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The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto

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Joined: August 2008
Location: Marlow, Oklahoma

The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto

Post by LoisAnn » Sat February 28th, 2009, 6:38 pm

The tagline on the cover of the book says, "The epic story of Dutch Manhattan and the forgotten colony that shaped America." And that is exactly what this book is about! A fascinating look at a time in America's history that has been relegated to footnote status because, as we know, history is written by the winners.

In 1664, when the English forced the Dutch out of what had been known as "New Netherland" and more specifically out of New Amsterdam (Lower Manhattan today), the Dutch left behind all of their records. 12,000 pages of these records have survived being moved (they were stored in the Tower of London for a while), two fires and years and years of neglect.

In 1973, a man (Charles Gehring) who specialized in - of all things - 17th century Dutch, began the task of translating these pages. And the work is on-going to this day! This book is based in large part on the material that has come out of this massive project and on conversations between the author and Mr. Gehring and his assistant (and, of course, lots and lots of other research as the bibliography reveals).

What the Dutch settlement meant to the overall flavor and fabric of America is a story to be told and a story to be learned. For one thing, it wasn't purely Dutch at all - not even from the beginning.

The Netherlands, during these years, was the most tolerant of all nations in Europe and people flocked to the area where they could learn, think, philosophize and pray without fear of prosecution. And, thus, early "Dutch" settlers were a mixture of nationalities and languages including Swedish, French, German, Finnish, etc. Even English settlers from New England moved to New Amsterdam to get away from the rigid Puritans. So, even though the term wouldn't be developed until centuries later, New Amsterdam, later New York City, was the first example of the "melting pot" America would become.

There are just lots and lots of interesting stories, aspects and anecdotes in this book. If this is a subject matter of any interest at all, this book would be a great place to begin. The book is written in a nice, conversational style that makes for enjoyable reading.

Comes complete with notes, bibliography and index. Includes some maps and photographs. I wish there were more maps (keep the internet handy!) and I wish there was a chronological reference of major events.

In closing, I will make a comment I have made many times over the years ... I am always amazed at what I did not learn in history class.
Last edited by LoisAnn on Sat February 28th, 2009, 8:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I've never known any trouble that an hour's reading didn't assuage. ~ Charles de Secondat

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Post by Ludmilla » Sun March 1st, 2009, 12:14 am

I read this last year and thought it was excellent.

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Post by Ash » Sun March 1st, 2009, 3:22 am

Have you read City of Dreams? It deals with the same topic, at least in the first third or so. If you've read it, how does it compare with this one?

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