Russell Shorto

Russell Shorto's website


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

In Ireland, Chasing Yeats

Friday, April 17, 2015

I will arise and go now…

Surprisingly often, when I get up from a chair to leave a room, those six melodramatic words will unfurl in my mind. Somehow William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” which, like millions of other people, I first read in college, stays rooted in me:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…

And I’m off, not to the dentist or the shopping mall but, mentally, striding emerald slopes, making for a place of myth…

Latest piece in the NYT Travel section…

Walking with the Angels

Monday, March 23, 2015

My South African pal Mike Morgan has a great memorial to a fellow Anti-Apartheid figure in “Counterpunch”…

Walking With the Angels
Remembering Anti-Apartheid Organizer Don Morton
The first time I met Don was at an Indian curry parlor in Brick Lane, London. We each had a plate of Prawn Vindaloo and it was mother-in-law hot. We spent the rest of the evening cooling down on pints of John Courage. The combination of warm beer along with fire-engine red fish curry had a dire effect. But in between refills of the Directors Bitter and trips to the can, Don recruited me to come to America. That was August of 1978. I was twenty-three years of age…

go to the story

The Internet Says It, so It Must Be True

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Guilderland Public Library, Adult Book Discussion Groups

Great Books – Thursdays at 7:00 pm
Are the “classics” still worth reading? We think they are! These are the books that continue to be read in times, places and cultures far removed from those in which they were written. Since these books have had so much to say to so many different people, they’re very likely to hold meaning for us as well. Join us as we discuss books that you’ve always wanted to read, or may have read growing up but want to read again!

February 5: Silas Marner, by George Eliot
March 5: Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Franki
April 2: The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto
May 7: Henry V, by William Shakespeare
June 4: The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

On Slavery’s Doorstep

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mandred Henry was a health care sales rep from Hartford whom people often stopped on the street, saying he was a dead ringer for Morgan Freeman. Throughout his life he identified strongly with his African-American background. He was president of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. He remembered his mother keeping her grandmother’s slavery manumission papers in her top drawer…

My cover story in the New York Times travel section.

Traveling to Amsterdam?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Anyone planning a trip to Amsterdam who wants the grooviest, most historically rich and compelling tour of the city’s crannies and byways should contact tour guide par excellence Mark Law. He has put together a custom tour based on my book “Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City.” Mark will weave together the seemingly disparate tales of hash dens, the world’s first stock market, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for Peace. Not to be missed! Click here.


“Amsterdam” in paperback this month. “Bookslut” review:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The title of Russell Shorto’s readable, thoughtful, and personally engaged Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City immediately calls to mind two facts every student traveller knows: people aren’t going to Amsterdam coffee houses for the espresso, and those red-lit display windows aren’t advertising underwear.

Shorto, who has lived in Amsterdam for several years, is certainly aware of both the sex trade and the legal status of drugs — results of Amsterdam’s famous “tolerance.” But his title refers to something else, something much more complicated. Liberalism, as he explores, it begins with the “fault line” between modern and medieval, and the break with the idea that all “knowledge and power” stemmed from the Church and the monarchy.

For a variety of reasons, as Shorto’s book explores, the Dutch came early to “liberalism,” and to the concepts of both communalism and individualism. These — along with the cosmopolitanism of the Dutch Golden Age — produced a concept that the Dutch call gedogen. Tolerance. Or, as Shorto explains it, the idea that, yes, this may be questionable behavior but since we know we can’t stop it, we will allow it…

full review

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 Public Square.

Salt in the Wound

Monday, July 21, 2014, 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.

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