Timothy Brook


Vermeer's hat

“Thanks to Brook’s roving and insatiably curious gaze, Vermeer’s small scenes widen onto the broad panorama of world history... The result is like one of Vermeer’s trademark reflective pearls that magically reveals  a world beyond itself. A more entertaining guide to world history -- and to Vermeer--is difficult to imagine”
Ross King

Vermeer’s Hat is a deftly eclectic book . . . full of surprising pleasures.”
Jonathan Spence

"Canadian Timothy Brook is one of those historians who can tell world history like an adventure novel and economic history like a crime novel...After reading [Vermeer's Hat] one sees Vermeer's world differently. And one's own, too."
Spiegel (Germany)

"[Brook] takes readers on a series of brilliantly circuitous mystery tours that reveal the savagery on which western civilisation was built...Vermeer's Hat is mind-expanding."
The Sunday Times (UK)

Vermeer's Hat is a jewel of a study of two distinct yet intertwined worlds, feeling their way together towards modernity.”
Literary Review (UK)

"It's a fascinating approach to cultural history, providing new ways of thinking about origins of commonplace objects."
Entertainment Weekly

Winner of the Mark Lynton Prize in History

Bloomsbury US 2008
Chungrim Korea 2008
Edition Tiamat Germany 2009
Europa Konyvkiado Hungary 2009
Gradiva Portugal 2011
Iwanami Japan 2010
Kalima Arabic 2010
Penguin Canada 2008
Profile UK 2008
Payot & Rivages French 2009
Record Brazil 2009
Yuan-Liou Taiwan 2009
Wenhui Press China 2009
Wereldbibliotheek Netherlands 2010
Einaudi Italy 2015
Tusquets Spain 2019

Vermeer’s Hat

The 17th Century and the Dawn of the Global World

Vermeer's Hat ... provides not only valuable historical insight but also enthralling intellectual entertainment. ”
Michael Dirda, Washington Post

The story opens in Vermeer’s studio in Delft with his stunning portrait, Officer and Laughing Girl. This intimate tableau, in which the officer wears an extravagant hat of beaver felt, subtly captures the widening world. Beaver fur from northern Canada financed voyages of the explorers looking for a route to the riches of China.

Lust for luxury goods drove expansion. Pursuing beaver pelts, Champlain introduced his gun, the arquebus in 1609, and it had a profound and bloody impact on North America’s indigenous peoples.

The silken wrap of Paolo’s robe, and Wen’s silver vase reveal much about east-west commerce at the time. The craving for porcelain spawned as much bloodshed as beauty. Astoundingly, tobacco and the spread of smoking is the great unintended consequence of North American discovery. It spread to Asia within decades of North American discovery, thanks to the seeds carried by the sailors.

Here also are tales foreshadowing religious conflict.

Globalization in cultural, legal, political, and moral spheres is very much with us, but these trail the economic web which began in the 17th Century.

Timothy Brook is the author or editor of 12 books on China, including Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement and Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952. He is editor of a six volume series on China published by Harvard University Press, and held the Shaw Chair in Chinese Studies at Oxford. He is Professor of History at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. His forthcoming book decodes the secrets of a Chinese map at Bodleian Library, known as the Seldon map (Profile).

Tim's book Death by a Thousand Cuts, a history of lingchi, a method of capital punishment in imperial China, co-written by Jeromy Bourgon and Gregory Blue, won the 2009 Wallace K. Ferguson Prize.