Russell Shorto

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Amsterdam

the new book:

“Shorto conjures the anything-goes spirit of contemporary Amsterdam, with its pot-smoking and red-light districts, from the city’s fascinating past as a major port city. Amsterdam, to Shorto, was not only the first city in Europe to develop the cultural and political foundations of what we now call liberalism—a society focused on the concerns and comforts of individuals, run by individuals acting together, and tolerant of religion, ethnicity, or other differences—but also an exporter of these beliefs to the rest of Europe and the New World. Shorto’s brilliant follow-up to his previous book on Dutch Manhattan (The Island at the Center of the World) is an expertly told history of a city of new, shocking freedoms and the tough-minded people that developed them.”  ~ Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) READ MORE

Mourning in Holland

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A cultural conundrum that I struggled to comprehend during my six years of living in Amsterdam concerned the Dutch attitude toward celebrities. They are passionate about their own celebrities – far more than about Hollywood stars, which is fair enough – but in the midst of intensely gossiping about a homegrown film or sports personality, they will suddenly turn blasé, as if the celeb were a mere family member who had started to become uppity.

Continue reading my essay in Time.com/Zocalo Public Square.


Salt in the Wound

Monday, July 21, 2014

925.nl, a Dutch business news site, reports that the missile that shot down a Malaysian Airlines jet over Ukraine, whose passengers were overwhelmingly Dutch, was made by Rostec, a Russian company whose headquarters are in . . . Amsterdam. The site further states that the reason the Russian company is based there is to take advantage of low Dutch taxes on foreign corporations.


Down the Road

Saturday, July 19, 2014

When we told friends last year that we had decided to move from Europe to the mountains of western Maryland, we got the same response (complete with italics) over and over:

Why?

Point taken. Our new home, while it excels in hiking trails and glorious views, is not especially great for culture, restaurants, night life or even good coffee. But we had several reasons for moving where we did. High among them was that I was about to launch into work on a book about the American Revolution. My new town, Cumberland, would place me near the center of the action, within driving distance of battlefields and libraries up and down the East Coast.

Continue to my New York Times story on Braddock’s road.


Oh, K

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I moved last year from Amsterdam, arguably the world’s most permissive city, to Cumberland, Maryland. Cumberland is tucked into the hills in the western part of the state. I knew it was just a wee bit Appalachia, and for the most part that’s just fine. But yesterday the newspaper told us there would be a Ku Klux Klan rally downtown. A joke? No, apparently.

But then again, yes: a joke. The dreaded KKK registered with the Cumberland police its intention to hold a public demonstration to rally support for their Christian-racist ideology. So naturally I went. And I have to report, it was a gratifying display. The turnout on the K side was: six or seven hombres who looked like they’ve been living in a cave, wearing what I guess they took to be intimidating costumes. (No pillowcases, though.) Meanwhile, across the street from their display were at least 300 townspeople, of all races and skin colors, brandishing signs and hollering like hell at the silly creatures. The cops did their job: protected the freedom of speech thing.

All in all, gratifying. Humanity does evolve, apparently.
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Herring

Monday, April 21, 2014

For the six years I lived in Amsterdam I had a weekly ritual that revolved around herring. Once a week, on no particular day, I’d mosey down the street from my office and stand in line outside a tiny shop near the harborfront called V.O.F. Vishandel Centrum…

(herring)


Where’s Italy?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Everyone knows that Italy is a mess. But how much of a mess? An op-ed in today’s New York Times by Corriere della Sera journalist Beppe Severgnini focuses on tourism, but one might see the state of the tourism industry as Italy in miniature:

“The Italian Tourist Board spends an astounding 98 percent of its budget on salaries, with basically nothing left for its actual job of tourism promotion.”

“Until recently the Campania regional authority had a palatial New York residence on Fifth Avenue.”

“Metaponto, in the Basilicata region east of Naples, has a five-track, marble-clad rail station, paid for by $25 million in European Union funds. But the last train out is an 8:21 a.m. express to Rome. If you want to go anywhere else, you have to take a bus.”

“Since World War II, the government has poured $550 billion into the Mezzogiorno, to no avail. By almost every measure, it is actually worse off relative to the rest of the country than it was 60 years ago.”


How to Think Like the Dutch

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In December 2012, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was on vacation in Berlin when he decided to detour to the Netherlands. He wanted to get a firsthand sense of the famed Dutch approach to water management. Hurricane Sandy struck six weeks before, and in the aftermath, President Obama asked him to lead a task force, whose objective was not just to rebuild but also to radically rethink the region’s infrastructure in light of climate change.

In the Netherlands, a man named Henk Ovink offered to be Donovan’s guide. Ovink was the director of the office of Spatial Planning and Water Management, meaning, essentially, that it was his job to keep the famously waterlogged country dry.

Go to my story on Henk Ovink in the New York Times Magazine…


Wilders Slides Across a Line

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Geert Wilders, the flamboyantly anti-Muslim agitator of Dutch politics, headed into yesterday’s election with the expectation of becoming the country’s biggest party. Instead, lo and behold, he actually lost seats. Maybe as a reaction to the shock of the turnaround (he had been so confident that he appeared at a rally with the Rocky theme song playing), he stepped over a line he’d never crossed before. He has always been happy to bash Muslims: their holy book, their way of life. But this time he led his supporters in a chant against Moroccans. Targeting a specific nationality of legal immigrants is bold new terrain.


Sometimes a sound, an explosion from out in the world, dislodges a thought. Broken from the brick of the mind it becomes accessible as a thing of itself. There is a raw physicality to this occurrence. A thought is shaken into existence by a violent shudder in the material world. It may nevertheless not have clear edges. It may be at the same time instantly and vividly observable and of unknown contours and depth. It is about something, surely, but the nature of its referent is such that it unfolds. The structure of the thought, then, can be thought of as akin to a building covered in doors. Opening a door leads to a room. There are doors in most of these rooms. They lead to other rooms. Some doors lead back to the exterior. From here, you can observe some of the shape of the building, but you realize that its shape, its exterior feature, does not give you insight. So you open a door again.


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