The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto

The Island at the Center of the World

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 ...

Details The Island at the Center of the World

TitleThe Island at the Center of the World
Release DateApr 12th, 2005
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, New York, North American Hi..., American History

Reviews The Island at the Center of the World

  • Avigail
    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 b...
  • Dru
    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...
  • Gordon
    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 period 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 possess...
  • Sue
    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. T...
  • Chrisl
    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 ...
  • Caroline
    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 neighbourin...
  • Emily
    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 m...
  • Susan
    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 ...
  • Marybeth
    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 ...
  • BookSweetie
    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 ...
  • Rick Hautala
    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.
  • Ben 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 bei...
  • Katie
    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.
  • Naomi Weiss
    Complete review is here 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.Account...
  • Allison
    Fantastic book! I opened it expecting dry textbook history, instead I got fascinating stories about different characters and the way of life they brought to Manhattan. It was an extremely fast read (hard to put down) and was sad when it ended. Would definitely re-read!
  • Leslie
    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 thi...
  • John
    I listened to this one, which might have been a bad move. The thing is, this is a book that I had been meaning to read for a while and never got around to, and it seemed like audio was a good way to knock it off my list, but...I don't know. There's too much there. It was hard to pay close enough attention. Plus I found the reader kind of annoying. I think normal reading is the way to go here.I was kind of torn about this. On the one hand, it is g...
  • Petrea
    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 interestin...
  • Karen Mardahl
    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 ...
  • Elizabeth Sulzby
    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...
  • Tom
    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 ch...
  • Brittany
    This was a wonderfully written work of non-fiction that illuminates the history of the founding of Manhattan. Russell Shorto brings his characters to life by adopting a style of narrative generally reserved for fiction. These players shaped history, and Shorto draws you into their world with colorful portraits and accurate depictions of the facets of life in the mid-1600s in the wilderness of Manhattan. In capturing both the positive and negative...
  • Richard
    This is a thoughtful and very readable look at the years that Manhattan (and much of its surrounding area) was a Dutch colony. Russell Shorto takes the position that the New Netherland colony has been undeservedly forgotten, and that instead of being a "failed colony" it actually had cultural and political influence on what would become the United States of America. He argues this point fairly well, and I suppose I buy his argument. But what I li...
  • E Wilson
    History is written by the victors. I guess that's why the only thingI learned in school was that New York was settled by the Dutch andoriginally called New Amsterdam and that Peter Stuyvesant had a woodenleg. I was so interested in Adriaen Van der Donck and think he should be asnoteworthy an early American as William Brewster, John Smith orJohn Winthrop. I wonder had he achieved his goal of changingthe government of New Amsterdam from the tyranni...
  • Caroline
    Manhattan, or New Amsterdam as it was known in the 1620s had a short colonization under the Dutch who founded New Netherlands before it was seized by the English in 1664. Under the directorship of Peter Minuit, famous not only for establishing this new colony for the Dutch but for purchasing it from the Indians for $24, this colony was a vigorous and cosmopolitan trading post. Filled with details about the lives and trials of famous historical fi...
  • Grumpus
    This is based upon the audio download from []Narrated by: L.J. GanserThe 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 Manhat...
  • Karen
    I was led to read this by a Book Club and am really glad I was. Otherwise, I'm not sure this would have come across my radar. It is an illuminating look at the earliest settlements in Manhattan, those by the Dutch. Other readings had introduced me to this time period (e.g. Edward Rutherford's "New York"), but this book is more expansive. It not only gives us history, but a look into people we've heard of and those we've not, as well as noting how...
  • Liz
    The story of New Amsterdam and of the Dutch in North America is a fascinating one. Unfortunately this book completely fails to do said story justice. After several chapters of Shorto leaping from one piece of trivia to therefore some person "surely must" have done this, been feeling that or said this other thing, I gave up. Given how many layperson history books seem to be based on this leaping narrative, I guess it most sell, but I for one am re...
  • Frederick Federer
    Interesting early history of Manhattan. Most of the history of the New Netherland colony is not even mentioned in schools because the English eventually took over the colony and all of the historical records are in Dutch, but after reading this I am convinced that NYC would not have become the capitol of the world had it originally been part of the New England colony. I really enjoyed reading all of the bits of early American history trivia (e.g....