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The Island at the Center of the World the Island at the Center of the World the Island at the Center of the World

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  4,048 ratings  ·  515 reviews
When the British wrested New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664, the truth about its thriving, polyglot society began to disappear into myths about an island purchased for 24 dollars and acartoonish peg-legged governor. But the story of the Dutch colony of New Netherland was merely lost, not destroyed: 12,000 pages of its records-recently declared a national treasure-are now ...more
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Published April 12th 2005 by Vintage Books USA (first published January 1st 2004)
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Jun 06, 2011 Avigail rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Avigail by: Dorothy Benson
The Island at the Center of the World is a wonderful example of a genre I call "The Superficial History of..." This is not to say that the book is not well-researched, or has a weak, generalized argument; Shorto obviously read exhaustively on the topic and his argument is a salient one. The Island at the Center of the World is the perfect book to introduce readers to the Dutch impact on New York and the legacy of Dutch influence in America.

The book does have its flaws. While generally organized
Nov 19, 2008 Dru rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fan der Doncks
The story of how Santa Claus came to America is long on extraneous facts and short on compelling narrative. A lot of people really like this book, and I very much enjoyed Shorto's style of writing, but his protagonist, Adriaen Van der Donck, is as dull as paste for at least two reasons:
1. As Shorto points out, most of the information we have on this man has been lost to history. So, Shorto has to "imagine" what Van der Donck was probably doing on many important days. Far too many passages begin
Dissertation topics, taken to 30 years research are hard to make interesting, but this author did it, for me. Important read for anyone with Dutch ancestry (like mine) and anyone studying American culture, Manhattan culture, or who wants to view capitalism through a different prism. As melting pot, model of tolerance and opportunity, mecca of creativity in early America... and as a lesson for failure to protect those values... a book packed with examples. A bit dry, but like all the toppings you ...more

I was only dimly aware that New York was originally New Amsterdam and that it had been part of the Dutch empire before the British took it over. The Island at the Center of the World is a history of the 40-year period lifespan of the Dutch colony, leading up to the bloodless British victory of 1664.

In reality, the Dutch colony of New Netherland -- of which the city of New Amsterdam was the main settlement -- was not so much a colony as a possession of a private company. That company, the Dutch
Pilgrims and turkeys dominate youthful stories of our country’s founding. Adults regularly hear the truism that Puritanism imbues our culture with strict moralism and inflexibility (and probably nod in agreement). Always we hear of the stalwart British, fighting to control the continent, winning perhaps because they were the most upright. And so we have come to regard our history, written as usual by the victors.

Russell Shorto begs to differ. The Island at the Center of the World seeks to convin
Rick Hautala
A history of Dutch New York (New Amsterdam) ... that is fascinating as well as beautifully written ... with information and humor ... A great book about a little-known aspect of history ... I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
I picked up The Island at the Center of the World because it directly targets two of my own personal obsessions: New York history and Dutch language. Author Russell Shorto builds it upon thirty years of translation work by a man called Charles Gehring, a specialist in 17th century Dutch who resurrected the complete records of New Amsterdam, the Dutch settlement that is now New York City and environs. Shorto's thesis is that the Dutch colony was more successful and more influential than previousl ...more
New Netherland and New Amsterdam were phrases I remembered from dusty history textbooks of 7th grade, but never thought much about until I discovered Russell Shorto's "Island at the Center of the World" through the recommendation of two friends in the upper Hudson Valley. Shorto makes the gritty early days of New York City come alive, telling about its numerous taverns, prostitution and wary dealings with cagey Indians. (He debunks the myth of childlike Indians settling for just a bunch of beads ...more

When a very intelligent, perceptive gentleman of good local family recommended this book, I immediately put in an order for it. There's nothing that appeals to me more than local history, and this is local history on only a slightly broader scale.

The Dutch settlement of the colony of New Amsterdam is a little known facet of American history. Recent discovery and translation of the many documents produced by that colony has shed a new light on this early settlement, revealing the vibrant beginnin

Russell Shorto has written a dense, but mostly readable and utterly fascinating history of Manhattan and Dutch history in the 17th century based heavily on colonial New Netherlands documents which remained untranslated (and mostly overlooked by historians) until recent decades, in a translation project that is ongoing.

Thanks to Shorto for an illuminating portrait of Adriaen van der Donck (among others) and van der Donck's era in both Europe and America. His writing sheds light on the special c
Manhattan, or New Amsterdam as it was known in the 1620s had a short colonization under the Dutch who founded New Netherlands before it was seized by the English in 1664. Under the directorship of Peter Minuit, famous not only for establishing this new colony for the Dutch but for purchasing it from the Indians for $24, this colony was a vigorous and cosmopolitan trading post.

Filled with details about the lives and trials of famous historical figures such as Henry Hudson, after whom the Hudson
Frederick Federer
Interesting early history of Manhattan. Most of the history of the New Netherland colony is not even mentioned in schools because the English eventually took over the colony and all of the historical records are in Dutch, but after reading this I am convinced that NYC would not have become the capitol of the world had it originally been part of the New England colony. I really enjoyed reading all of the bits of early American history trivia (e.g., there was a fairly successful New Sweden colony ...more
E Wilson
History is written by the victors. I guess that's why the only thing
I learned in school was that New York was settled by the Dutch and
originally called New Amsterdam and that Peter Stuyvesant had a wooden
I was so interested in Adriaen Van der Donck and think he should be as
noteworthy an early American as William Brewster, John Smith or
John Winthrop. I wonder had he achieved his goal of changing
the government of New Amsterdam from the tyrannical rule of the
East India Company to the represent
This is a thoughtful and very readable look at the years that Manhattan (and much of its surrounding area) was a Dutch colony. Russell Shorto takes the position that the New Netherland colony has been undeservedly forgotten, and that instead of being a "failed colony" it actually had cultural and political influence on what would become the United States of America.

He argues this point fairly well, and I suppose I buy his argument. But what I liked about the book is how it fired my imagination.
Naomi Weiss
Complete review is here

Russell Shorto's best-seller saves the Dutch culture of America from being let go. Besides the obvious adage that it is the victors who write history, there are other reasons for the English stranglehold on American history. Shorto humorously explains that American historians found an easier story in Puritan New England than the more rough-and-tumble reality of Dutch Manhattan.

Accounts like that of a woman who, while her husband doze
This book is about Manhattan Island under the Dutch in the 1600's. I was interested because we have ancestors who were there, and also because I like to discover history that has been left behind in the standardized anglocentric history that we learn in school. (I'm still a bit upset that we didn't learn about the Spanish in Santa Fe before the Pilgrims got to Plymouth--but then they didn't speak English.) The Dutch colonies were quite interesting and they planted in America some very different ...more
Elizabeth Sulzby
Shorto has given us a description of the Dutch history of Manhattan, Yonkers (Younkers), and the Bronx (de Brounx--?sp.) from lost/forgotten archives in Dutch. I read this book while I was doing a 3 year research project with the poorest schools in the Bronx and after my longtime collaboration with researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands. I also like having a feeling of the land under modern-day NYC. As I had learned more thanks to my Dutch friends of the Golden Age in the lowcountry ...more
Sometimes we read for total pleasure and escape. Sometimes we read because we want to learn something. Sometimes we read because we’ve promised a dear friend we will support her book discussion at the local library even though we’d never select the book for ourselves.

“Island at the Center of the World” falls into the last category, but as I told my dear friend today when I arrived for the discussion, I’m very glad I persevered and read this.

If weren’t forcing me into full stars, I’
Karen Mardahl
I really enjoyed this book. It covers the time the Dutch owned/ran/lived in Manhattan. How they got there and what influence they had on America is full of fascinating details uncovered only because some documents managed to survive around 350 years to reveal their secrets slowly, but surely. The information is apparently changing the way historians look at the birth of America. They are moving from the pure British tale to an awareness that the Dutch can be credited with some of the actual laws ...more
Antonio Baclig
Americans are used to thinking of their country as a child of England. Shorto makes the case, drawing on historical documents that have only come to light in the last 30 years, that this is not entirely so: the Dutch colony of New Netherland, which became New York when the English captured it in 1664, was already a growing hub of trade and multiculturalism in a way that could only come from a Dutch colony, and has left a lasting imprint on America. It's a very interesting idea that probably has ...more
Mar 09, 2011 Beeb3 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Beeb3 by: betsy
Shelves: not-chosen
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 166 ...more
This book is about the original Dutch colony founded on the island of Manhattan, originally called New Amsterdam. I knew it existed, but that was literally the limit of my knowledge - so this book was a real eye-opener. It charts the history of the colony: its internal struggles with the West Indian Company and its directors, mostly famously Peter Stuyvesant; the on-off again conflicts with the Native Americans; its rivalries with the neighbouring Swedish and English colonies; and its eventual t ...more
Fascinating, and not just because I'm Dutch myself. For one thing it is a great book to just use as a guide to go sight-seeing around New York, for it suddenly makes you realize just how many traces of the early days as a Dutch colony are still around. Manhattan is great that way, for with a little preparation you can always still find the scraps of history amidst the overwhelming modernity.

And the other thing that makes this book worth reading is simply because there are so many popular histori
A super-engaging narrative that makes you scan the city landscape to see how the city's first settlers would've seen it. There is a real narrative thread, helped by the fact that Shorto focuses on key historical figures (Hudson, Minuit, van der Donck, Stuyvesant) and makes them novelistic heroes, so you don't mind the healthy dose of embellishment he's surely adding. Other than a tedious tendency to repetitiveness (I had a feeling he did it to keep the less "intellectual" reader on board, someon ...more

The colony of New Amsterdam and the Dutch culture of the seventeenth century is fascinating material. Fabulous real characters made such a difference in the direction of history. Never appreciated how tolerant and progressive Netherlands' society was way back then.
This read dove-tailed beautifully as a follow on to Instance of the Fingerpost, from the same period. I had a similar reaction to this book as to 1491 (a truly grand book!). Wish they'd taught us this in school!!
The author's quest is
Jonathan Davis
I have to confess, Island at the Center of the World is one of the quickest reads I've had as of late...let alone finished. How could it not be with such a rich background. New Amsterdam/New York and its earliest inhabitants tell an amazing story through Shorto's words and selection of historical documents. Having just returned from my first visit to this remarkable world city, I wanted to make sense of most of what I saw...even if I saw very little in comparison to what he has described. It's a ...more
I so enjoyed reading this book! Shorto does an amazing job telling the story of the Dutch discovery of the Island of Manhattan, of the two men at the center of its development, of the Hudson River corridor, of the native Indian populations of the area, of the colonies to the north and south of New Amsterdam, the Dutch West India Company, of the concept of Dutch "tolerance", and so much more. Also, the history of the documents and papers that brought Shorto's historical narrative to life is quite ...more
The story of New Amsterdam and of the Dutch in North America is a fascinating one. Unfortunately this book completely fails to do said story justice. After several chapters of Shorto leaping from one piece of trivia to therefore some person "surely must" have done this, been feeling that or said this other thing, I gave up. Given how many layperson history books seem to be based on this leaping narrative, I guess it most sell, but I for one am really sick of it. There are plenty of ways to tell ...more
Shawn Davies
This is an excellent and vigorous history book, shedding light on a forgotten chapter of history, the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, precursor to New York and birth place of American tolerance and multiculturalism.
Lawyers in the forest! The people who set foot on into this seeming wilderness bought with them the first fruits of the enlightenment and the dynamic and modern ideas and arguments of individual freedom and representation. Straight from the Dutch independence victory over the Spanish a
While I do appreciate the amount of research that went into this book, the limitations of working with damaged & incomplete records, the authors style was so over-the-top I just barely made it to the end. For every interesting detail there was a fanciful imagining about what else might have happened. It got so bad when I heard (I listened to the book on disc) "let us imagine" or "we can suppose" or some variation I would actually wince. It could have been 1/2 the length & a better book.
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Russell Shorto is the author of a book on the Dutch origins of New York City: The Island at the Center of the World. His most recent work, published in October 2008, is Descartes' Bones, which traces the wanderings of the literal skull and bones of René Descartes through three and a half centuries, and also traces the metaphorical remains of the French philosopher in the modern world.
A 1981 gradua
More about Russell Shorto...
Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City Gospel Truth Saints and Madmen: How Pioneering Psychiatrists Are Creating a New Science of the Soul J.R.R. Tolkien: Man of Fantasy (Classic Authors Series)

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“It was possible, as far as they knew, that the western shore, which in fifty years’ time would be christened New Jersey, was in fact the backdoor of China, that India, with its steamy profusion of gods and curries, lay just beyond those bluffs.” 0 likes
“Manhattan is where America began.” 0 likes
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