The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto

The Island at the Center of the WorldThis is a book for specialized interests, so my rating reflects that it’s one of the “best in class.” It’s a loving, admiring, sometimes wry look at how the New Netherlands of the 17th century formed the basis of today’s Manhattan geographically and culturally.

If you get lost in the cast of unusual (to us) names and locations, focus on the relationship between the famous Peter Stuyvesant and the lesser-known but critical Adriaen van der Donck. The Dutch settlers weren’t the pious Puritans of New England – they were traders, drinkers, often crude. But they also were independent, unafraid to speak their minds, and part of their legacy is a tradition of tolerance and respect for individual rights, Just when the history gets heavy, Shorto uses a bit of creative journalism to take us inside the minds of his characters as they struggle with issues.  The last chapter alone is worth a separate read.

Reviewed by Sarav

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