Monday, October 09, 2006

The Island at the Center of the World

by Russell Shorto
Somewhere in the New York State Library, a man painstakingly translates a sheaf of 450-year-old documents, piecing together, for the first time, a detailed picture of the Dutch settlement that would gradually evolve into New York City. From this trove of information, Russell Shorto has crafted a warm, vivid, and very human story that feels more immediate than many current-day accounts of New York life. Shorto helps us interpret what exactly happened during the infamous sale of Manhattan Island; sheds light on peg-legged Peter Stuyvesant; and introduces us to Adrien van der Donck, lawyer and dreamer, who emerges as one of the most influential (and underappreciated) founders of New Amsterdam. Van Der Donck, according to Shorto, envisioned a Manhattan that was much more than just a corporate outpost managed by military men. Van Der Donck fought passionately for his vision of religious tolerance and individual rights. This is one of those books that makes you wonder how your high school history teacher could possibly have made history seem so dull.

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