The Island at the Center of the World
The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, and the Founding Colony that Shaped America
The Island at the Center of the World is a narrative history of Manhattan’s founding. The argument is that the Dutch founding of Manhattan—and of the colony of New Netherland, which extended across the whole Middle Atlantic region—seeded not only New York’s immigrant culture, but America’s melting pot. I’m a strong believer in the idea that meaning is best conveyed via narrative, which means focusing on individuals and their struggles, and the story I tell centers on two men and their very different ideas about what the wilderness island called Manhattan might become. (Hint on the outcome: neither man got his wish, but both ended up influencing American history in startling and profound ways.)
The Island at the Center of the World was a bestseller in the U.S. It was also published in Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Brazil, and has received international acclaim. The Wall Street Journal called it “a masterpiece of storytelling and first-rate intellectual history.” The Times of London said it was “a landmark book.” The New York Times described it as “masterly” and “a book that will permanently alter the way we regard our collective past.” Holland’s Algemeen Dagblad called it “a masterwork,” and Britain’s Guardian described it as “narratively irresistible, intellectually provocative, historically invaluable.” It won the New York City Book Award, the Washington Irving Prize for contribution to New York history, and several other awards. It was a New York Times Notable Book for 2004 and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of its 25 outstanding books for the year.
The book has helped spark a reappraisal of the Dutch colony by historians. It is taught in college and high school history courses. It has also led to a new awareness among the Dutch of their role in shaping U.S. history. It was the inspiration of a four-part documentary on Dutch public television (featuring me–here’s a You Tube clip) called “The New York Connection.”