Book Review: Tulipomania by Mike Dash

Tulipomania by Mike DashTulipomania: What it is about

From the publishers: “In the 1630s, visitors to the prosperous trading cities of the Netherlands couldn’t help but notice that thousands of normally sober, hardworking Dutch citizens from every walk of life were caught up in an extraordinary frenzy of buying and selling. The object of this unprecedented speculation was the tulip, a delicate and exotic Eastern import that had bewitched horticulturists, noblemen, and tavern owners alike. For almost a year rare bulbs changed hands for incredible and ever-increasing sums, until single flowers were being sold for more than the cost of a house.

Historians would come to call it tulipomania. It was the first futures market in history, and like so many of the ones that would follow, it crashed spectacularly, plunging speculators and investors into economic ruin and despair.

This is the history of the tulip, from its origins on the barren, windswept steppes of central Asia to its place of honor in the lush imperial gardens of Constantinople, to its starring moment as the most coveted–and beautiful–commodity in Europe. Historian Mike Dash vividly narrates the story of this amazing flower and the colorful cast of characters–Turkish sultans, Yugoslav soldiers, French botanists, and Dutch tavern keepers–who were centuries apart historically and worlds apart culturally, but who all had one thing in common: tulipomania.

Tulipomania: What I thought

I may be a little biased, being Dutch (and having many generations of Dutch ancestors), but I loved this book! I love stories about the 17th Century Netherlands (which didn’t quite exist as such yet). Add in some national madness about a bulb, and you get a great book.

The book deals with the extreme speculation in which tulip bulbs were traded for ridiculous prices. Whereas at first, actual bulbs were traded, later on, bulbs that were still in the ground were bought and sold and a form of futures dealing was invented (where people sold bulbs they didn’t own yet).

The story starts with wild tulips in Turkey and how they are introduced into the Netherlands, and cultivated. Then it moves on to the tulip trade. There is some background on the 17th-Century Dutch people too, which I found particularly interesting as I recognised a few names (including that of the 2nd richest man of Amsterdam at the time, who was the father-in-law of a cousin of mine many, many, many times removed – yes, before blogging, I spent many years researching my family tree).

It tells the story of some individual traders and what the rise and crash of the tulip trade did for them, and about the process of actual dealings, in pubs, where copious alcohol consumption helped people become enthused about the bulbs even more.

At the end of the book, we’re back in Turkey, where the tulips originated. The gardens at the Turkish court were full of them.

A very accessible story about a crazy time in the history of the Netherlands.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Number of pages: 274

First published: 1999

I got this: from bookmooch (a book swapping site)

Genre: non-fiction, history

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

10 Responses to Book Review: Tulipomania by Mike Dash

  1. Wow ! I never knew that tulips were not native to Netherlands🙂

  2. Mystica says:

    I’ve read a bit about the mania for tulips, the trade in them and the penalties imposed at sometime or the other or have I got it wrong? if those who did not have the authority to deal in tulips dealt in them. This sounds a fascinating bit of history.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Mystica, not sure, lots of people dealt in tulips that didn’t know anything about them. It is fascinating – it’s a bit like the “internet bubble” 15 years ago.

  3. Luanne says:

    So this book is in English? I’d love to read it, especially since so many of my ancestors were Dutch (from Zeeland)!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Luanne, yes, this is written by an English academic – but it’s very accessible. How nice that you have Dutch ancestors. None of those I have researched (back to the 1700s and 1600s) are from Zeeland so I won’t call you ‘cousin’ just yet!

  4. Leslie says:

    This is a book I’d like. Now if only it gets published in audio I might get to read it sometime this year!

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