On the Dutch East India Company (VOC):
  • The Dutch Seaborne Empire 1600-1800 by C.R. Boxer. Hutchinson UK 1965 / Penguin 1990. ISBN 0-14-013618-5. Probably the best overview of the VOC in English.
  • Dutch Asiatic Shipping in the 17th and 18th centuries by J.R. Bruijn, F.S. Gaastra and I. Schöffer. Martinus Nijhoff, the Hague 1987. ISBN 90 6890 132x. Another very useful book.
  • In Pursuit of Pepper and Tea - the story of the Dutch East India Company by Els M. Jacobs. Netherlands Maritime Museum 1991. ISBN 90 5730 040 0. A 96 page paperback introduction, with well-chosen pictures.
  • Mapping for money: maps, plans and topographic paintings and their role in Dutch overseas expansion during the 16th and 17th centuries, by Kees Zandvliet. Batavian Lion International, Amsterdam 1998. ISBN 90.6707.454.3.
On the British East India Company:
  • The Honourable Company by John Keay. Harper Collins UK 1991. ISBN 0 00 638072 7. 'A marvellous story… and John Keay tells it well, humanely and spicily' wrote A.L. Rowse. Probably the best book on the British East India Company, especially good on the early days when it was competing most directly with the Dutch.
  • The East India Company: trade and conquest from 1600 by Antony Wild. Harper Collins UK 1999. ISBN 0 00 414054 0. A popular history with many pictures.
  • The East India Company: a history by Philip Lawson. Longman UK 1993. ISBN 0582 07386 3 CSD, 0582 07385 5 PPR. A competent textbook, focussed more on the later years and the Company's imperial phase.
  • Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton. Hodder & Stoughton UK 1999. ISBN 0 340 69676 1. Another popular account of the Company's early years, presented in the fashionable format of Longitude and Tulips - both somewhat relevant to our period.
  • England's quest of Eastern trade by Sir William Foster. A&C Black UK 1933. Includes the early years in Persia and India.
  • Lords of the East: the East India Company and its ships by Jean Sutton. Conway Maritime Press UK 1981.
  • Trade in the Eastern seas by C.Northcote Parkinson. Cambridge University Press UK 1937.
  • John Company at work by H. Furber. Octagon Books, New York, 1970.
  • Rival empires of trade in the Orient 1600-1800 by H. Furber. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis USA, 1976.
On the Portuguese in Asia:
  • The Portuguese Empire in Asia 1500-1700 by Sanjay Subrahmanyam. Longman UK 1993. ISBN 0 582 05069 3 CSD, 0 582 05068 5 PPR.
  • The Portuguese in the 16th century world by Joaquim Romero Magalhães. Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 1998. ISBN 972-8325-71-1. A companion volume by Luís Filipe Barreto is on Asia; unseen.
  • Early Portuguese Malacca by Luís Filipe F.Reis Thomaz. Comissão Territorial de Macau para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 2000. ISBN 972-97391-9-6.
  • Cartography of the West-East encounter, by Luis Filipe Barreto. Macau Territorial Commission for the Commemorations of the Portuguese Discoveries, Macau c.2000. Splendid reproductions of early Portuguese maps and images.
On Sri Lanka:
  • A History of Sri Lanka by K.M. de Silva, Oxford University Press India 1981. SBN 0 19 561 655 3. A good general history.
  • Ceylon: the Portuguese era by P.E. Pieris. Tisara Prakasakayo Ltd, Sri Lanka, 1913, 1983.
  • Illustrations and views of Dutch Ceylon 1602-1796 by R.K. de Silva and W.G.M. Beumer. Serendib Publications UK 1988. ISBN 0 9510710 1 7. A general history of this period, splendidly illustrated.
  • Dutch power in Ceylon 1658-1687 by Dr Sinnappah Arasaratnam, Djambatan Amsterdam.
  • Selections from the Dutch records of the Ceylon government, no.3., memoirs of Ryckloff van Goens, Governor of Ceylon, in English translation and Dutch original, Ceylon Government Press, Sri Lanka, 1932.
On Galle:
  • Galle, VOC Vestiging in Ceylon by Lodewijk Wagenaar. De Bataafse Leeuw, Amsterdam 1994. ISBN 90 6707 3334. In Dutch, but with good pictures and an English summary.
General histories:
  • Empires of the Monsoon: a history of the Indian Ocean and its invaders by Richard Hall. Harper Collins UK 1996. ISBN 0 00 638083 2. A better book than one would guess from its 'treasure-hunting' cover, this is a good general history with an unusual emphasis and broad sweep.
On wooden ships and shipboard life:
  • The Wooden World by N.A.M. Rodger, Collins UK 1986 / Fontana Press UK 1988. ISBN 0 00 686152 0. This is about the British Navy in the mid-eighteenth century, so not all will be true of Dutch merchant ships or for other times, but this is an outstanding book about life on wooden sailing ships, rightly commended by A.L. Rowse as 'both scholarly and readable'. (The Safeguard of the Sea, by the same author, is also a masterpiece, although of less direct relevance to the wrecks in Galle Harbour. It is subtitled 'A Naval History of Britain, volume one, 660-1649'. His second volume is eagerly awaited.)
  • To Build a Ship: the VOC replica ship Duyfken by Robert Garvey. University of Western Australia Press, 2001. ISBN 1 876268 57 3. A photographer's book on the reconstruction of the Duyfken, a Dutch jacht built slightly earlier than the Avondster, with splendid pictures of ship construction and of the replica Duyfken under sail.
  • Wooden shipbuilding and the interpretation of shipwrecks by J.R. Steffy. Texas A&M University Press, USA, 1994. The definitive book for those trying to interpret wreck timbers underwater.
  • The Rigging of Ships in the days of the Spritsail Topmast 1600-1720 by R.C. Anderson, first published 1927, Conway Maritime Press UK 1982. ISBN 0 85177 272 2.
On the voyages of Zheng He:
  • The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores by Ma Huan, 1433, translated into English for the Hakluyt Society and reprinted by White Lotus Company of Thailand in 1997. ISBN 974-8496-78-3. An important account by a participant.
  • Marvellous Visions from the Star Raft by Fei Xin, 1436, translated into English by Rockhill in 1915. Partial translation included in The Chinese Travellers of the Ming Period, by Gabriele Foccardi; Wiesbaden, Harrasowitz 1986. Another of the key eye-witness accounts; it was Fei Xin who recorded the erection of a commemorative stone in Sri Lanka and the capture of the king.
  • When China Ruled the Seas by Louise Levathes, Simon & Schuster US 1994. ISBN 0-671-70158-4. This is a lively popular account of Zheng He's seven voyages, probably the best available.
  • "1421" voyages: fact & fantasy by Captain P.J. Rivers, 2004, Perak Academy, Ipoh, Malaysia. ISBN 983 40556 4 1. A good critical analysis of Gavin Menzies' unreliable bestseller "1421".

Please tell us of other relevant books. Comments on recommendations would be helpful.

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Last modified:
30 Jun 2005