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

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

by Russell Shorto
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Overview

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

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 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. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385503495
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/16/2004
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.55(w) x 9.55(h) x 1.25(d)

About the Author

Russell Shorto is the author of two previous books: Gospel Truth, about the search for the historical Jesus, and Saints and Madmen, about psychiatry and religion. The hub of his research for The Island at the Center of the World was the New Netherland Project at the New York State Library, where the archives of the Dutch colony centered on Manhattan are being translated. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, GQ, and many other publications. He lives in New York's Hudson Valley with his wife and their two daughters.

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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 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
JTBORD More than 1 year ago
I am a former New York City "Big Apple Greeter" who now does tours on my own. I take out mostly families and school groups. I knew a little about the early Dutch influence but now a lot of detail. This spectacular book changed that. The way it is written allows for a free flowing narrative which almost gave it a "fiction" feel. At times, with all the names, dates and bits of information I got a little bogged down and overwhelmed. This however was not a big problem. I re-read certain sections again as I needed to. And the thoroughly inclusive index in the back allowed me to go back and quickly reference anything I needed to as I went along. The fact that I read this book is going to allow me to be a much better tour guide. I will be able to tell more interesting stories and answer questions that the "tourists" have. Somebody I know referred me to this book. I am so happy they did that they have a dinner coming ... on me.
Masternav More than 1 year ago
As a native New Yorker, and a history major in college, I found this book to be a fascinating and lively story of the Dutch colony of Manhattan - a story which is not often told. Shorto gives a very engaging account of the history of the Dutch colony, drawing on some 12,000 pages of documents that have been recently translated. The individuals who populated the colony truly come alive in this spellbinding narrative. A MUST read for anyone interested in not only early New York, but also how so many aspects of our popular culture today are directly tied to the colony of New Amsterdam.
historybuffNY More than 1 year ago
New York History is overlooked in the Colonial Era of the United States. In school, students are taught about how Virginia and New England played an important part of the formation of the United States. After reading this book, I found that New York combined both the buisness aspect and the tolerance aspect of the Dutch which neither New England and Virigia did in their respective colonies. The colony might have been short -lived but The Dutch influence still is present today. The government, business, historical landmarks, and other aspects of the Dutch colony still stand as a reminder that other cultures due provide a fundamental structure to the formation of the United States. As a History Major, The book taught me more about the area I live in and to appreciate the history of the area.
VOORLEZER More than 1 year ago
This book brings back some of New York"s forgotten history that is not taught in our schools today. Russell Shorto brings back the old streets of the city to life.
beachgirl1NC More than 1 year ago
Well-written (always a plus for history), characters drawn well and documented, different perspective on an old subject usually drawn from a totally British point of view. I've recommended this to many lovers of history.
Irving Estella More than 1 year ago
Shorto's account of the Dutch beginnings in Manhattan is a rollercoaster ride through philosophers, adventurers, politicians and prostitutes, a multinational corporation and early multiculturalism, and an unknown candidate for Founding Father named Adriaen Van Der Donck. And what a ride!
chuckb11006 More than 1 year ago
Russell Shorto breathes life into the residents of New Amsterdam like no one before him, while gracing us with heretofore unwritten elements discovered by the New Amsterdam Project, based on documents which survived a fire in Albany, NY, and were painsstakingly translated from The Dutch Language of the Seventeenth Cenury over a period of ten years. The untold story of the lives of those in the original Dutch city-colony of New Amsterdam are finally revealed in characteristic colloquial splendor. A maritime Rennaissance Empire which rivaled England by far in the early seventeenth century, in every cultural regard is imaged for the tru lovers of history in personal relationships. All persons great and small in the Dutch Colony are painstakingly brought to life by Mr. Shorto, who deserves five stars across the board for his efforts. Efforts which effectively contribute to the accurate writing of previously uncovered and broadly unknown history; which in turn, broadsides our false notions of Anglo-superiority in the exploration of America. A sinking notion indeed.
Thamnu More than 1 year ago
As Russell Shorto points out, the winners write the history. So his first object was to uncover the Dutch experience in New Amsterdam which the British so skillfully and derisively obscured. He found a patient and diligent researcher whom he praises almost to the point of hagiography. For without him, Shorto would have had little from which to spin his marvelous tale. From the explorer Hudson to the colony ruler Stuyvesant, THE ISLAND AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD is an eye-opening revelation of the real impetus to the unique community that sprung up on the tip of Manhattan. For instance, we learn early on that the wall for which Wall St. is named was built not to keep out the "Indians" (who were an integral part of the Dutch colony) but the British. And that the silly fables about a few dollars was but a token of friendship to cement a bargain by which the enterprising Dutch could build an open community NOT buy an island. Shorto's magic is the life he has breathed into Charles Gehring's thirty years of painstaking scholarship among thousands of pages of boring state records. Minutes of council meetings, judicial decisions, land titles and marriages. As noted, the famous are here with great depth and vitality but also a central character new to all of us whom I leave to the author to introduce. Finally, Shorto traces the rocky relationship between Britain and Holland as both strove for domination of sea trade in the wake of fading Spanish and Portuguese empires. And all of it with wit and insight into their world ... and ours. Great read and a gift idea that will repay the giver with smiles and thanks.
Christy_M3 More than 1 year ago
I read this book on the advice of a friend of mine. This book is excellent. Most history books put me to sleep, but this one kept me very engaged. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is easy to read as well as very informative. You can tell the author truely enjoys his topic and has immersed himself in the details. Great job!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not yet finished this book, but I must say that it is one of the more enjoyable books I've read in recent history. I have learned so much about 16th and 17th century Europe, which was a remarkable time of expansion, both physically and in the mind, an extension of which became a colony called New Netherland, centered around the island of Manahata. Shorto writes beautifully. Not only is this full of great history, the story flows and the characters develop and it makes me laugh out loud while reading on the subway.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like most Americans, I grew up being taught that America was a British concoction. The mores, societal norms, ideas of freedom and individual rights, came straight from mother England, were planted in New England, and blossomed into what we have come to know as America. This didn't wash with what I understood the early New England colonists to stand for - intolerance, religious fanaticism, with little regard for individual rights. How did we get from there to here? Via Dutch Manhattan as it turns out. While hardly a cake walk, the Dutch colony was, relatively speaking, a much more tolerant society that the English colonies to it's north and south. Shorto tells the story of the Dutch colony in easy, well written style. I found the chapters concerning Dutch Manhattan's very earliest years pretty dry because they are almost entirely written from legal records. Once flesh and blood characters like Van der Donck and Stuveysant are introduced the story takes on a more vibrant tone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Russell Shorto's narrative of the Dutch period of New York City (and State) has provided readers with a great insight into a world long ago but not long gone. 'The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America', based partly on the research/translating work of Charles Gehring, is a good introduction to this neglected period in America's history, and will also surprise those well-versed in the subject. His thesis, that the New Netherland Dutch influenced the development of American history, society, and law is not entirely new, but he does expand upon our pre-existing notions of that influence. But even though not everything here is new to some of us, what the real accomplishment is--and Shorto deserves our appreciation for it--that this book finally makes this history accessible. While other books have covered this ground, they were so bogged down with statistics and numbers that they were almost unreadable. Shorto's narrative style and his ability to bring such colorful people back to life (Hudson, Stuyvesant, van der Donck, et al.), makes his book accessible to those who might not be inclined to buy a book on this subject. On a personal level, Shorto's 'The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America', much like Burrows and Wallace's 'Gotham' brought the ancient days of my city back to life. For a moment, as I sat in Bowling Green, I was able to erase the tall buildings and populate that area with trees and small, gable-roofed houses. I could wipe away the old Custom-House and see the fort that once stood in its place. That is how good the writing is. And that's what I meant by saying Shorto's wonderful account is that of a world long ago but not long gone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written. Enjoy the interesting data and I was able to understand much better the beginnings of our country. I highly recomend this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I overheard some people discussing this book in a restaurant and was intrigued. They were so right about how good it is! It's a history of how New York City developed, not the dry way you learned in school, but the more interesting and intriguing story based on newly discovered archives. The book reads like a novel. The writing is top-notch. I loved it.
junkets More than 1 year ago
Recently discovered and translated original materials enlighten the history of colonial American and Manhattan in particular. If you like political, social, and religious history and if you want to know how Manhattan developed its special character as as a world capitol, you will enjoy this book.
delandmark More than 1 year ago
This is a dramatic case study of the loss humanity suffers when only part of history is known. The Island at the Center of the World is a story of partial history written by and for the victor in the battle for empire. The straightforward style of this work, based upon more than two decades of translation from the original Dutch records about the European settlement of New York, compels us to wonder what other treasures await revelation in the future. We can only hope that those treasures are as revealing and instructive. In this perspective of history I learned two things about the world of my early ancestors. First, my early Dutch ancestors arrived only four years, rather than forty years, after my Mayflower ancestors. The tolerance that the world recognizes in the Netherlands today was a major factor in creating the Manhattan that is still a center of the world today. Barbara Tuchman's March of Folly has been a guide in my personal and professional life. This text should change the understanding of our world today the same as if it were Part Five of that historical analysis. We will all benefit as individuals look at the world through this lens.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was very excited to read this book and I was not dissapointed. This book reads like best selling fiction. Shorto does an amazing job of not only introducing readers to a colony that many people do not know much about, but also inviting you into the lives of ordinary and extrodinary people who helped shape America.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I haven¿t enjoyed any book so much in a long time. I loved my flashes of recognition as Shorto pointed out the traces of Dutch culture in America, and the exciting leaps and reversals of fortune before Peter Stuyvesant finally had to yield to the English. Anyone who loves liberty would have to find this book rewarding. Who knew that we got our district attorney system from a precocious disciple of Grotius himself? Not I ¿ perhaps you. Of course, as a Virginian, I was raised to think the Pilgrims got undeserved credit for all the good in our system. How welcome to find a New Yorker, no less, who agrees!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WorldReader1111 More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed 'Island at the Center of the World.' It is, first, well-written for a book of its type, with a clear, elegant format that is both functional and easy to read. Likewise, the author writes with a welcome wit, and some humanity at the right times. As far as content goes, 'Island' is equally polished and substantial, serving as a good, respectable recounting of this "lost" portion of NYC history. Besides presenting a comprehensive and well-researched historical narrative, the author fleshes out the central timeline with forays into simultaneous world events and other complementary material, as to provide a strong, illuminating context to the book's primary subject matter. What's more, the facts are conveyed with an impressive neutrality, with little to no coloring on the author's part, as to lend a refreshing objectivity. In the end, the book works very well in its capacity as a historical account, to a degree that similar works should aspire to. However, what I found most interesting (and valuable) about the book was what lay between its lines, in its subtler dimensions. Namely, 'Island' serves as an excellent human study, by way of its detailed depictions of the life and times of the inhabitants of New Amsterdam. By allowing such a rare, candid glimpse of these individuals, we are granted a wealth of psychological, sociological, and economic food-for-thought -- all of which, when compared and contrasted with their contemporary equivalents, goes a long way toward understanding ourselves and mankind at large, in the way that only gaining true perspective can induce. And, like any relevant historical text, 'Island' teaches some profoundly valuable life-lessons: the consensual nature of our present historical record and associated institutions, in which the accepted version of events is rarely the actual version of events; a general overview of the origins and evolutions of anything, and how the seemingly smallest and least-consequential of events can ripple into the future with startling results; the broad, complicated, often obscure reality of things, which can differ drastically from the black-and-white view that regularly features in popular thought and perception. Etcetera. If you come away from this book without learning a thing or two, you might want to read it again. If I had to list a complaint, it would be some editorializing on the author's part, in which he briefly abandons his characteristic objectivity for a dramatized version of certain events. However, this was a minor issue, and failed at detracting from the book as a whole. My sincere thanks goes out to this book's author, subjects, and publisher. I am grateful for, and have benefited from, your work and service.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jmahon10524 More than 1 year ago
Highly engaging rendering of the story of early Manhattan. Understanding the limited nature of the historical record, the author well places events in their larger historical context while limiting speculation about what may have been. A very interesting read.
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