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Publisher's Summary

In a landmark work of history, Russell Shorto presents astonishing information on the founding of our nation and reveals in riveting detail the crucial role of the Dutch in making America what it is today.

In the late 1960s, an archivist in the New York State Library made an astounding discovery: 12,000 pages of centuries-old correspondence, court cases, legal contracts, and reports from a forgotten society - the Dutch colony centered on Manhattan, which predated the 13 "original" American colonies. For the past 30 years, scholar Charles Gehring has been translating this trove, which was recently declared a national treasure. Now Russell Shorto has made use of this vital material to construct a sweeping narrative of Manhattan's founding that gives a startling, fresh perspective on how America began.

In an account that blends a novelist's grasp of storytelling with cutting-edge scholarship, The Island at the Center of the World strips Manhattan of its asphalt, bringing us back to a wilderness island - a hunting ground for Indians, populated by wolves and bears - that became a prize in the global power struggle between the English and the Dutch. Indeed, Russell Shorto shows that America's founding was not the work of English settlers alone but a result of the clashing of these two 17th-century powers. In fact it was Amsterdam - Europe's most liberal city, with an unusual policy of tolerance and a polyglot society dedicated to free trade - that became the model for the city of New Amsterdam on Manhattan. While the Puritans of New England were founding a society based on intolerance, on Manhattan the Dutch created a free-trade, upwardly mobile melting pot that would help shape not only New York but America.

The story moves from the halls of power in London and The Hague to bloody naval encounters on the high seas. The characters in the saga - the men and women who played a part in Manhattan's founding - range from the philosopher Rene Descartes to James, the Duke of York, to prostitutes and smugglers. At the heart of the story is a bitter power struggle between two men: Peter Stuyvesant, the autocratic director of the Dutch colony; and a forgotten American hero named Adriaen van der Donck, a maverick, liberal-minded lawyer whose brilliant political gamesmanship, commitment to individual freedom, and exuberant love of his new country would have a lasting impact on the history of this nation.

©2005 Russell Shorto (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Astonishing.... A book that will permanently alter the way we regard our collective past." (The New York Times)
"A tour de force.... The dramatic story of New York's origins is splendidly told.... A masterpiece of storytelling and first-rate intellectual history." (The Wall Street Journal)
"As readable as a finely written novel...social history in the Barbara Tuchman tradition." (San Jose Mercury News)

What members say

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Amazing history!

so many interesting historical facts we've never heard before. Please keep digging. Very much worth reading again

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Detailed account of early nyc history

This is a very detailed history of the years covering Hudson, Stuyvesant and the early colonization of America. Only for student and lovers of history. The personalities become alive, but the intricate detail makes this far from a "summer read".

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Interesting but dull delivery

The information contained in this book is very interesting for history buffs. It contained much that has never been included in any American History. The author read however, while read with care and determined delivery, lacked any kind of character. I appreciate how the author read steadily as some books are read Way too fast, but reminded me of college lectures by professors who were very knowledgeable and loved the subject but just didn't know how to deliver the lecture with any kind of character. This is a good book for Reading.

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Loved learning about the Dutch roots

Shorto is passionate about the history of Manhattan. I appreciate the research he did as well as those who have spent years translating Dutch documents. Shorto weaves a bit too much detail to hold my total attention but overall I am enjoyed getting to know that the roots of Manhattan are in the diverse heart of the Dutch.

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Dutch influence in NY/New World

History is written by victors... too bad we weren't taught how much influence the Dutch really had in the forming of our City, State and nation's way of thinking about freedom, appreciation for diversity, tolerance of religions, and especially their demand for basic human and civil rights. All qualities not practiced by England in the 17th century. Their influence may have inspired our founding fathers in ways they may not have known towards the Declaration of Independence and ultimately revolution for freedom from the yoke of monarchy.

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great account of nyc history

great account of nyc history glad . didn’t realize that the dutch where thd true nyc colonizers

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Glad that I finally read it.

This had been recommended by a friend several years ago who is quite proud of his Dutch heritage. I wish I had taken his advice sooner. This was a fascinating story, with plenty of little tidbits for those of us who've wondered how they ever came up with a name like "Yonkers." The reader didn't sound as experienced as others- his delivery was a bit flat- but the story made up for that.

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Great slice of history

I listened to Amsterdam by Shorto first and then found this. They are a great pairing. The story here has such breath and detail. I very much enjoyed almost every part. Some (very few) parts wandered off a bit, no big deal.
I enjoy his research, history, and writing style. I must say I am becoming a big fan of authors who read their own work. For me it gives the story much more life and power.

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Wonderful book for New Yorkers and tourists alike

Would you listen to The Island at the Center of the World again? Why?

Since the book is mainly a historical text, I would relisten to the book again to brush up on details, but would probably not reread the whole thing.

What did you like best about this story?

The history was told more like a detailed story but not like a boring factual text books.

Any additional comments?

I recommend the text to anyone interested in learning about the early days of New York (not just Manhattan). The text approaches history from the non-traditional approach and adds complexity to the British-biased retellings of history. As a New Yorker, I enjoyed the book but think tourists could also enjoy it, though knowing where locations are might be more challenging.

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