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The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto
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The Island at the Center of the World

The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America

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Narrator Russell Shorto
Length 14 hours 32 minutes
Language English
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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 thirteen “original” American colonies.  For the past thirty 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 seventeenth 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. 

Russell Shorto is the author of two previous books: Gospel Truth, about the search for the historical Jesus, and Saints and Madmen, about psychiatry and religion. The hub of his research for The Island at the Center of the World was the New Netherland Project at the New York State Library, where the archives of the Dutch colony centered on Manhattan are being translated. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, GQ, and many other publications. He lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with his wife and their two daughters.

Russell Shorto is the author of two previous books: Gospel Truth, about the search for the historical Jesus, and Saints and Madmen, about psychiatry and religion. The hub of his research for The Island at the Center of the World was the New Netherland Project at the New York State Library, where the archives of the Dutch colony centered on Manhattan are being translated. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, GQ, and many other publications. He lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with his wife and their two daughters.

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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

“Literary alchemy. . . . Shorto’s exhaustively researched and highly readable book is a stirring re-examination. . . . Brilliant and magisterial narrative history” —Chicago Tribune

“Masterly . . . A new foundation myth . . .Shorto writes at all times with passion, verve, nuance and considerable humor.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Rattlingly well told–a terrific popular history about a past that beautifully illuminates the present.” —The Sunday Times [London]

“A dramatic, kaleidoscopic and, on the whole, quite wonderful book. . . . This is one of those rare books in the picked-over field of colonial history, a whole new picture, a thrown-open window. . . . [A] full-blooded resurrection of an unfamiliar American patriot.” –The New York Observer

“Deserves to be a bestseller . . .narratively irresistible, intellectually provocative, historically invaluable” –The Guardian

“A spry, informative history. . . . Shorto supplies lucid, comprehensive contexts in which to see the colony’s promise and turmoil. . . . [D]elivers the goods with clarity, color and zest.” –The Seattle Times

“As Russell Shorto demonstrates in this mesmerizing volume, the story we don’t know is even more fascinating than the one we do . . .Historians must now seriously rethink what they previously understand about New York’s origins . . .” –The New York Post

“Russell Shorto fires a powerful salvo on the war of words over America’s origins . . . he mounts a convincing case [that], in Shorto’s words, ‘Manhattan is where America began.’ Readers . . find themselves absorbed in what can only be described as a plot, revolving around two strong men with conflicting visions of the future of Dutch North America.” –America: The National Catholic Weekly

“Fascinating. . . . A richly nuanced portrait set against events on the world stage.” --Time Out New York

“Shorto brings this . . . deeply influential chapter in the city’s history to vivid, breathtaking life [with] a talent for enlivening meticulous research and painting on a broad canvas. . . . In elegant, erudite prose, he manages to capture the lives of disparate historical characters, from kings to prostitutes.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Remarkable. . . . [C]ompulsively interesting. . . . . Shorto argues that during the brief decades of its Dutch colonial existence Manhattan had already found, once and for all, its tumultuously eclectic soul.” –New Statesman

“Shorto delineates the characters in this nonfiction drama convincingly and compellingly.” –Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“[An] absorbing, sensual, sometimes bawdy narrative featuring whores, pirates, explorers and scholars. With clarity and panache, Shorto briskly conveys the complex history of the age of exploration.” –Times Literary Supplement 

“Shorto’s book makes a convincing case that the Dutch did not merely influence the relatively open, tolerant and multicultural society that became the United States; they made the first and most significant contribution.” –American History

“Shorto’s prose is deliciously rich and witty, and the story he tells–drawing heavily on sources that have only recently come to light–brings one surprise after another. His rediscovery of Adriaen van der Donck, Peter Stuyvesant’s nemesis, is fascinating.” –Edward G. Burrows, coauthor of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History

“A landmark work . . .Shorto paints the emotions and attitudes of his characters with a sure hand, and bestows on each a believable, living presence.” –The Times (London)

“A triumph of scholarship and a rollicking narrative . . . an exciting drama about the roots of America’s freedoms.” –Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life Expand reviews