One of HuffPo’s Best Books of the Year

By Russell Shorto
$28.95; Doubleday

Finally, this delightfully eccentric history looks at Amsterdam. For many, the first thing that comes to mind is marijuana, but Shorto ably demonstrates how Amsterdam is generally more conservative and far more influential than the lax drug laws (or rather, lax enforcement of drug laws) imply. Amsterdam is truly the birthplace of democracy and specifically liberalism that is such a feature of the US and New York City in particular. Ranging over centuries, Shorto captures everything from his own connection to the city to the excitement of Spinoza’s bold thinking. With vivid tales from history, he shows how and why Amsterdam became such a unique and fertile ground for capitalism as we know it. (For one thing, it was literally created out of swampland by pounding log after log into the ground until a base was formed that could be built in. God made the world but man made Amsterdam and that land built by sweat wasn’t already controlled by a monarchy or other ruling class.) Shorto brings to life a survivor of the Nazis who played with Anne Frank as a child, the truly eccentric characters that proved “crazy” is a virtue in this society to the Amsterdam of today. Eye-opening and entertaining, it’s popular history of the best sort.

best books…

My ‘Amsterdam’ made the Seattle Times’ list of the best books of 2013:

“Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City” by Russell Shorto (Doubleday). This finely spun history of Amsterdam explores both a city and an idea, as American author Shorto, a marvelous picture painter in words who’s lived in Amsterdam for five years, recounts how the city’s brand of “liberalism,” with its maverick blend of freedom, tolerance and strangely skeptical/conservative pragmatism, originated. — Michael Upchurch