Amsterdam: Book summary and reviews of Amsterdam by Russell Shorto

Amsterdam

A History of the World's Most Liberal City

By Russell Shorto

Amsterdam
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2013,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

An endlessly entertaining portrait of the city of Amsterdam and the ideas that make it unique, by the author of the acclaimed Island at the Center of the World

Tourists know Amsterdam as a picturesque city of low-slung brick houses lining tidy canals; student travelers know it for its legal brothels and hash bars; art lovers know it for Rembrandt's glorious portraits.

But the deeper history of Amsterdam, what makes it one of the most fascinating places on earth, is bound up in its unique geography - the constant battle of its citizens to keep the sea at bay and the democratic philosophy that this enduring struggle fostered. Amsterdam is the font of liberalism, in both its senses. Tolerance for free thinking and free love make it a place where, in the words of one of its mayors, "craziness is a value." But the city also fostered the deeper meaning of liberalism, one that profoundly influenced America: political and economic freedom. Amsterdam was home not only to religious dissidents and radical thinkers but to the world's first great global corporation.

In this effortlessly erudite account, Russell Shorto traces the idiosyncratic evolution of Amsterdam, showing how such disparate elements as herring anatomy, naked Anabaptists parading through the streets, and an intimate gathering in a sixteenth-century wine-tasting room had a profound effect on Dutch-and world-history. Weaving in his own experiences of his adopted home, Shorto provides an ever-surprising, intellectually engaging story of Amsterdam from the building of its first canals in the 1300s, through its brutal struggle for independence, its golden age as a vast empire, to its complex present in which its cherished ideals of liberalism are under siege.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [An] expertly told history of a city of new, shocking freedoms and the tough-minded people that developed them." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Vigorous, erudite and eminently readable." - Kirkus

"The story of a great city that has shaped the soul of the world. Masterful reporting, vivid history - the past and present are equally alive in this book." - James Gleick, author of The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood

"Not only is this a wonderfully readable account of the city that Shorto has come to call home, it is also a history of how the Dutch invented - and sometimes failed to live up to - today's concepts of liberty and tolerance." - Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493

"Russell Shorto writes engagingly about how a city can engender ideas - order, tolerance, comfort, egalitarianism, entrepreneurship - and in turn be shaped by them." - Witold Rybczynski, author of How Architecture Works: A Humanist's Toolkit

"An often brilliant, and always enjoyable, investigation of liberalism's Dutch roots.  Shorto is once again revealed as a passionate and persuasive historian of culture and ideas." - Joseph O'Neill, author of Netherland

"Russell Shorto loves Amsterdam, I love this book." - Job Cohen, former mayor of Amsterdam

"Russell Shorto's luminous book is a riveting history of one of the world's most remarkable cities." - Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editorand Publisher, The Nation

"This is a wonderful history of a great and fascinating city." - Steven Nadler, William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy and award-winning author of Rembrandt's Jews and Spinoza: A Life

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More Information

Russell Shorto is the bestselling author of Descartes' Bones and The Island at the Center of the World and is a contributing writer at the The New York Times Magazine. He lives in Amsterdam.

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