An endlessly entertaining portrait of the city of Amsterdam and the ideas that make it unique, by the author of the acclaimed Island at the Center of the World
Tourists know Amsterdam as a picturesque city of low-slung brick houses lining tidy canals; student travelers know it for its legal brothels and hash bars; art lovers know it for Rembrandt's glorious portraits.
But the deeper history of Amsterdam, what makes it one of the most fascinating places on Earth, is bound up in its unique geography - the constant battle of its citizens to keep the sea at bay and the democratic philosophy that this enduring struggle fostered. Amsterdam is the font of liberalism, in both its senses. Tolerance for free thinking and free love make it a place where, in the words of one of its mayors, "craziness is a value". But the city also fostered the deeper meaning of liberalism, one that profoundly influenced America: political and economic freedom. Amsterdam was home not only to religious dissidents and radical thinkers but to the world's first great global corporation.
In this effortlessly erudite account, Russell Shorto traces the idiosyncratic evolution of Amsterdam, showing how such disparate elements as herring anatomy, naked Anabaptists parading through the streets, and an intimate gathering in a 16th-century wine-tasting room had a profound effect on Dutch - and world - history. Weaving in his own experiences of his adopted home, Shorto provides an ever-surprising, intellectually engaging story of Amsterdam from the building of its first canals in the 1300s, through its brutal struggle for independence, its golden age as a vast empire, to its complex present in which its cherished ideals of liberalism are under siege.
"The story of a great city that has shaped the soul of the world. Masterful reporting, vivid history - the past and present are equally alive in this book." (James Gleick, author of The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood)
"An often brilliant, and always enjoyable, investigation of liberalism's Dutch roots. Shorto is once again revealed as a passionate and persuasive historian of culture and ideas." (Joseph O’Neill, author of Netherland)
"Russell Shorto loves Amsterdam, I love this book."(Job Cohen, former mayor of Amsterdam)
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Worth Reading - Highly Recommended
This book is a fascinating history of Amsterdam and its origins as well as its impact on the world.
The book was very well structured - there was a fluid and ordered chronological progression from its inception to current day, but it was built on specific and more concise anecdotal clips.
- The formation of Amsterdam, and its origins as a religious pilgrimage site
- Its role in the India Trading Companies
- The first ever stock market
- Its role as the first colonizers of New York
- Its prominent artists such as Rembrandt & Van Gogh
- Its involvement in World War II - Anne Frank's place of birth
- And of course, first place to legalize gay marriage, prostitution, marijuana etc.
Overall it did a very good job of highlighting Amsterdam's pioneering of progressive ideas including religious/cultural/racial tolerance, separation of church and state, liberalism (as opposed to a monarchy), and its open minded environment that fostered the development of these concepts.
- Whit B
The author also reads this book and does a great job. This book is well-worth reading and the author makes it interesting by adding real life characters to help describe the world at that time in history. I would even listen to most of it again!
No, you need time to comprehend some of the information. I listened to the entire book in less than one week though!