9781400078677

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America

Shorto, Russell

ISBN 10: 1400078679 / 1-4000-7867-9
ISBN 13: 9781400078677
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 2005
Binding: Softcover
Editorial Reviews:
Synopsis:
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 now being translated. Drawing on this remarkable archive, Russell Shorto has created a gripping narrative–a story of global sweep centered on a wilderness called Manhattan–that transforms our understanding of early America.

The Dutch colony pre-dated the “original” thirteen colonies, yet it seems strikingly familiar. Its capital was cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic, and its citizens valued free trade, individual rights, and religious freedom. Their champion was a progressive, young lawyer named Adriaen van der Donck, who emerges in these pages as a forgotten American patriot and whose political vision brought him into conflict with Peter Stuyvesant, the autocratic director of the Dutch colony. The struggle between these two strong-willed men laid the foundation for New York City and helped shape American culture. The Island at the Center of the World uncovers a lost world and offers a surprising new perspective on our own.

Review:

In a landmark work of history, Russell Shorto presents astonishing information on the founding of our nation and reveals in riveting detail the crucial role of the Dutch in making America what it is today.

In the late 1960s, an archivist in the New York State Library made an astounding discovery: 12,000 pages of centuries-old correspondence, court cases, legal contracts, and reports from a forgotten society: the Dutch colony centered on Manhattan, which predated the thirteen original American colonies. For the past thirty years scholar Charles Gehring has been translating this trove, which was recently declared a national treasure. Now, Russell Shorto has made use of this vital material to construct a sweeping narrative of Manhattan's founding that gives a startling, fresh perspective on how America began.

In an account that blends a novelist's grasp of storytelling with cutting-edge scholarship,
The Island at the Center of the World strips Manhattan of its asphalt, bringing us back to a wilderness island a hunting ground for Indians, populated by wolves and bears that became a prize in the global power struggle between the English and the Dutch. Indeed, Russell Shorto shows that Americas founding was not the work of English settlers alone but a result of the clashing of these two seventeenth century powers. In fact, it was Amsterdam Europe's most liberal city, with an unusual policy of tolerance and a polyglot society dedicated to free trade that became the model for the city of New Amsterdam on Manhattan. While the Puritans of New England were founding a society based on intolerance, on Manhattan the Dutch created a free-trade, upwardly-mobile melting pot that would help shape not only New York, but America.

The story moves from the halls of power in London and The Hague to bloody naval encounters on the high seas. The characters in the saga the men and women who played a part in Manhattan's founding range from the philosopher Rene Descartes to James, the Duke of York, to prostitutes and smugglers. At the heart of the story is a bitter power struggle between two men: Peter Stuyvesant, the autocratic director of the Dutch colony, and a forgotten American hero named Adriaen van der Donck, a maverick, liberal-minded lawyer whose brilliant political gamesmanship, commitment to individual freedom, and exuberant love of his new country would have a lasting impact on the history of this nation.

From the Inside Flap

Review:

Praise for The Island at the Center of the World
“Russell Shorto’s dramatic adventure tale about the settling of Manhattan will transform the way we look at American history. The Dutch colony, founded just three years after the Puritans landed in Massachusetts, quickly became the gateway for Germans, Italians, Jews, Scandinavians, Africans, and others who created the pluralistic mix that would define a new nation. Shorto’s book recounts the fascinating struggle between Peter Stuyvesant and the lesser-known but more influential Adriaen van der Donck, whose appreciation for individual tolerance laid the foundation for our Bill of Rights and helped to create our national character. It’s also the story of the remarkable age of exploration led by Henry Hudson and others who spread the culture of the European Renaissance to a distant wilderness. Based on a wealth of documents that archivist began translating forty years ago, Shorto has produced both a triumph of scholarship and a rollicking narrative. The result is an exciting drama about the roots of America’s freedoms.” —Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

The Island at the Center of the World ranks among the best books ever written about New Amsterdam, the Dutch settlement on Manhattan that would become New York City. Shorto’s prose is deliciously rich and witty, and the story he tells—drawing heavily on sources that have only recently come to light—brings one surprise after another. His rediscovery of Adriaen van der Donck, Peter Stuyvesant’s nemesis, is fascinating.” —Edwin G. Burrows, coauthor of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History

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Book Description: Random House USA Inc, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 202 x 134 mm. Brand New Book. 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 now being translated. Drawing on this remarkable archive, Russell Shorto has created a gripping narrative–a story of global sweep centered on a wilderness called Manhattan–that transforms our understanding of early America. The Dutch colony pre-dated the "original" thirteen colonies, yet it seems strikingly familiar. Its capital was cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic, and its citizens valued free trade, individual rights, and religious freedom. Their champion was a progressive, young lawyer named Adriaen van der Donck, who emerges in these pages as a forgotten American patriot and whose political vision brought him into conflict with Peter Stuyvesant, the autocratic director of the Dutch colony. The struggle between these two strong-willed men laid the foundation for New York City and helped shape American culture. The Island at the Center of the World uncovers a lost world and offers a surprising new perspective on our own. Bookseller Inventory # ABZ9781400078677

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