrecked and taken over by Jeronimus Cornelisz and his gang of mutineers. They then establish a dystopian world on a deserted island and systematically murder many of those who survive before the last survivors are rescued. You need a strong stomach to read this, but it is an important warning for idealists and romantics.

By Mike Dash,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Batavia's Graveyard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling author of Tulipomania comes Batavia’s Graveyard, the spellbinding true story of mutiny, shipwreck, murder, and survival.

It was the autumn of 1628, and the Batavia, the Dutch East India Company’s flagship, was loaded with a king’s ransom in gold, silver, and gems for her maiden voyage to Java. The Batavia was the pride of the Company’s fleet, a tangible symbol of the world’s richest and most powerful commercial monopoly. She set sail with great fanfare, but the Batavia and her gold would never reach Java, for the Company had also sent along a new employee, Jeronimus Corneliszoon,…


Book cover of The Company Daughters

Rebecca D'Harlingue Author Of The Map Colorist

From my list on 17th-century women.

Who am I?

I find the seventeenth century fascinating, and both of my novels are set in that period. The century was a time of great flux, and I am especially interested in exploring the kinds of things that women might have done, even though their accomplishments weren’t recorded. There is a wonderful article by novelist Rachel Kadish called “Writing the Lives of Forgotten Women,” in which she refers to Hilary Mantel’s comments that people whose lives are not recorded fall through the sieve of history. Kadish says that, “Lives have run through the sieve, but we can catch them with our hands.” These novels all attempt to do that.

Rebecca's book list on 17th-century women

Rebecca D'Harlingue Why did Rebecca love this book?

One of the characters of my novel goes to a Dutch colony, and I found this look at what that might be like particularly fascinating.

Rajaram gives us the intensely personal perspective of two young women, Jana and Sontje, who in 1620 Amsterdam have no way to make a living. They sign on to become “Company Daughters,” the company being the Dutch East India Company. Agreeing to travel to the other side of the world and marry men they have never met, the two women land in a place they had not imagined, and find a way to survive with one another’s care.

By Samantha Rajaram,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Company Daughters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

‘Blew my mind… so magically written and most of all that it is based on true events… a hard-hitting, soul-crushing book… I loved every moment of it… immersive, heart-wrenching, I feel emotional writing this review.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

Wanted: Company Daughters. Virtuous young ladies to become the brides of industrious settlers in a foreign land. The Company will pay the cost of the lady’s dowry and travel. Returns not permitted, orphans preferred.

Amsterdam, 1620. Jana Beil has learned that life rarely provides moments of joy. Having run away from a violent father, her days are spent searching for work…


Book cover of The Van Rijn Method

D.J. Butler Author Of Abbott in Darkness

From my list on science fiction adventures about traders.

Who am I?

I’m a science fiction and fantasy novelist and editor. I’m also a corporate lawyer and mergers and acquisitions consultant. I have a passion for trade, in history, games, literature, and even real life. I fear that we have far too much art glorifying killers and bullies, and I think the future will be built, as the past has been, by people who are willing to explore, meet other cultures, get to know them, and work to find deals that will benefit everyone involved.

D.J.'s book list on science fiction adventures about traders

D.J. Butler Why did D.J. love this book?

This omnibus collects eleven short stories about space merchant Nicholas Van Rijn. Van Rijn (no coincidence that he’s Dutch) is literate, clever, eccentric in speech, archaic in dress, and occasionally valiant in battle – but he’d much rather trade than fight, and although he describes trade as “swindling each other,” he characteristically strikes deals that benefit all parties.

Van Rijn’s trade-in spices (he is CEO of the Solar Spice and Liquors Company) is a callout to the history of the Dutch East India Company. The great early modern companies (and specifically, the British East India Company) are one of the inspirations in my book: they founded some fortunes and give to startling adventure stories, but the contradictions inherent in their nature also led to corruption and oppression.

By Poul Anderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Van Rijn Method as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Follow the exploits of Nicholas Van Rijn, one of Science Fiction's most popular characters, as told by Science Fiction's Grand Master, Poul Anderson, in Volume 1 in the Complete Technic Civilization Series.


Book cover of From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfavolume 17

Yasuhiro Makimura Author Of Yokohama and the Silk Trade: How Eastern Japan Became the Primary Economic Region of Japan, 1843-1893

From my list on cities, their trades, and world trade.

Who am I?

One of the oldest questions is: why are some countries rich and some countries poor? Adam Smith famously answered that it was the division of labor (specialization) and trade in his book The Wealth of Nations. The more you study trade, however, the more complicated the answer becomes. I have been grappling with this question since the 1990s, as a student, and I still do not have a simple answer like Adam Smith. However, I think I have come up with a framework to understand how the economic history of the world developed and I have been teaching that global history in college as a professor since the 2010s.

Yasuhiro's book list on cities, their trades, and world trade

Yasuhiro Makimura Why did Yasuhiro love this book?

This book by David Aslanian features the Armenian merchants of the New Julfa district of the city of Isfahan in modern-day Iran. They conducted long-distance trade between India and Europe and competed against some of the giant corporations of the day such as the Dutch East India Company. The experts of the old silk road trade competed against the new maritime trades well into the nineteenth century.

By Sebouh Aslanian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on a rich trove of documents, including correspondence not seen for 300 years, this study explores the emergence and growth of a remarkable global trade network operated by Armenian silk merchants from a small outpost in the Persian Empire. Based in New Julfa, Isfahan, in what is now Iran, these merchants operated a network of commercial settlements that stretched from London and Amsterdam to Manila and Acapulco. The New Julfan Armenians were the only Eurasian community that was able to operate simultaneously and successfully in all the major empires of the early modern world--both land-based Asian empires and the…