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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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  8,341 ratings  ·  936 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 a cartoonish 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 no ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 12th 2005 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2004)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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 ·  8,341 ratings  ·  936 reviews

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Start your review of The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America
Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 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 West In
May 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
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
Dec 25, 2008 added it
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
Ash Jogalekar
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
About a decade ago when I was living in New Jersey, I used to drive every weekend from New Jersey to Massachusetts to see my girlfriend. While driving back I used to take a road called the Saw Mill Parkway, near a town called Yonkers, on the way to crossing the Tappan Zee bridge. Both reference points seemed completely nondescript to me then. What I did not know until now was that both Yonkers and the Saw Mill Parkway are the only tributes in this country to a remarkable man and a lost time whic ...more
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2000s, history, ny-nj-pa
Found this interesting, held my attention enough to try several other of the author's books. If you have never tried Shorto, and would like to enter the world of Dutch Manhattan, I'd recommend ... ...more
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2004
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
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Read through page 49.

It's odd to call a book both florid and dull, but in this case both adjectives seem apt. In part it's perhaps because the author waxes florid and wordy on topics that are either unimportant or speculative. Why do we need an extended description of the route Henry Hudson might have walked through London from his house to a meeting with the directors of the Muscovy Company, who then turned him down for his intended voyage, after which he wound up being sponsored by a Dutch com
Jan 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As delightful to read as it is informative. Filled me with inspiration to learn more about the characters and history of New Amsterdam. Shorto is a gripping storyteller, and I’ll be tracking down his other books.
Jan 14, 2013 rated it liked it
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’
Dec 13, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was pretty blown away by the amount of history that Russell Shorto was able to pack into “The Island at the Center of the World.” This was a very engaging book (I wasn’t able to take many mental breaks), but I thought the author did a great job in distilling complicated 17th-century geopolitical dynamics into language that could be easily digested by the reader. A lot of it is truly interesting stuff, and Shorto keeps things light and humorous throughout. I had no idea of how the Dutch colony ...more
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
I read this book as I have a heritage from the Netherlands, and descend from the original Dutch colonial families on both sides of my family. The book was a fast read. I really wanted to like this book, however it is very It is in a genre I call 'History light' where it is just a very basic history book that just tells the reader very basic history without much depth, and honestly Russell Shorto is not that good of a historian. Shorto takes way too many liberties with Adriaen van der Donck, clai ...more
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history

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
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, history
This is based upon the audio download from []

Narrated by: L.J. Ganser

The audio version of this book is enhanced through the correct pronunciation of all the Dutch names and words. Rather than wildly guessing as I read it, it is spoken correctly for me.

This is the story of the first multi-ethnic culture in America. Truly, Manhattan has been a melting pot since the founding of New Amsterdam.

I never knew the story behind Dutch Manhattan other than they bought it from the Indians for
Rick Hautala
Feb 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kara Babcock
You have no idea how hard it is for me to spell this title “correctly” (with the American spelling of centre). I have the forbearance of a saint, I swear.

The Island at the Center of the World is about the Dutch colony on Manhattan Island—New Amsterdam and its ancillary towns that would eventually be surrendered to the English and metamorphose into New York and New York state. Russell Shorto wants to bring to light the extensive new work being done on records from that period. For the past thirty
I really wanted to enjoy this book. I thought I would enjoy learning about the history of Dutch Manhattan. But I just didn't. I really slogged through this book. I had trouble keeping the players & events straight. But I did enjoy the main theme of the book that the Dutch did have an effect on the shaping of the culture of America, though they are largely ignored in colonial history in favor of the British. ...more
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very interesting history of the founding of New Amsterdam, the growth of Manhattan, and the influence of Dutch ideas on America. Unlike Virginia and the New England colonies, very little of this was covered in our textbooks (that I can remember, anyway)
Sophie Throsby
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting and well written. Not a “page turner” as such, but glad I read it. Cool to connect with the modern day experience of living in NYC.
Naomi Weiss
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing

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 beginni
Nov 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
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
Karen Mardahl
Jan 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Elizabeth Sulzby
Sep 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Eugene Kernes
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-empires
This is about New York when it was known as New Amsterdam, and the coveted island of Manhattan. The island was found by Hudson by disobeying orders from his company. An island strategically located to provide protection, nourishment, and trade access. The Dutch allied and traded with the Native American Indian neighbors. The Dutch culture was tolerant of foreign products, ideas, and people, making New Amsterdam a welcoming place, center of trade, which precipitated in created a melting pot of cu ...more
E Wilson
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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Russell Shorto is the author, most recently, of Revolution Song, a new narrative of the American Revolution, which the New York Times called a "remarkable" achievement and the Chicago Tribune described as "an engaging piece of historical detective work and narrative craft." He is also the author of The Island at the Center of the World, a national bestseller about the Dutch founding of New York. S ...more

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