Help me inform my reading of the Baroque Cycle
December 11, 2012 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for your favorite books on early modern European history (~1550-1750 ish) to inform my reading of the Baroque cycle by Neal Stephenson. I usually rely on Amazon ratings to pick good books, but they are coming up short. History buffs of AskMeFi, please help!

When I read the Cryptonomicon, my understanding of the historical events was informed by excellent books I had read on WWII like "Pacific Crucible" by Ian Toll, and after I finished I enjoyed reading more about key figures like Alan Turing. I'm reading the Baroque cycle right now (just started Odalisque) and I'm looking for interesting, well written books either spanning a large portion of the period (an integrative view of what was happening in a lot of places in Europe / the Middle East / Africa during the era) or microhistories on specific big events. I am realizing there is a big gaping hole in my knowledge of history during this era, and I'd like to delve deeper than just reading Wikipedia articles. A list of things that have already come up that I would be interested in book recommendations are:

The interregnum in England and the politics of that
History of France during this era (religious wars I guess?)
History of the Netherlands / Amsterdarm (with a focus on trading, the Dutch East India company, etc)
The Reformation and unification in Germany
The siege of Vienna / Turkish-Polish war / King John Sobieski
The Barbary Corsairs
The slave trade in Europe / Africa / Middle East during this period
The economics / banking / trading of the era
Biographies of Liebniz, Newton, Hooke, monarchs of this era, John Churchill.... there are so many historical characters, I would be open to any good biographies.

And, if you've read the whole cycle, any other huge historical events that might be good to know about (I don't really care about spoilers so far as the actual history is concerned, so don't worry about divulging too much). Although pop historical books are generally more fun to read, I'm definitely open to dry-er academic texts - I just don't know which ones to read. Thanks!
posted by permiechickie to Education (12 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
The German Genius by Peter Watson. I love this book - it's a sprawling but brilliantly written, highly biographical account of the intellectual, social and political development of Germany from the 1600's to the twentieth century, with lots of contextual info about general events in wider Europe.
posted by freya_lamb at 8:06 AM on December 11, 2012

Lisa Jardine's biography of Robert Hooke is pretty good. And if you've not yet enjoyed the diary of Samuel Pepys, please avail yourself to it post-haste. I enjoyed it mightily.
A tepid recommendation for the Ascent of Money, by Niall Ferguson it's too biased, in my opinion, but it does cover some of what Eliza vaguely seems to be doing.
If you didn't read the Code Book, by Simon Singh after Cryptonomicon, you should definitely read it now.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

My recommendation is Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe by Peter Burke.

Seconding Pepys' Diary. One of my favorite books of all time.
posted by mattbucher at 8:30 AM on December 11, 2012

Read up on Steven Shapin. Also his student, Adrian Johns' "The Nature of the Book." History of science stuff, describing, respectively, the intellectual birth of the scientific method and the so-called "print culture," which enabled it.
posted by valkyryn at 8:41 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm very fond of the History of Private Life series.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:26 AM on December 11, 2012

Seconding Adrian Johns.
posted by kariebookish at 10:09 AM on December 11, 2012

Consider Antognazza's "Leibniz: An Intellectual Biography".
posted by CincyBlues at 11:03 AM on December 11, 2012

This is a little different (a novel, not academic history), but you might be interested in the portrayal of the Dutch East India Company and Eighteenth-century traders in David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
posted by mattbucher at 12:46 PM on December 11, 2012

Wedgwood's _The Thirty Years War_.

Grayling's _Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius_.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 6:23 PM on December 11, 2012

A Grand Old Classic: The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II.
Other books by Braudel and his later Annales ilk.
Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution.
Possibly a bit about the Hundred Years' War period, since it sort of "set the scene" for the Wars of Italy and the rest of it all.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:21 PM on December 11, 2012

For the Netherlands: Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age
posted by neushoorn at 2:10 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

When this question came up before, I recommended Tim Blanning's The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 as the best general history of the period. It covers most of the major themes on your list.

On the history of science, Steven Shapin's The Scientific Revolution is a good starting-point. If you're interested in the Netherlands and the Dutch East India Company, try Harold Cook, Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine and Science in the Dutch Golden Age.
posted by verstegan at 12:46 PM on December 12, 2012

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