October 05, 2011

Tulipomania:The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash

This was an odd book. When I had first read the description I had pictured one of those larger books that went into the history of the tulip and probably many detailed drawings or photographs of different varieties. That is not what this book is about.

This book covers the history of the great Tulipomania in which the Dutch people paid exorbitant prices for certain varieties of tulips due to a mania of wanting to possess the most rare and beautiful bulbs. For a modern day reference think Beanie Babies. At least I was reminded of that craze while reading this book.

It starts with the Tulips origination on the border of Russian and China, and its slow movement westward towards Europe. Also included in this beginning of the novel is its possession and use by the Turkish people who would eventually trade it west. It detailed their magnificent garden and their use of flowers as wild abandon, and not straight cultivated rows.

Once it hit Europe it experienced a short craze in France and then moved northward to the Dutch people. Here the genetics of the flowers were played with and new varieties formed. Dash gives the names of the varieties and the colors, but this can become quite confusing at times as he expects you to remember what the varieties are later in the book. Something that to me was impossible to do.

He also introduces throughout the book some historical figures that helped launched the Tulip's success. One of these such people was Carolus Clusius. Clusius was an avid lover of Tulips and spent much time cultivating different varieties. He was hired on to design gardens for many noble people and his study was actually as a Doctor, but only so he could study Botany which at the time was only offered to doctors. While there were other important figures, the most time was spent on Clusius while the others remained people with impressive collections or certain traders who sold individual bulbs at astronomical prices.

The book details the height of the craze and then its crash, compared to the stock market crash we are familiar with. It explains what happened to the debts and merchants who dabbled in the trade. Then it returns us back to the Turkish people, who form their own mini-tulip craze before it seems to die out completely. Dash also at this point elaborates on a few minor Flower crazes that could seem like Tulipomania.

There were a few things that I didn't particularly like with this book. It read much like a reference and while that's not always a bad thing, it made it slow reading in this case. Dash also seems to repeat himself and a few times I felt myself looking at the page number as I had experienced deja vu when reading a particular paragraph. Turns out the same thing was being said, the items were just in different order. He also spends a lot of time on the money system of Guilders. While some reference is needed to understand the reading, he kept repeating and doing the figuring for you.

One redeeming quality of his writing style however, is that he put the small notes at the bottom of the page instead of back in the notes section. This makes it an easier read as you are not constantly flipping back and forth for clarification.

While it was an intriguing book its not one that I'd buy for anyone or probably read again unless needing to do a report on the happenings of the Tulip.

Copyright 1999
220 Pages, plus more for notes and bibliography

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