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What to Read: The Island at the Center of the World

October 15, 2015
What to Read
Jules Seiburgh

What's On the Bookshelf
Over the years, we’ve had numerous conversations with industry leaders and often one of the topics that we discuss is the latest book read. We thought it would be fun to share some of these booklover conversations with our readers. Here are what our industry leaders are reading.

The Island at the Center of the World
by Russell Shorto

[Review by Jules Seiburgh, Jules A Sieburgh LLC]
 
It has been many years since I finished high school in Amsterdam and left The Netherlands to come study and work in the United States. My high school history classes taught me much about the global trading performed by both the Dutch East India Company (established in 1602) and the Dutch West India Company (in 1621). The name India translated from the Dutch word “Indische” may make one think that Dutch trading was only done with India, however it covered a much larger territory. A grant by the Dutch government gave jurisdiction over the Atlantic slave trade, Brazil, the Caribbean and North America.
 
During my early years in New England, I would come across many references to Dutch influences such as Dutch treat, double Dutch, Dutch uncle, etc. And of course I would be asked silly questions like, “Did you wear wooden shoes?”, “Have you had to put your finger in a dike?”, and “Did you know Hans Brinker (a fictional character from an American book)?”

Recently my brother made me aware of a book written by Russell Shorto, “The Island at the Center of the World,” describing the Dutch influences on New York City. Shorto, an American author and historian, lived in Amsterdam from 2007 until 2013 as director of the John Adams Institute. Much of the book is based on recent translations of about 12,000 pages of Dutch letters, deeds, court rulings, journal entries and other items housed at the New York State Library for decades. It is a story about the early residents of New York City and especially about the conflict between Adraen van der Donck and Peter Stuyvesant.

The subtitle of the book, “The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America,” tells one that it is a story rather than a dry chronological history. It is a colorful novel about the trials and tribulation of the new world.

“Dutch control of the New Netherland lasted only about 50 years, but landmarks of that time remain. The Dutch villages of Haarlem and Breukelen would later become New York boroughs (Harlem and Brooklyn). Early Dutch farms, called bouweries, provided the name for the section of the city that would become the Bowery.”

If this review triggers your interest in Dutch history, I would also recommend Shorto’s most recent book, “Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City.” This book is as much about The Netherlands as it is about the global influence of the Dutch.
 
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