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.
©2013 Russell Shorto (P)2013 Random House Audio
"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)
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.
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!
History, Politics, and Sociology
Shorto's reading was clear and consistant. He obviously is interested in his own research and his enthusiasm carries the listener along.
It is too long to do that, but I found myself immersed in it and I plan to listen to the book again.
The author weaves present day stories into his information and stories from the past keeping the listener engaged and wanting to hear more. Stories are the author's teaching tools. Well done!
Russel Shorto does a great job looking backwards and connecting the dots. The result is a reasonable hypothesis of how Amsterdam turned out to be the city it is.
Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands are not splashy tourist destinations in the way of Rome or Melbourne. How can a traveller come to appreciate what goes in behind the facades of the canal houses? What is the meaning of all those men in black hats and lace hanging in the Rijksmuseum? What does an Amsterdam coffee shop have to do with me, if I am not a smoker? Read Shorto's book. This is a pretty perfect brief overview of Dutch history for the uninitiated. It does an excellent job of helping an outsider figure out how the random anecdotes and objects one hears and sees about Amsterdam relate to the Dutch psyche or the Dutch way of doing things. It emboldened me to have my own conversations with Dutch people about their history, politics, and outlook and those conversations made me appreciate how rich a picture Shorto paints (even if he has that somewhat irritating journalistic tic of reiterating his thesis too often). Great reading too!
Both engaging and accessible, the author's first person style belies the complexity of this extensive analysis of the role of Amsterdam in the history of the Western world.
Fantastic storytelling. Most engaging history of Amsterdam written! Thank you Russel Shorto, you've made my city come to life.
Enlightening and engaging. Wonderful to hear it read by the author. Loved the interweaving of so many stories with such a rich history. You shouldn't go to a The Netherlands before reading this!
We listened to this book before during and immediately after visiting Amsterdam. Overall it was a good introduction to the people, culture, and history of the city.
I listened to this book before a trip to Amsterdam to learn more about a city I knew relatively little about. I found the depth and breadth of the history included very encompassing and helped bring to life a corner of Europe that tends to hide in the shadows compared to their more dramatic and headline catching neighbors. Additionally the book helped me enjoy the city more, with an appreciation for details that without would have been ignorantly overlooked otherwise.
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