Russell Shorto

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Amsterdam Revisited

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

This year we decided to take our summer vacation in Amsterdam. For my family, Amsterdam is not just any destination. I lived in the city for seven years and wrote a book about it. My partner, Pamela, lived there for 23 years. We met in Amsterdam. Our son was born in the city. We have friends, family, colleagues, memories and roots there. It is, logically and in our hearts, our second home. And yet, three years after returning to the United States, we realized that it had become shockingly remote in our lives. So while the trip would be a vacation, the real motive was to spend a couple of weeks reclaiming Amsterdam…….

Continue to my travel article in the New York Times.

The Frozen Mill

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Three years ago I moved to the panhandle of western Maryland. It’s a wild, mountainous region. There are some lovely Victorian town centers, and also hardscrabble hamlets tucked into the valleys that are comprised largely of low-slung ranch houses fronted by chain-link fences and rusted pickup trucks. The past has a way of lingering in such places; there is no economic development to sweep it away, so it just sits there. (My latest post on

photo by dave romero

Hip Hops

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Not long ago, I found myself in a beer-tasting room in upstate New York, looking out on a field of hops and sampling the craft brews of a company called Indian Ladder Farmstead. Among the list of beers chalked on a blackboard was one particularly hoppy creation named “Dr. Paul Matthews I.P.A.” Naturally I felt obliged to inquire about the eponymous doctor. The owner, Dietrich Gehring, told me that the name was an homage. He said his passion for wild hops had led him to Matthews, to whom he referred as the Lord of the Hops…

My latest post on

Finding Vermeer

Friday, November 20, 2015

An art historian at the University of Amsterdam has identified, with as close to certainty as one is likely to get, the location of one of the iconic paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, Vermeer’s “Little Street.” It was always known to be in Delft, the only city Vermeer painted, but, though others tried, no one could pinpoint the spot. Using maps, water tax records and mathematics, Frans Grijzenhout reasoned that Vermeer must have been standing on Vlamingstraat opposite what are today house numbers 40 and 42. One large clue was the double gate in the painting: a rarity in the 17th century city. The houses of today are different but the size of the lots is precisely the same.



Thursday, September 17, 2015

cover My book “The Island at the Center of the World” is being developed as a dramatic series for PBS. As if that isn’t big enough news, the great Ridley Scott has signed up to executive produce, along with David Zucker, whose credits include “The Good Wife” and, currently, “Killing Jesus.” The writer of the series — Ed Redlich, renowned for “The Practice,” “Shark,” and the current show “Unforgettable” — is working on the pilot script right now. Arvind Ethan David is the producer who optioned the book and brought all the parties together. His company, Ideate Media, will produce the series together with Scott Free, Ridley Scott’s company, Things are moving quickly — stay tuned!

You Change Laws

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

We got a rare hint of actual political wisdom from a politician when Hillary Clinton responded to a Black Lives Matter activist: “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws.” Is that not how it went with the end of slavery, with women’s suffrage, with every political advance in the civil rights movement, with every step in the struggle for women’s equality, with Obamacare? Each time around, it’s not a battle to win hearts and minds of those on the wrong side of history. It is a battle to marshal political forces, to enact laws, and then to enforce them. You don’t hope for or expect the opponents to come around in their hearts. You expect that, through continued enforcement, you will win over their children and grandchildren. It’s a long haul.

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