Antwerp: The Glory Years by Michael Pye
In ‘prose as opulent as the city itself’, Pye tells the story of Antwerp in the 16th century
For roughly six decades in the 16th century, Antwerp was Europe’s most dynamic city, said Gerard DeGroot in The Times. Not only was it a centre of commerce – a place where virtually anything could be traded, from spices and gems to “paintings and secrets” – but it was also a “rogue’s paradise”.
In this riveting book, Michael Pye tells its story in “prose as opulent as the city itself”. He covers the trade in “exotic products from the East” that made Antwerp rich, as well as other, less familiar areas: the circulation of “semi-pornographic” texts; the population’s love of alcohol (there were 376 pubs for 100,000 people); the “prominent role” of women in business. His book is a “cornucopia of Antwerp’s abundant delights”.
The city’s golden age was short-lived, said Mathew Lyons in the Literary Review. Antwerp’s involvement in the Dutch Revolt led its Habsburg masters to curtail its freedoms; by the late 1580s, half its population had left. But Pye brilliantly “conjures up... the glamour that drew people to Antwerp’s gates” until that point – the sense that it was reinventing the very “idea of what a city could be”.
Allen Lane 288pp £25; The Week Bookshop £19.99
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