Island at the Center of Book Review

Excerpt from Book Review :

The author's point is to show the development of a nation through one European settlement and its metamorphosis, and he does that quite well. He shows that the Dutch still have influence in American culture, even though we might not recognize it, and he shows that it truly takes many cultures to blend together to form a more "firm and perfect union." The use of maps, portraits, and even historic documents helps bring the text to life, and helps put the time and technology into perspective, as well. Today, we think nothing of traveling around the world, but in the early 1600s, when the Dutch were settling the New World, it was an extremely risky adventure, and the book brings that risk and difficulty to light, as well.

The author, Russell Shorto, has written two other history texts, and has also written for publications such as the New York Times. He is an Amsterdam resident who lived in New York State when he wrote this book. He used the New York State Library's resources and papers in writing this book. His background in writing and researching history has prepared him for writing this book, and he continues to be adsorbed with projects that explore the history of a nation or a people.

The information contained in this book was helpful, useful, and satisfying. It was not as difficult to read as some academic texts are, and it was very interesting and helpful information for anyone interested in U.S. history. It gives a deeper background into the settlement of America, and shows how all cultures help enrich the fabric of modern American life. Perhaps one of the most satisfying chapters in the book is Chapter 15 -- Inherited Features, which shows how much influence the Dutch actually had on culture and life, and how many of their customs, foods, and sayings have translated down through the ages to become complete embedded in our culture. Many of these items, like "cookies," are extremely familiar, and few people would probably realize their origins went back to the Dutch. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a student of American history, or anyone interested in our history and culture, I think it is an important and valuable book to read and own.

It is clear the author did exhaustive research for this book. He used the New Amsterdam papers of the New York State Library, but also included numerous articles, journals, reports, speeches, and maps as his primary and secondary source docs, and includes an exhaustive Bibliography and Notes section with his work. His research indicates the depth of his research and how well documented his work is, because the Notes and Bibliography sections are included with an Epilogue chapter describing his many sources and how they contributed to the book. It is clear the author knows how to conduct thorough research, and his research helps back up his thesis that this was one of the most important early colonies in the New World. His research shows just how important it was, and how it was relatively easy for even an important colony like this one to become swallowed up by larger and more powerful forces. The bulk of his research was primary sources, especially the Dutch records that are being translated at the New York State Library. These are original historic documents, and so they are primary sources of history and government.

In conclusion, this is an interesting and informative text on early New York history that offers up information not as common as many other history texts. It begins with the age of exploration and discovery, and ends with some of the many rich cultural traditions that still endure from the Dutch history in New York today. "St. A Claus," "cookies," and "coleslaw" (Shorto 314). This book proves that America is much more of a melting pot than we even acknowledge, and that without this rich blending of cultures and traditions, America would not be half the tantalizing and influential country it is today.


Shorto, Russell. The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony…

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