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This book will be particularly appealing to those who find that their appreciation of an artist, genre or period is enhanced by a knowledge of the background from which the art emerged. In this case, we are in the same territory that was so informatively "backgrounded" by Timothy Brook's engaging and immensely popular "Vermeer's Hat" (see my review on this website). Brook's real enterprise was to present vignettes of the globalization of commerce and cultural exchange in the seventeenth century, and given the centrality of the newly-minted Dutch Republic in that process, and the importance of genre painting in creating and cementing the self-awareness of the new society--and the preeminence of Vermeer as a practitioner of that painting-- it was a given for Brook to seize on some of the artifacts we find in Vermeer's paintings and reveal their connections to remote and unexpected places, thus simultaneously highlighting the new international commerce and illuminating the history and provenance of the objects. So, in the case of Vermeer's "Officer and Laughing Girl," we wind up knowing far better than the officer, girl, or even Vermeer how that wonderful hat managed to wind up on his head, and our appreciation of the canvas broadens into a wider context. North's focus is far narrower, as he stays within the borders of the society and within the confines of the art and its production. He begins with a very useful summary of the history of the critical reception of Dutch art, beginning for the most part in Hegel's "Aesthetics," which gave impetus to both major directions of reception: the "work-immanent" analyses focusing on the criteria of realism, and the sociological investigations. But the majority of North's discussion is of the more practical matters affecting the production and consumption of art: the staggering power of the Dutch economy; the special circumstances of class and wealth in a bourgeois mercantile society; the social origins and status of the artists; patronage and the working of the markets; and the collectors and their collections. To each of these topics North devotes a chapter, and he provides us with enough information to visualize the processes but not so much as to drown our impressions. In respect of the economy, for example, he takes us from the early, very profitable, hegemony in the herring fishery, to the Dutch domination in the herring processing industry, which presupposes dominance in the salt business, then the shipbuilding, to the banking, the powerful stake in sugar growing and processing, thence in the slave trade and then in weapons, etc., so we can virtually feel the momentum moving the economy--all mercifully without charts, tables, and parades of statistics. How that powerful economic base created different classes of people willing and able to participate in the artistic life of their community, to buy paintings, to allow their children to become artists, to support themselves as such, to seek out wealthier individuals and civic establishments to replace the patronage formerly provided by ecclesiastical coffers , etc., is the story behind all this art, and it is well and compactly presented here. The author is an economic historian, Professor and Chair of Modern History at the University of Greifswald, but this is a book intended for the interested layman at least as much as for the professional academic. It ends with an excellent selected bibliography and a helpful index of Dutch artists.