The Island at the Center of the World

By Russell Shorto,

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

Book description

In a riveting, groundbreaking narrative, Russell Shorto tells the story of New Netherland, the Dutch colony which pre-dated the Pilgrims and established ideals of tolerance and individual rights that shaped American history. 

"Astonishing . . . A book that will permanently alter the way we regard our collective past." --The…

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Why read it?

5 authors picked The Island at the Center of the World as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This fascinating and very detailed history of early Manhattan shows how the Dutch with their policy based on individual liberty and free trade impacted not only New York City but even the shaping of America. 

I sensed this when I was an inhabitant of New York, but now I understand why.

Chronicling the early days of the Dutch presence in Manhattan, New York, the book is full of rich stories from the earliest days of the colony; encounters with wildlife, Indians, and other Europeans. I have read this book three times, captivated by the multi-ethnic beginnings of New York, a characteristic that defines the city even today. Tidbits like how facets of the Dutch language have been incorporated into English, such as the words “boss,” “cole slaw,” and “cookie.” The orange colour in the New York Mets uniform is an homage to Dutch heritage. What if the Dutch had been able…

From Craig's list on to contemplate for a time.

Yes it’s true, there is no city like New York, but I only understood why after reading Shorto’s meticulously researched book about Dutch Manhattan. New Amsterdam was set up in 1624 by the Dutch West India Company, not as a government colony but as a private financial entity. The Dutch were shrewd businessmen, and their culture astonishingly liberal for the times. (Still is). New Amsterdam existed solely to make money and welcomed immigrants because it was good for business. We owe the Dutch for creating Manhattan’s mad-paced, money-centered, anything-goes ethos, the only place in the world where anybody from anywhere…

From Alice's list on terrible, beautiful New York.

New York City is known as one of the most tolerant places in the United States. In this absorbing page-turner, Shorto traces the origins of this tolerance back to the Dutch colonists who settled Manhattan in the seventeenth century. Americans are used to thinking of eighteenth-century Philadelphia and Boston as the cities that gave rise to a new nation, but Shorto upends received American history by arguing persuasively that much of what we value in our culture came from the Dutch who founded New York a century earlier. Shorto’s writing is witty and compulsively readable, and like Mannahatta, it…

From Victoria's list on New York City History to 1900.

I loved this book because opened my eyes to a seemingly inconsequential topic that I knew nothing about, but arguably had significant cultural influence of the development of the United States. Perhaps most importantly Shorto brings the era alive with the stories of the unusual people who built early Manhattan literally from the ground up. Ever wonder where Wall Street, Harlem, and the Bronx get their names? I had no idea that Dutch Manhattan was such a vibrant place before the British took it over, or the divergent cultural values of the Dutch that were a foil to the narrow…

From Stephen's list on big ideas in world history.

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