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Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (October 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385534574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385534574
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Shorto conjures the anything-goes spirit of contemporary Amsterdam, with its pot-smoking and red-light districts, from the city&'s fascinating past as a major port city. Amsterdam, to Shorto, was not only the first city in Europe to develop the cultural and political foundations of what we now call liberalism—a society focused on the concerns and comforts of individuals,... run by individuals acting together, and tolerant of religion, ethnicity, or other differences—but also an exporter of these beliefs to the rest of Europe and the New World. Shorto composes biographical sketches of these originators (Rembrandt, Spinoza) and exporters (John Locke, the Dutch East India Company) as he guides readers on a narrative tour of Amsterdam&'s intellectual history, its rise from a sleepy site of religious pilgrimage to the center of a trading empire into the present. Shorto&'s examination of Dutch tolerance also focuses on its failures, including an examination of collaboration with Nazi occupiers during WWII, and its current struggle to integrate its immigrant underclass into a more egalitarian multicultural life. Shorto&'s brilliant follow-up to his previous book on Dutch Manhattan (The Island at the Center of the World) is an expertly told history of a city of new, shocking freedoms and the tough-minded people that developed them. Agent: Anne Edelstein, Anne Edelstein Literary Agency LLC. (Nov.)

Review

"Rich and eventful...[A] book that easily fuses large cultural trends with intimately personal stories."
--The New York Times

"Shorto conjures the anything-goes spirit of contemporary Amsterdam, with its pot-smoking and red-light districts, from the city's fascinating past as a major port city...Shorto's brilliant follow-up to his previous book on Dutch Manhattan (The Island at the Center of the World) is an expertly told history of a city of new, shocking freedoms and the tough-minded people that developed them."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"[An] engaging new history...it brims with the sights, smells and sounds of a nearly thousand-year-old bustling, mercantile city."
--Associated Press

"Shorto is a marvelous picture painter in words...And that makes Amsterdam a pleasure to savor on many levels."
--The Seattle Times

“The story of a great city that has shaped the soul of the world. Masterful reporting, vivid history—the past and present are equally alive in this book.”
James Gleick, author of The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood

"Shorto is an excellent storyteller and rootler of strange facts, and Amsterdam should be issued as standard kit for anyone visiting the city who is not entirely corroded by vice."
--The Guardian
 

“Amsterdam is a small place that casts a big shadow. As Russell Shorto shows in this smart, elegant book, culture and geography have conspired to thrust the city into the midst of our day's most important debates. How much individual freedom can we live with? What are the limits of acceptance? How can people from different parts of the world -- people with different beliefs, backgrounds and values -- coexist in our increasingly globalized cities? Not only is this a wonderfully readable account of the city that Shorto has come to call home, it is also a history of how the Dutch invented -- and sometimes failed to live up to -- today's concepts of liberty and tolerance.”
—Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493

"The dynamic historical account of a vibrantly complex European city and the legacy of social, political and economic liberalism it bequeathed to the Western world...Shorto's examination of Amsterdam's colorful history offers important insights into the promise and possibility of enlightened liberalism. Vigorous, erudite and eminently readable."
--Kirkus Reviews

“Most urban histories focus on bricks and mortar; not this one. Russell Shorto writes engagingly about how a city can engender ideas—order, tolerance, comfort, egalitarianism, entrepreneurship—and in turn be shaped by them. Amsterdam argues convincingly that Western liberalism has been greatly influenced by this small, modest, crazy-yet-conventional place.”
Witold Rybczynski, author of How Architecture Works: A Humanist’s Toolkit
 
“An often brilliant, and always enjoyable, investigation of liberalism's Dutch roots.  Shorto is once again revealed as a passionate and persuasive historian of culture and ideas."
--Joseph O’Neill, author of Netherland
 
“Russell Shorto loves Amsterdam, I love this book.”
—Job Cohen, former mayor of Amsterdam
 
Russell Shorto's luminous book is a riveting history of one of the world's most remarkable cities. It is also an entertaining history full of deftly drawn characters and intoxicating ideas which have made Amsterdam the birthplace of liberalism in its many and shifting incarnations.”
—Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor & Publisher, The Nation
 
"This is a wonderful history of a great and fascinating city. Shorto is a gifted writer, and the rich and multi-layered story he tells of Amsterdam -- its rise as a mercantile power, its politics and culture, its famously tolerant ways, and the tensions generated by these over the centuries -- reveals much about contemporary American society as well, since many of our values and aspirations are an inheritance from this most liberal center of the Dutch Golden Age."
Steven Nadler, William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy and award-winning author of Rembrandt’s Jews and Spinoza: A Life

More About the Author

RUSSELL SHORTO's latest book is "Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City." Author James Gleick describes it as "The story of a great city that has shaped the soul of the world. Masterful reporting, vivid history--the past and present are equally alive in this book." Russell Shorto is also the bestselling author of "The Island at the Center of the World" and "Descartes' Bones," and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. His books have been published in fourteen languages. From 2008 to 2013 he was the director of the John Adams Institute in Amsterdam.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 118 customer reviews
Reading this book makes me want to go back again.
scesq
Shorto has a very engaging writing style that makes this far more enjoyable than a traditional history book.
stevek
Amsterdam is a city of canals - water mixing with city, like Venice.
Ian Kaplan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Bluestalking Reader VINE VOICE on September 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm partly Dutch by descent, which is why I opted to receive a review copy from Amazon, when given my choice of Vine products. So I'm predisposed toward the subject. But then, anyone who buys the book would feel the same, so there goes my justification for a disclaimer. If you're reading this, you're interested in Amsterdam. Now that we've established that bit of obviousness...

If you're coming into this book with little or no knowledge of Amsterdam you will be blown away by the depth of the detail, the interesting insights and lesser-known history. If you're coming into this book with some knowledge of this city, you'll find the same.

All history should be written this well. It's so approachable and to some extent personal as historian Shorto has spent several years of his life in the city. The prose is smooth; it flows. It's a delight to read, so fascinating I hated putting it down. I even read it in the bathtub and I'm not a bathtub reader. And that is actually a positive point, though it sounds a little silly. Okay, a lot silly.

Reading this book you'll learn what makes the Dutch such determined people, how they managed to turn boggy land into a city, how many things they pioneered - including the stock market. The Dutch East India Company is covered in detail, as well as the tulip craze and how all that nuttiness came about. You'll meet Rembrandt, learning the connection between his life and that of other Dutch names of note. The most brilliant part is how Shorto weaves it all together, how he connects all the dots, explaining all the interrelationships between people you'll have heard of, by way of people you probably haven't.

I enjoy nonfiction, and love history, so I read the genre consistently and know it fairly well.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By F. S. L'hoir VINE VOICE on September 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As I stood outside the Central Station one October, after half-a-century's absence, waiting for my daughter to purchase tram tickets, I realised, when the first icy blast from the North Sea bit into my cheek; when I heard the unforgettable cries of the seagulls as they dipped and soared above the canals and gabled roofs; when the musical bells chimed from the churches, Amsterdam is as addictive as the product peddled in one of its infamous coffee shops.

I therefore looked forward to reading Russell Shorto's account of the city in which I learned Dutch, studied music at the Conservatory, married a Dutchman, gave birth to my first child, and left regretfully after four years. How I wish that I had had the author's history with me then, when I was wandering through the narrow streets alongside the grachten--the moats that circle the city, always conscious of the beauty of its art and architecture; of the contradictions of life in what I was assured was the Venice of the North. Instead, with the self-centered blindness of a twenty-year old, I was completely ignorant of the layers of history that went beyond what I saw in the tall houses with their quaint hooks, or what I saw depicted in the immense painting, Captain Banningcocq's Sharpshooters (aka Rembrandt's "Night Watch") in the Rijksmuseum.

For me, Mr Shorto's "Amsterdam" is the most interesting when he peels away the historical layers of the brick buildings, moving from present to to past.
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful By James Ellsworth VINE VOICE on August 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
And not just intellectual history either. I feel it is more a 'personal history.' Russell Shorto offers the average reader (already an above-average mind)a very smoothly written and honestly felt piece about Amsterdam. The author's point of view is: here is the city where I and my family live now; so how did it get to be (partly) like this? On a bike ride to visit with and to conduct a series of interviews with an elderly survivor of NAZI occupation and transportation of Dutch Jews to a death camp in Germany, Shorto introduces the reader to a horrifying time when Amsterdam was not a haven capable of protecting its citizens or its 'Liberalism.' This sub-theme in the book (it bookends the story)calls to mind that Ann Frank and her family and her Diary are forever bound into our consciousness of Amsterdam.

Shorto next offers a description of what this book will mean by 'Liberal.' To the Dutch, for most of their history as separate provinces or as one nation, 'Liberal' meant a 'looking the other way' when someone did something you wouldn't do yourself. The author ascribes tolerance as being born of necessity in an area that had weak feudal traditions and was 'free' to develop a cultural viewpoint that facilitated international and multi-cultural trade. Beginning with Charles V and William "The Silent" of the House of Nassau, the ebb and flow of Liberal culture is traced through the Reformation and Calvinism and onward to a contemporary Netherlands of assimilation of Dutch 'Indo' populations of mixed ethnicity from Indonesia to the legalization of practices such as use of marijuana and the regulated sale of sex.
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