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.
Before Amsterdam, there was a dazzling North Sea port at the hub of the known world: the city of Antwerp.
In the Age of Exploration, Antwerp was sensational like nineteenth-century Paris or twentieth-century New York. It was somewhere anything could happen or at least be believed: killer bankers, easy kisses, a market in secrets and every kind of heresy. For half the sixteenth century, it was the place for breaking rules—religious, sexual, intellectual.
And it was a place of change—a single man cornered all the money in the city and reinvented ideas of what money meant. Another gave the city a new shape purely out of his own ambition. Jews fleeing the Portuguese Inquisition needed Antwerp for their escape, thanks to the remarkable woman at the head of the grandest banking family in Europe.
Thomas More opened Utopia there, Erasmus puzzled over money and exchanges, William Tyndale sheltered there and smuggled out his Bible in English until he was killed. Pieter Bruegel painted the town as The Tower of Babel.
But when Antwerp rebelled with the Dutch against the Spanish and lost, all that glory was buried and its true history rewritten. The city that unsettled so many now became conformist. Mutinous troops burned the city records, trying to erase its true history.
In Europe’s Babylon, Michael Pye sets out to rediscover the city that was lost and bring its wilder days to life using every kind of clue: novels, paintings, songs, schoolbooks, letters and the archives of Venice, London and the Medici. He builds a picture of a city haunted by fire, plague, and violence, but one that was learning how to be a power in its own right as it emerged from feudalism.
An astounding and original narrative that illuminates this glamorous and bloody era of history and reveals how this fascinating city played its role in making the world modern.
“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.”