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

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  533 ratings  ·  72 reviews
In the hands of an award-winning historian, Vermeer’s dazzling paintings become windows that reveal how daily life and thought—from Delft to Beijing—were transformed in the seventeenth century, when the world first became global.
A painting shows a military officer in a Dutch sitting room, talking to a laughing girl. In another, a woman at a window weighs pieces of silver....more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published December 26th 2007 by Bloomsbury Press (first published January 15th 2005)
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This was an interesting and enlightening book, but, imho, it engaged in false advertising.

Timothy Brook, an Oxford scholar, uses five Johannes Vermeer paintings (plus a couple of other artworks) as ways to explore the expanding world of global trade and intercultural contact in the 1600s.

In the title chapter, for instance, he uses one of those fantastically broad-brimmed Dutch hats in a Vermeer painting to explore the beaver trapping trade in Canada when the French first arrived (which taught me...more
Vermeer’s Hat by Timothy Brook is not really about Vermeer, or hats, or art for that matter. It’s a book about globalization sixteenth century-style. Using elements from a few of the Dutchman’s paintings – plus some others from the period – the author identifies evidence of global trade, of the economic history of a century that saw the opening up of commerce on a scale the world had previously not known. And unlike the more academic studies of Wallerstein or Gunder Frank, Timothy Brook’s book i...more
Khaled Alshammary

"ليس هناك إنسان هو جزيرة وحده, وليس هناك إنسان كامل بمفرده"
الشاعر الإنجليزي "جون دَن"

لأن العولمة هي واقعنا الذي نعيشه، بل يصعب علينا حتى تصور العالم من دون هذه الظاهرة، نحتاج إلى التراجع بضع خطوات إلى الوراء لترك مسافة تتيح لنا تصور الأبعاد الكاملة لواقعٍ وإن كان يبدو شيئاً معاصراً، إلا أن جذوره يمكن تتبعها لعدة قرون كما فعل مؤلف هذا الكتاب.

إختار "تيموثي بروك"، المؤرخ والباحث وصاحب عدة كتب عن الصين، أن يعود بنا إلى القرن السابع عشر لتتبع جذور التواصل بين عدة قارات على العديد من المستويات. وفي ال...more
I think I was mourning what could have been with this book, making it hard to appreciate what was. It offers no real insight to Vermeer or his paintings or to Holland and its global trade/conquest in the 1600s. Or very little. That is what I wanted. What it does do is give you an immense sense of how interconnected Europe and China were, the weight of China in the European imagination, the efforts of primarily the Portuguese and the Spanish to dominate trade and the vicissitudes they faced. This...more
Premise: look carefully at paintings by Vermeer and you can find details that are doors into that world and reflect the culture, politics, arts, and even the weather patterns of the day.

My observations:

The Dutch East India Company was the WalMart of its day, bringing exotic goods from afar at such a rapid pace that the exotic became the everyday, at reasonable prices, and causing social change by the sheer size of the enterprise. Save money - live better - Dutch East India!

I greatly admire th...more
If you're looking for a book detailing the influence of commercial trade in China around the mid 17th century then you've found a gem. If you're looking for a book about Vermeer's paintings then I suggest you pick something else. We're treated to a wonderful depiction of life in the 17th century and the book sets a new standard by which textbooks for high school should be judged. The author uses one important principle to make the book come alive: history is not about places, facts and events. I...more
I had to read this book for my world history class, and was dreading it ever so slightly, but once I got into tune with the author's writing style I actually found it an enjoyable read. Brook mixes stories with history and I can't believe how much I learned about a period I thought myself decently-versed in. My favorite chapter is "School for Smoking," just a personal note. :) Most of the book is very intriguing, and I certainly see a few normal, household objects in a different light now that I...more
Kai Erkkila
Vermeer's Hat, written by Timothy Brook, is a book that aims to explain the introduction and causes of the global trade system in the seventeenth century. He makes an effort to introduce this phenomenon from a non-western perspective, due to the fact that World History is often portrayed as such. Timothy Brook is an expert on Chinese History, and it shows with his efforts to tie China into the discussion of each major commodity that is traded in the seventeenth century. He uses popular paintings...more
Josh Brett
Excellent, as long as you weren't expecting a book on art history. Tim Brook is an extremely prolific Sinologist whose subjects range from the suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement to local collaboration with the Japanese in the Yangzi delta in the late 1930s. His primary interest, however has been in the economy and culture of the late Ming, and in Vermeer's Hat, he expands from China to give a worldwide view of the ways in which increasing global interconnection of people, produ...more
I rate this book 4 stars. I went into this book expecting to get a better understanding of Vermeer’s personality and his hometown Delft. However, the book lacks this information. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing however. Rather than learning about Delft alone, I learned of the Political, Social, and Economic state of Europe, China, and Variety of many other countries. I greatly admired the moral of the story. “No man is an island.” I tried to imagine a world in which there was no exploration,...more
A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for
I've been meaning to read this book since I first heard the author on the ever-excellent EconTalk podcast a few years ago (an episode I highly recommend), and I was not disappointed by the contents - this is an excellent examination of the growing forces of globalization in the 17th century (and to some extent the late 16th century). Though I do find the device of viewing everything through the lens of a series of works of art a bit cheap and unnecessary, the stories told more than make up for t...more
Paul Aslanian
This is a great little book that Todd loaned to me and have since passed on to Joel.

This little book is written by a knowledgable art historian who, I think also thinks of himself as an economic historian. As you go through the book, painting by painting (maybe seven painting in all)you are led by the hand through the culture of Holland at the time of the painting and through the painting to the world of global trade. You learn about the felt hats which leads to 40 pages on the beaver trade in N...more

During the 17th century enough of the world's civilizations were interconnected economically, with the exception of Australia and Antarctica, that I think the much over-used word "global" is appropriate. Timothy Brook, a historian who usually writes about China, makes these interconnections concrete by using objects from the 17th century Netherlands. Several of the objects were portrayed in pictures by the painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), a resident of the city of Delft. Delft was also a he...more
I knew that this book was very little about Vermeer (although it has some interesting facts about his life that I didn't know before), and that it was mostly about trading in the 17th century. What I didn't know was that it was going to focus on China throughout the chapters. I never knew that I was underestimating China so much! Everything I've learned in school, everything I've read was so little about Asia and so much on having Europe as the focus point.

This book caught me by surprise and the...more
Nice diverting pop history, pretty quick read. All about the ways that the world was becoming increasingly interconnected in the 1600s, with the Dutch and Portuguese and Spaniards and English and French and Chinese and Japanese and North and South America and Africa and all that business. Brook divides all this up in a neat way, by examining several paintings done in the Netherlands in the mid-1600s by Vermeer, and showing the clues to the expanding world trade that you can see in the paintings....more
becca sporky
This is a really interesting way to study history. Brook uses Vermeer's paintings to study the 17th century world, using objects within his paintings as starting points, going out into the world through them. There are a few main themes in this book, such as figuring out how different cultures were starting to blend together.

Another theme was the idea that the people of the 17th century world were becoming more and more connected. Despite their idea that the world, to them, was growing larger....more
Brook takes us on a historical journey through the 17th century by detailing the objects in a few of Vermeer's paintings. For instance, he discusses where the beavers came from (Southern Canada) to make the felt for the lavish hat found in Officer and a Laughing Girl. Brook brings up many interesting points to prove that the 17th century really was the age of traveling and international commerce. He is a bit long-winded with some stories and details and it is not a linear portrayal of events but...more
Adele Fasick
This book is not really about Vermeer, but about the world that existed at the time he was painting. The author uses the items appearing in Vermeer's paintings as windows into the world of the 17th century. Brooks talks about it as the first global century when Europeans became aware of Asia and the resources and goods they had to trade. Holland, Britain, Portugal and Spain struggled to establish markets in the East. Meanwhile, the Chinese and Japanese, were not interested in going abroad and di...more
Really liked this book and would have given it 4 stars except that I thought it fell down a bit in the last two chapters where he departed from the theme.

We study so much about the 17th century in this country, and then a little about what was going on in Latin America, but this book really ties that history in with what was going on in Europe and Asia, and a bit of Africa. It describes the beginnings of globalization in an interesting, readable way and connects the dots for someone like me whos...more
While this was an intriguing look at 17th century commerce, I was somewhat disappointed in this book. There was a great deal about trade in China and less about the paintings than I'd expected. Also, circling back to Vermeer's paintings for each chapter to explore a different product traded (tobacco, silver, porcelain...) seemed rather arbitrary and fragmentary even after the author took pains to explain his approach. I had the feeling he'd fixed on the paintings more as attractive poster childr...more
This is not really a book about Vermeer's art or his hat. Instead, using some of his paintings as portholes (or "windows" as Brook calls it) into the 17th century, we get a sense of the rise of global trade and exploration by pondering the "why's" and "how's" of the objects illuminated in Vermeer's paintings. A pleasure to read.
This art history book is also a history of globalization. Each painting and piece of art work that is from Vermeer or his time, leads the author, Timothy Brook, into a very detailed history of how the world influenced the china bowl, the map, or other item of interest.
Was led to this book because I read, "Chasing Vermeer," by Blue Balliett. It is a children's mystery novel loosely based on the missing Vermeer paintings. I have also been reading up on Cave Paintings and how they were a reflectio...more
Brenda B
Similar to History of the World in Six Glasses, this is an easy and interesting read about global trade. While it uses the art of Vermeer as a catalyst for discussion, this book is more about the interconnection of the world than Eurocentrism. Brook references Ortiz's idea of transculturation throughout.

I particularly liked the chapter "School for Smoking", but all of the chapters, each tied to a painting by Vermeer, open a window on the world. Brook's inclusion of many primary sources from the...more
A most interesting perspective on 17th century globalization framed using the device of paintings by Vermeer. Brook is a Chinese historian, and the progression of the Dutch advancing economically is described from the freedom from Spain through the peak of Dutch trading. Given Brook's orientation, it is not surprising, perhaps, that the connections to China at the time are more clearly developed than the basic situation of the Dutch. The chapters on commerce in tobacco and silver were the best....more
Interessting use of Vermeer painting to tell the story of how the 17th century gave birth to the first global economy.
Karen Berry
I so like Vermeer's paintings but this made them all that much richer with glimpses into the objects portrayed and why they were there --IE trading in the 17th century and the part the Dutch (VOC) played . Not exactly a page turner but on chapter at a time was very interesting..
Andrea Pappas
Fascinating excursion into the growth of globalization, 1600-1800. Brook starts with a handful of paintings by Vermeer and unpacks the world in which they are embedded. (The title hat is made of Canadian beaver fur, for example--how does a Dutch soldier come to be wearing such an article?) Scholarly but eminently readable; I couldn't put it down and read it all in one sitting--a rare occurrence these days. My students love this book and often report that they have to tear it out of their parents...more
This was a book that I should have loved, but it just didn't quite come together. A specialist in Chinese history attempted to write a book about the beginnings of the connected global world. His lens (or crutch, depending on your perspective) was the world of Vermeer in Delft and the objects that showed up in Vermeer's paintings. While the book was interesting, it felt disjointed and the chapters only loosely related to one another. I would recommend it to people that enjoy social or economic h...more
I really enjoyed the premise and structure of this book. Brook uses what seem like the very localized paintings of Vermeer in his studio to explore the economic patterns of globalized trade in the early 17th century. Having heard Brook speak at a conference before on China and been impressed, I was equally impressed by the ease of reading his writing. This is not a highly academic book, though his sources are listed in the back, but rather a historical narrative from a unique perspective that sh...more
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