Saturday, July 7, 2012

Title: The Island at the Center of the World
Author: Russell Shorto
Genre: non-fiction, American History, New York History

Staten Eylandt
Lange Eylandt

These Dutch names look strange to our American eyes, but we know them by their Angilcized versions: Staten Island, Long Island, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Yonkers. It has been said that history is written by the victors and this is especially true about the history of Manhattan before the English took over in 1664. What most Americans know about the Dutch rule of Manhattan has been reduced to a few paragraphs in our history books: Peter Stuyvesant, his wooden leg, and Indians. In this exhaustive and detailed book (it has the most impressive bibliography I have ever seen!), Russell Shorto takes us back to the discovery of Manhattan by Henry Hudson and explains how seemingly minor details in European history affected Manhattan as well. When the English took over Manhattan, the Dutch background of this important colony was reduced to almost nothing. Thankfully, the discovery and translation of 12,000 Dutch documents is changing the way Americans view New York history.

Page 28: "Upward mobility was part of the Dutch character: if you worked hard and were smart, you rose in stature. Today that is a byword of a healthy society; in the seventeenth century it was weird."
"The whole package- the Founding Father, the young and vibrant republic, the war for independence, the hard-nosed, practical populace that disdains monarchies and maintains a frank acceptance of differences- has a ring of familiarity to it..." Sound familiar? This was the Dutch republic declaring independence from Spain, but these values would emigrate to the Manhattan colony and become part of the American culture and government.

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