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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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From Publishers Weekly
Mining a trove of recently translated 17th-century records of New Netherland, Shorto reconstructs, in fascinating detail, the little-told story behind the Dutch settlement and its capital, Manhattan. In it, listeners meet a wide cast of characters, from early governors Peter Minuit and Peter Stuyvesant to princes, explorers, smugglers, settlers, Indians, Puritans, prostitutes and slaves. It's hard to imagine any narrator's voice remaining fresh and compelling through 15 hours of sweeping historical narrative, but Ganser comes close. In a voice imbued with robustness, Ganser juggles the delivery not only of characters, but of cultures, eras, lexicons and the occasionally intrusive persona of the author. These various layers are rendered, for the most part, in authentic fashion. Shorto's prose, however, can be overwrought and, because the narrative is built on volumes of oft-arcane legal documents, he is partial to listing, which overwhelms the ear. In addition, with so dense a narrative terrain, many listeners will lament the audiobook's lack of maps and other illustrations. But these are mostly minor quibbles when measured against the grand scope of Shorto's fascinating history and Ganser's admirable performance.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
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.
Most recent customer reviews
It made me change my ideas about the melting pot in the US. I enjoyed it!
Easy to understand, and easy to read.