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For history buffs or gardeners who enjoy more than just digging in the dirt, Tulipomania presents a fascinating look at the tulip frenzy that took place in Holland in the mid-1600s. Beginning as gifts given among the wealthy and educated folk of Europe and Asia, the tulip rapidly became a source of incredible financial gain--similar to today's Internet start-up companies or Beanie Baby collections. Stories of craftsmen discontinuing their trade and focusing on raising tulips for public auction, where they sold for prices comparable to that of a manor house, are astonishing. Poets, moralists, businessmen--it seems everyone was involved at some level.
Lack of regulation and poor quality control were just a couple of the details that led to the abrupt crash in February 1637. Tulipomania was the original market bust--people were ruined, debts went unpaid. It was a disaster similar to the stock-market crash of 1929. A brief resurrection of the mania occurred 65 years later in Istanbul, and while it was not the financial obsession Holland experienced, it led to the creation of standards in flower shape and increased the development of new types. You don't need to be obsessed to enjoy this book--an interest in tulips, history, and the futures market ensures that this will be a remarkable read. --Jill Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
The centerpiece of this story is a stunning two months, December 1636 and January 1637, when fortunes were made and lost in the Netherlands--in tulip bulb futures trading. Stripped to its basics, this would be a dry case study in an economics textbook. But Dash adds depth to the tale by including relevant bits of botany, sociology and history, as well as glimpses of the personalities involved in the creation of the tulip market, such as the orphans who made a fortune selling their late father's tulip bulbs and the man who owned a dozen extremely rare bulbs and wouldn't part with them at any price. Occasionally, he provides too much detail--his descriptions of how many guilders changed hands in particular transactions become repetitive, as do his physical descriptions of specific tulip varieties. Dash is fascinated by the contrast between the aesthetic sense of the Ottoman sultans (reflected in their love of tulip-laden gardens) and the ferocity of their rule (evidenced by fratricide, garroting and torture), but his musings on this interesting paradox are too unfocused to be enlightening. Overall, however, Dash (The Limit; Borderlands) effectively brings together a diverse mix of disciplines to illuminate the cultural, financial and psychological elements of an economic bubble--a subject that should be of great interest today. Readers interested in the technical aspects of economic speculation and those attuned to human folly will find this a worthwhile read. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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There are a few additions to the book that I think would significantly improve reader understanding. First, the book could benefit greatly by the insertion of maps. I was not at all familiar with the various regions of The Netherlands, for instance, which required that I find a separate source to understand the location Dash was mentioning in the book. Other maps of would have also benefited the reader (e.g., Ottoman Empire, Persia, Central Asia).
The second omission of the book are line charts or bar graphs showing the prices of specific varieties of tulips over time. While stating that the price of such-and-such tulip "doubled, doubled again, and then doubled again" is fine, a visual graphs of prices over time would clearly show the dramatic changes in price.
The book starts with a botanical and geographical history of the tulip. The flower originated in Central Asia in the vicinity of the Pamirs and Tien Shan west of China. It spread to Turkey via traders in the 13th century, then to the Balkans in the 14th and 15th centuries. It finally reached Holland around 1572. The Dutch then began breeding new varieties that were progressively more and more beautiful. For reasons that really have no logical explanation, a frenzied financial buying and selling bubble began around 1636. It was much like the famous "Mississippi Bubble" that occurred in France in the early 1700s and the British "South Seas Bubble." There was no real economic basis for it. People just thought that demand and prices could increase forever. Fortunately for the Dutch, the overall financial impact of the collapse on the national economy was minor.