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The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America Paperback – April 12, 2005
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This is due in part to the disdain that the British held for the Dutch, and to the fact that the subsequent histories of the United States were told from their biased perspective. However, Shorto demonstrates that New Amsterdam was a viable society of its own, and that its unique character among the early American colonies had a remarkable impact on the future United States. For Shorto, as the first "multi-ethnic, upwardly mobile society on America's shores ... Manhattan is where America began."
Shorto is not a professional historian, but rather a professional writer, and he is writing for a popular audience. As a result his work flows in a novelistic manner, with vivid descriptions, imaginative poetic license, interesting asides, informal language and even bawdy humor used to liven things up. His acknowledged inspiration is the late Barbara Tuchman, whose meticulously researched books set a standard for bridging the gap between dense scholarship and popular appeal. Indeed, she managed to make a bestseller out of a 800+ page book about the 14th century, among other subjects, and Shorto emulates her with a knack for a compelling narrative drawn from myriad primary sources.Read more ›
I have to admit, the imagined scenes grated a bit on me throughout the book. They come far too frequently and lasted too long for my own liking. Too many passages began with "we might imagine", or "perhaps he . . .", or "it isn't hard to picture . . ." A few selected scenes like these could have been effective but used as frequently as they were they seemed to mar the book rather than improve it. This is more stylistic than substantive and while some readers may find it as grating as I did, others may enjoy the vivid intimacy of them.
The other major flaw is Shorto's penchant to reach a bit to make his point that New Amsterdam had far-reaching influence on the America we have today. Any writer, of course, is going to push his/her thesis; the question is how far they strain the reader's credulity in doing so. The story of the Dutch colony at New Amsterdam is interesting enough in its own right, and its influence important enough in its own right that Shorto needn't have pushed and strained so much, as if to make sure the reader felt "justified" in reading the book. When he starts to talk about Cole Slaw (more than once) as an example of the Dutch influence, you know he's walked a bit over the edge. In that case, and a few others, he diminishes the colony's importance rather than highlights it.
Those two flaws aside, and one can easily set them aside while reading, Island is an informative, entertaining read.Read more ›
The negatives: First, Shorto's Ambrose-mimicking style of attempting to put the reader into the sights, sounds, and smells of the day. While Stephen Ambrose does it in a subtle way to give context, Shorto resorts to this style so frequently (and often to fill in key history gaps) that I wondered how much of what I was reading was rank speculation of the author. Second, the book contains too many "teaching moments"---yes, the Dutch are legendary for their tolerance of religions, people, and ideas, but does every chapter in this history book need to give a lecture on the importance of civil liberties? These negatives, however, are a small distraction in what is otherwise a very interesting book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is an interesting, factual, and entertaining book about the founding of New York. I have been doing genealogical research and learned of not only the Dutch but many others... Read morePublished 10 days ago by JMfromNC
Great read.......how the early Dutch settlers in NY left a lasting mark on the Northeast and helped form the distinctive character of NYCPublished 10 days ago by Bo
Excellent book about the origins of Manhattan and the early Dutch influence on American history! Learned a lot of history of New York and New Jersey tooPublished 12 days ago by Guy Foti
Wonderful history of Dutch settlement in New World. Many "corrections" to what we learned in school, thanks to recently translated Dutch documents.Published 16 days ago by Jane
Loved the history . It's so great to know how Manhatten came to be. It wasn't an over night success. The sundials were so much a part of everything. Politics were alive and well. Read morePublished 18 days ago by JUNE GOLDMAN
Russell Shorto has made early New York City come alive through rich personal experiences. He allows the non-academic reader to witness this founding Dutch settlement life in a way... Read morePublished 19 days ago by Paul
Lots of great detail. Definitely satisfied this NY history geek! Tons of info, but not too academic. I highly recommend.Published 20 days ago by Chad Schlegel