Synopses & Reviews
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 sixteenth-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.
"Rich and eventful....[A] book that easily fuses large cultural trends with intimately personal stories." The New York Times
"Shorto conjures the anything-goes spirit of contemporary Amsterdam, with its pot-smoking and red-light districts, from the city's fascinating past as a major port city....Shorto's brilliant follow-up to his previous book on Dutch Manhattan (The Island at the Center of the World) is an expertly told history of a city of new, shocking freedoms and the tough-minded people that developed them." Publishers Weekly, starred review
"[An] engaging new history...it brims with the sights, smells and sounds of a nearly thousand-year-old bustling, mercantile city." Associated Press
"Shorto is a marvelous picture painter in words....And that makes Amsterdam a pleasure to savor on many levels." The Seattle Times
“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
“Amsterdam is a small place that casts a big shadow. As Russell Shorto shows in this smart, elegant book, culture and geography have conspired to thrust the city into the midst of our day's most important debates. How much individual freedom can we live with? What are the limits of acceptance? How can people from different parts of the world — people with different beliefs, backgrounds and values — coexist in our increasingly globalized cities? Not only is this a wonderfully readable account of the city that Shorto has come to call home, it is also a history of how the Dutch invented — and sometimes failed to live up to — today's concepts of liberty and tolerance.” Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493
"The dynamic historical account of a vibrantly complex European city and the legacy of social, political and economic liberalism it bequeathed to the Western world....Shorto's examination of Amsterdam's colorful history offers important insights into the promise and possibility of enlightened liberalism. Vigorous, erudite and eminently readable." Kirkus Reviews
In this effortlessly erudite account, Russell Shorto traces the evolution of one of the world's greatest cities. From the building of its first canals in the 1300s, through the brutal struggle for Dutch independence and its golden age as the capital of a vast empire, to its complex present in which its cherished ideals of liberalism are under siege, Shorto provides an ever-surprising, intellectually entertaining story of Amsterdam. He also weaves in his own experiences of his adopted home. In the end, Amsterdam is an endlessly captivating portrait of a city that has profoundly influenced the modern world.
About the Author
Russell Shorto is author, most recently, of Descartes’ Bones and The Island at the Center of the World and is a contributing writer at the The New York Times Magazine. His books have been published in fourteen languages and have won numerous awards. From 2008 to 2013, he was the director of the John Adams Institute in Amsterdam.