The Island at the Center of the World
by Russell Shorto
Do you know the history of the colonization of Manhattan by Europeans? If not, you may enjoy this well-researched book by Russell Shorto: Island at the Center of the World. In 1624, the Dutch came to the then-new land that is known today as “Manhattan” and called it New Netherlands. Shorto’s book builds upon the full-time forty-plus year work of Charles T. Gehring, who was hired in the 1970s to translate hundreds of documents from early settlers of what we now know as New York. The Dutch escaped from their war-torn homeland and developed a free-trade market. They were people of ‘tolerance’ as described by Dr. Gehring, but a number of leaders diverged from that belief and started to uphold a Protestant-only society. Manhattan was the center of the world for many as a result of its waterways connecting the north (Albany up the Hudson River through the Mohawk to the Great lakes) along the coast to Boston and South to Delaware and further south to Virginia. Additionally, they only paid $24 for the island to purchase it from the Indians. Much of the story focuses on the takeover of land from the native tribes, the Dutch leadership (Peter Stuyvesant), the demise of the Dutch to the English (under Oliver Cromwell’s leadership), and the various historical landmarks throughout Manhattan. I was especially interested in the discussion of my neighborhoods and how they were developed, the historical Dutch names of the boroughs, and the impact of the Dutch in upstate NY (my hometown area of the Capital District (Albany area)). Many of the words we know in popular culture (cookies, Santa Claus, cole slaw, etc.) have Dutch influence, as does our legal system. The inner fighting between members from the home land of the Netherlands and the “New” Netherlands people allowed the English to eventually take up roots and remove the Dutch from power. I believe everyone should know their roots and this book provides an in-depth read on the people, the land, customs and decline of power of a national leader into our world. Yes, Manhattan remains the iconic place in today’s world, and we have the Dutch to thank for that. Very good book!