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Europe's Babylon

The Rise and Fall of Antwerp's Golden Age

A revelatory history of Antwerp—from its rise to a world city to its fall in the Spanish Fury—by the New York Times Notable author of The Edge of the World.

As Europe emerged from decades of religious warfare, the Age of Exploration began to flower in the middle of the 16th century.  It was then that Antwerp grew from a modest port town into a city where the trade of the whole world would converge.  As the city entered its "Golden Age," Antwerp became a melting-pot of merchants and spies, pirates and philosophers, artists and intellectuals, all interacting in a heady mix of sweeping social change, urban development, and multi-lingual excitement that gave Antwerp the energery of a real-life Babylon.

The mighty Portugeuse and Spanish empires had made Antwerp one of their main shipping hubs for bringing in spices from Asia and trading them for textiles and metal goods.  Antwerp's trade expanded to textiles, wine, salt, and wheat from England, Italy, Germany, France and the Baltic. The city's skilled workers processed soap, fish, sugar, and cloth. Banks emerged to help finance the trade, the merchants, and the manufacturers that made up this cosmopolitan milieu. But tension was brewing. . . .

In Europe's Babylon, critically acclaimed author Michael Pye reveals the cultural transformation of Antwerp, and through it, an entire continent.  He brings an entire era to vivid life, and brilliantly pieces together how it all exploded in the violent Spanish Fury—the bloodiest event in Belgium's history. 

Drawing on an astounding breadth of original source material, Pye illuminates this magnificent but little understood era of history and reveals how this fascinating city played an integral role in world history.

Michael Pye is the author of The Drowning Room, The Pieces from Berlin, and The Edge of the World, all three of which were New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He won various prizes in Modern History at Oxford and now divides his time between London and rural Portugal.

Praise for The Edge of the World:

“Bristling, wide-ranging and big-themed. At its most meaningful, history involves a good deal of art and storytelling. Pye’s book is full of both. He challenges us to consider how we got to be where—and who—we are.”

– The New York Times Book Review

“Pye, like a scholarly magpie, picks up his glittering bits from the most up-to-date academic research.”

– Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

“Beautifully written and thoughtfully researched. For anyone, like this reviewer, who is tired of medieval history as a chronicle of kings and kingdoms, knights and ladies, monks and heretics, The Edge of the World provides a welcome respite.”

– The Wall Street Journal

“Mr. Pye draws on a dizzying array of documentary and archaeological scholarship, which he works together in surprising ways.”

– The Economist

More books from this author: Michael Pye