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The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan & the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America

A-IslandCenterWorldThe Pilgrims may have founded New England, but Manhattan established our diverse, free, and open nation. Mining recently translated sources, Shorto argues that New Netherland, the Dutch colony that occupied Manhattan beginning in 1609, inspired modern American values. Defined by its free trade, ethnic diversity, interracial marriages, and half-dozen languages and currencies, New Netherland privileged "frankness, piety, a keen business sense, an eye on the wider world, and a willingness to put up with people’s differences." This unique blend of traits, which survived the English takeover in 1664, created a prototype for American society. In short, the author claims, America "was Manhattan… right from the start."
Doubleday. 384 pages. $27.50.

NY Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[A]n astonishing new history. … Relying on the fruits of Dr. Gehring’s [translation] enterprise, Mr. Shorto has created far more than an addendum to familiar American history: a book that will permanently alter the way we regard our collective past." Janet Maslin

Ft. Worth Star Telegram 4 of 5 Stars
"More fascinating, accurate and obvious on a day-to-day level are Shorto’s revelation of words and practices that the Dutch settlers introduced into America…" Wayne Lee Gray

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"What Shorto has hit upon is nothing less than the true dichotomy at the heart of the American story, the fact that most of our ancestors came to this land for material as well as idealistic reasons." Kevin Baker

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Russell Shorto brings this brief but deeply influential chapter in the city’s history to vivid, breathtaking life. … This is all the more astonishing considering he was working with fragments of 17th-century documents only recently translated by the linguist and historian Charles Gehring." Irina Reyn

San Jose Mercury News 4 of 5 Stars
"… I was not only completely caught up in Shorto’s story, which is as readable as a finely written novel, but convinced that his premises are correct. … Shorto is a fine writer, one who has taken this mountain of details, which could have been ponderously dull in the wrong hands, and chiseled it into a masterwork." Judith Neuman Beck

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Shorto supplies lucid, comprehensive contexts in which to see the colony’s promise and turmoil. … The book’s moments of ‘double exposure,’ where Shorto contrasts Manhattan sights and sounds as they were then with what stands there now, are a pure delight." Michael Upchurch

Critical Summary

It’s time to bury your Mayflower ancestors—now, think hard. Didn’t you have Dutch relations too? Shorto’s authoritative history challenges the textbook claim about our nation’s Puritan origins. "The Pilgrims’ story," Shorto answers, "was simpler, less messy, and had fewer pirates and prostitutes to explain away." Not to mention that the 12,000 pages of documents Shorto used to reconstruct New Netherland’s impressive influence only recently came to light. From the convincing claim that Dutch ideas of liberty influenced the Bill of Rights down to the smallest details about how Dutch language, intermarriage, local politics, and civil models affected America, the book reads like a novel. Impressive characters, including Henry Hudson and Peter Stuyvesant, populate a wholly compelling work. Island will permanently change our understanding of early American history.

Modern New York City History

A-DevilsPlayground.epsThe Devil’s Playground A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square | James Traub (2004): "Times change, and so does Times Square. It is admirable that Traub is able to accept not merely the inevitability of this but also the desirability —to acknowledge that change may not always go in the directions we’d like it to, but that waxing sentimental over the lost past is fruitless and self-indulgent." Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post