Russell Shorto’s book, “The Island at the Center of the World” presents a lively picture of New York’s much forgotten origin while offering the author’s conviction that the Dutch influence in New Netherland has been a lasting one and shapes the Island of Manhattan today.
To me, the book features two heroes. One is a young ambitious yet idealistic Dutchman Adriaen van der Donck, and the other is a man whose love of a language long lost brought history back to life – Charles Gehring. Though you hear little more about Mr. Gehring after the first few pages it was his tireless work translating long-lost Dutch records into English – through a large endowment from Nelson Rockefeller – that provided the material for the author to weave this unforgettable tale. It is in Mr. Shorto’s capable hands that Manhattan’s 40 years as a Dutch colony comes alive like no other historical accounting that I have ever read.
“Island” answered questions I didn’t know I had (like why is Wall Street called that?), takes what I thought was historical fact and turns it on its ear (Stuyvesant was a bad guy?), and gave me an understanding of the present by explaining the past (why is New York City different from every other city in America?). While doing all that, the author also injects humor and unforgettable characters (a real pirate marries a prostitute and they become rich land owners on Long Island) making the pages practically turn themselves. If you are a fan of New York and want to learn more about its history, or if you just want a great historical read, I strongly recommend “The Island at the Center of the World”.
By: Jennifer Rota