- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (March 16, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385503490
- ISBN-13: 978-0385503495
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 483 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #367,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Drawing on 17th-century Dutch records of New Netherland and its capital, Manhattan, translated by scholar Charles Gehring only in recent decades, Shorto (Gospel Truth) brings to exuberant life the human drama behind the skimpy legend starting with the colony's founding in 1623. Most Americans know little about Dutch Manhattan beyond its first director, Peter Minuit, who made the infamous $24 deal with the Indians, and Peter Stuyvesant, the stern governor who lost the island to the English in 1664. These two seminal figures receive their due here, along with a huge cast of equally fascinating characters. But Shorto has a more ambitious agenda: to argue for the huge debt Americans owe to the culture of Dutch Manhattan, the first place in the New World where men and women of different races and creeds lived in relative harmony. The petitions of the colony's citizens for greater autonomy, penned by Dutch-trained lawyer Adriaen van der Donck, represented "one of the earliest expressions of modern political impulses: an insistence by the members of the community that they play a role in their own government." While not discounting the British role in the shaping of American society, the author argues persuasively for the Dutch origins of some of our most cherished beliefs and their roots in "the tolerance debates in Holland" and "the intellectual world of Descartes, Grotius, and Spinoza." Shorto's gracefully written historical account is a must-read for anyone interested in this nation's origins.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
As the song goes, "Even Old New York was once New Amsterdam." Unfortunately, for many Americans, that is the limit of their knowledge about the Dutch colony that was seized by the English in 1664. Shorto, author of two previous books and articles published in the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine, presents an outstanding and revealing chronicle of the Dutch presence on Manhattan Island. Much of his research is based on recently translated Dutch primary sources that have languished in archives in Albany. Written in elegant prose, this enthralling story provides original perspectives on several historical figures, including Henry Hudson, Peter Minuit, and Peter Stuyvesant. Shorto also highlights the contributions of Andriaen van der Donck, an energetic, charismatic man who played an integral part in creating a dynamic, diverse, and tolerant society that appears refreshing when compared to the neighboring Puritan-dominated colony in Massachusetts. This is an important work. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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Besides the writing style, I really enjoy the structure of the book. I've read quite a lot about the Thirty Years War, the enlightenment, the English civil war, the early settling of our nation - but never in a way that allows me to integrate the effects these events visited, collectively, on the settlement and character development of this country. Shorto ties it all together in one neat little package.
Admittedly, unless you have read about each of these events separately, it’s truly hard, for example, to appreciate just how devastating the Thirty Years War was for Europe. One interesting insight Shorto offers, however, that struck a chord in me, is that Western European civilization viewed war, in and of itself, as the natural state of being; that is, before the treaty of Westphalia and the loss of 40-45% of its population during the Thirty Years War. What a horror. A loss even greater than during WWII as a percentage of the population. After that ‘peace’ became the natural state. With war becoming the last act. Hence, Clausewitz: "War is the continuation of politics by other means".
Additionally, one can talk about the inspiration that enlightenment figures had on our founding fathers and our founding documents, but I, for one, would not have tied the Thirty Years War and the English civil war together, inextricably linked, to the birth of this nation through the Dutch or the English settlement, thereof, or for that matter the French settlement in the new world. And surprise, surprise. Who the heck would have known about the Swedes? Never had a clue. Shorto completely surprised me with their imperial foray into the new world.
Because I read history as a sequence of events, a continuum in time and space, but not in chronological order, e.g., I read about ancient Rome then jump to the history of Manhattan, I end up rendering history as linear and sequential. I rarely have the benefit of seeing it as a survey of a given time – like one experiences when in college, through discussion and careful planning on the part of a professor - I tend to lose sight of the fact that history is more like the collision of atoms in a fixed space, each crash and bang moving other objects, unpredictably, in new directions.
Well, sorry for going off the deep end.
I like this guy so much that I’m going to read his “Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason”.
The book's main thesis argues for Dutch colony's importance in shaping the tolerant culture of America. This is reinforced with historical context that succeeds in empathetically portraying life in the 1600's, but also explains why New York City is the way it is. Detailing familiar, people, places, and customs, this is the dramatic origin story of a city that is—in many ways—still the same.