Book Review: Amsterdam Posted by Karoly Molina on Jan 12, 2017 in Uncategorized
The latest Dutch-related read is Russell Shorto’s Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City which was first published in 2013. Shorto is an American writer who lived in Amsterdam for a few years and from what I can gather from the book, loved the city! According to his website, his writing is focused on narrative history.
Like the title says, this book is about the history of Amsterdam intertwined with experiences of Shorto’s life there. Overall, the book gives a fascinating account of how the city came about to be how we know it now. Within the story of Amsterdam is much of the story of the Netherlands as a whole because the development of one affected the other. The greatest characters of the Netherlands such as Willem van Orange, Spinoza and Rembrandt are also mentioned with a captivating account of their lives and how they changed the course of the country.
Russell Shorto is definitely a writer that pulls you into the story. For some people, hearing that a book is historical narrative sounds like a big yawn, however, Shorto’s narrative is easy to follow and captivating. As you read, you can really follow the lives of the average (and not so average) residents of Amsterdam.
The following video is of a book reading by Shorto:
What I like most about the book is the emphasis Shorto makes on how the Dutch became so tolerant. According to Shorto, the need for everyone to pull their weight to keep the country literally afloat meant that everyone’s individuality had to be respected. Tolerance for each other meant the survival of the group. This same principle was then transferred to Amsterdam in its tolerance to foreigners. Because individuality was tolerated in Amsterdam, the city as a whole was able to become a major influence in trade, philosophy, politics and multiculturalism. Although at times the recurrence of the theme seems a bit too romantic and idealist, Shorto makes this one of the underlying themes of the book.
Have any of you read this book? If so, what were your thoughts about it?
For those of you looking to learn more about the history of Amsterdam and/or wanting to practice listening in Dutch, the following is a short documentary-type video about the peak of the Netherlands and Amsterdam: The Golden Age.
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