Curl Up With a Book Sunday
The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you have ever wondered why it is that we learn in American History that the country was founded with Puritan ideals, yet the basics of tolerance and civil liberties are in conflict with the intolerance of the Puritans, then this book is for you!
It is no secret that I am a sucker for well-written history books. I have always felt that my education in the history of my own country, let alone the world, was not good enough. This may not have been the fault of my teachers as I was most likely much more engaged by my science and math classes, but some of the dry texts that we read did not help matters. I am also not fond of the short attention span textbooks that my son is required to use, but I do think that he is getting a broader view of history than I did. To fill in the gaps, I now actively seek out books that both inform and keep my attention. Russell Shorto has succeeded on both levels.
After reading The Island at the Center of the World, I realize that I previously knew very little about New Netherlands. I don't even recall learning that Henry Hudson was working for the Dutch when he "discovered" Manhattan. Those gaps have been filled in grand style. This was a thoroughly enjoyable yet well-researched book. Shorto has a gift for bringing energy and life to what could be dry details. By focussing on the people and their interactions, he breathes life into the dusty pages of long-untranslated records. If he has any failings it is perhaps that he reaches a bit far to personalize those who left little record and there are some repetitions. Still, the flaws are few and are easily overlooked. In terms of style, he doesn't quite reach that of David McCullough, but I will not hold that against him.
This book is well worth the time and answers many questions that I have had about how we managed to value tolerance when our supposed founders epitomized intolerance and bigotry. The answers lie within these covers.
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