Books and Reviews at Greenberry House

Like most booksellers, reading is a large part of my life here at Greenberry House. I have a special old chair, so worn that it sags, where I love to curl up with a good book. Old favorites, exciting new writers, spiritual or challenging, fiction or fact; all pass through my hands and many are worthy of comment. I plan an occasional mention here of a recent book I've read, either to recommend or to warn!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Island at the Center of the World

Random House, 2004
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 this early settlement, revealing the vibrant beginnings of a city known for its vigor and unique character.
The story soon comes down to the conflict between two strong-willed and powerful men. Adriaen van der Donck, a young lawyer and historian with a vision for the future of New Amsterdam and Peter Stuyvesant, governor and representative of the company that owned the colony clash over the rights of the colonists and the government of the new world. As the story of their political manipulations and struggles continues, the reader soon realizes that New Amsterdam's rowdy active seaport was the true mother of New York. Many aspects of Dutch culture and attitude continued after the English took over the colony and were assimilated into the New World.
The notions of freedom for the individual, an entirely new concept to European minds, originated, so Shorto claims with justification, in the fertile grounds of Dutch thought and education. In a Europe struggling with war and ignorance, the Dutch institutes of learning offered refuge for some of the finest minds of the era. Adriaen van der Donck and his generation were strongly influenced by Dutch thought and culture, and through them a new idea ranged through North America.
Shorto's book is fast paced and entertaining, featuring a broad ranging look at the well-known, not so well-known and obscure inhabitants of the island that became Manhattan. Reading this book gave me a new perception of colonial history and I can recommend it to anyone interested in the smaller and bigger pictures of the growth of America.

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