The Island at the Center of the World

The Island at the Center of the World

The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America

Book - 2004
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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 Worldstrips 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 America's 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. 
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, 2004.
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780385503495
Characteristics: xiv, 384 pages. : illustrations


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Dec 17, 2020

Begin: 1600 End: 1775 Period: Colonial American Subject: Dutch Manhattan

Feb 27, 2017

A yawner until about the 3rd chapter, after which I fell asleep and never finished the book.

Apr 08, 2016

A good book on a critical and little understood part of our history as a nation. I enjoyed the rich context of the background of dramatic European history as well as fresh insight into Native American involvement. Enjoyable and eye-opening.

Mar 09, 2015

The best book on the Dutch period in Manhattan.

Feb 04, 2014

an interesting look at Dutch New York and its influence on the growth of New York City.

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