Russell Shorto

The Liberal Quiz – “Amsterdam”

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Which one of these is false?

  • AMSTERDAM was the home of the world’s first stock exchange and the place where the concept of “shares of stock” was invented.
  • The first gay marriage was celebrated in AMSTERDAM.
  • During the 17th century, one-third of all books published in the entire world were produced in AMSTERDAM.
  • AMSTERDAM is where John and Yoko celebrated their honeymoon and had their “Bed-In for Peace.”
  • Prostitution is legal in AMSTERDAM; the city’s prostitutes pay taxes, and for them the cost of condoms is considered a legitimate tax deduction.
  • It’s legal to buy marijuana in AMSTERDAM’s famous coffee shops.
  • Forty percent of all transportation in AMSTERDAM is via bicycle, and bicycles are so common that cyclists can ride right through the Rijksmuseum, the city’s landmark art-and-history museum.
  • AMSTERDAM is the birthplace and epicenter of all things LIBERAL.
  • Despite the above statement, AMSTERDAM is actually quite a conservative town in many ways. Its outskirts are lined with dour multi-national corporations, and its center is quaint and cozy and tidy, with higgledy-piggledy canal houses lining pretty little canals.
  • AMSTERDAM is the subject of my new book, published October 22.


  • hover this text to see the answer

    It’s not true that marijuana is legal in Amsterdam’s coffee shops. Marijuana is gedogen: technically illegal but officially tolerated. That is a uniquely Dutch classification, which goes to the core of the Dutch identity and Amsterdam’s whole tradition of tolerance.

About the Author

  I was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I have three children (Anna, Eva and Anthony) and three step-children (Reinier, Hector and Benjamin).  I write books of narrative history; I believe history is most meaningful to us when it manifests itself through individuals in conflict. My books have been published in fourteen languages and have won numerous awards.  I am senior scholar at the New Netherland Institute and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. My interests include the past, the present and the future, not necessarily in that order.  

photo by Keke Keukelaar