Timothy Brook

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VERMEER’S HAT:
The 17th Century and the Dawn of the Global World


A renowned China scholar gives us a breathtaking view of the world at a time when it expanded to embrace Europe, the Americas and Asia for the first time

The story opens in Vermeer’s studio in Delft with his stunning portrait, Officer and Laughing Girl. That intimate tableau gives a remarkable view of the expanding world. The officer is wearing an extravagant hat of beaver felt. It was beaver fur from northern Canada that financed voyages of explorers looking for a route to the riches of China.

In his thrilling history, Brook uses several objects to illustrate the web of trade and the explosive changes they wrought.

Champlain’s arquebus in 1609 had a profound impact on indigenous peoples. Wen’s vase demonstrates the role of silver in east-west commerce. Tobacco and the spread of smoking is the great unintended consequence of North American discovery. Lust for porcelain spawned as much bloodshed as beauty.

Here also are tales of eunuchs, a Chinese sage’s Treatise on Superfluous Things, vignettes on slavery, on the situation of ethnic minorities, and a foreshadowing of religious conflict.

This masterful, yet short, work expands our appreciation and understanding of our global village.

Bloomsbury US 2007
Penguin Canada 2007

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THE CONFUSIONS OF PLEASURE:
A History Of Ming China 1368-1644


"This is joyful and comprehensive scholarship, full of motion and detail. Timothy Brook encases the fascinating and changeable world of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) in a clear conceptual and chronological framework which any non-specialist can follow. Here are a wealth of Ming people and their problems, along with the very stuff of their world: bricks and bridges; markets, monasteries, and mail; famines and fashion; printing, passion, and portents. This is the first book we have in English that shows the whole shape of Ming life in all its ebullient complexity."

- Jonathan Spence


The Ming era comes vividly to life in Timothy Brook's masterful cultural history. His chronicle moves effortlessly from the precisely detailed brush strokes of anecdote to the panorama of Ming civilization.

As one of our guides, Brook selects Zhang Tao, a county magistrate, author and historian who lived and wrote during the sunset years of Ming rule.

Zhang Tao yearned for what he believed to be a simpler time when China was an ordered, self-sufficient, rural society. He lamented the slide in later years toward the decadence of urban commerce.

"The urge for pleasure confused people's sense of what was right," he wrote. Zhang Tao's struggle with the conundrum of how to blend desire for commercial profit with a search for moral good has been a recurring theme of China's history.

Brook uses Zhang's perceptions and argues with him to reconstruct a complete history of the Dynasty. In additon, the dialogue offers shadings, texture, and a view that takes the outsider to the inside with remarkable ease.

University of California Press US/98

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QUELLING THE PEOPLE

A highly readable account of the 1989 military suppression of democracy in China by this professor of history at U of T.

OUP US/92
Lester CAN/92
Stanford University Press US/98

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Timothy Brook is the author or editor of twelve books on China, including Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Bejing Democracy Movement and Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952. His prize-winning The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China has been translated into several languages. He is also the editor-in-chief of a forthcoming five-volume series on the history of China to be published by Harvard University Press. He currently is Principal, St. John’s College, University of British Columbia.

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