Russell Shorto
The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto

The Island at the Center of the World

The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, and the Founding Colony that Shaped America

Astonishing … A book that will permanently alter the way we regard our collective past.”

The New York Times

Here is a review that appeared in the Guardian.

New York Times Book Review

New York Times

Wall Street Journal

In April 2011 The Island at the Center of the World came out for the first time in Spanish--the sixth language in which it has appeared. Here's a review in El Pais.

Readers of The Island at the Center of the World might want to visit the website of the New Netherland Institute, where the Dutch documents of the New Netherland colony are being translated and published, and where I am currently Senior Scholar. Those of a philanthropic nature might care to contribute to the ongoing work of the nonprofit NNI by becoming a member.

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. In 2015 Brooklyn Magazine ranked The Island at the Center of the World Number 1 on its list of 100 Books Every New Yorker Should Read.”

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 YouTube clip) called The New York Connection.” It has been optioned for a TV series and, in the Netherlands, a stage musical is in development. My current favorite outcome, however, is that a couple who read and loved the book recently wrote to tell me they named their newborn Adrian, after Adriaen Van der Donck, the central figure in the book.

A tour de force.… The dramatic story of New York’s origins is splendidly told.… A masterpiece of storytelling and first-rate intellectual history.”

Russell Shorto’s dramatic adventure tale about the settling of Manhattan will transform the way we look at American history. The Dutch colony, founded just three years after the Puritans landed in Massachusetts, quickly became the gateway for Germans, Italians, Jews, Scandinavians, Africans, and others who created the pluralistic mix that would define a new nation. Shorto’s book recounts the fascinating struggle between Peter Stuyvesant and the lesser-known but more influential Adriaen van der Donck, whose appreciation for individual tolerance laid the foundation for our Bill of Rights and helped to create our national character. It’s also the story of the remarkable age of exploration led by Henry Hudson and others who spread the culture of the European Renaissance to a distant wilderness. Based on a wealth of documents that archivist began translating forty years ago, Shorto has produced both a triumph of scholarship and a rollicking narrative. The result is an exciting drama about the roots of America’s freedoms.”

— Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Astonishing … A book that will permanently alter the way we regard our collective past.”

The New York Times

As readable as a finely written novel.… social history in the Barbara Tuchman tradition.”

San Jose Mercury News

Literary alchemy.… Shorto’s exhaustively researched and highly readable book is a stirring re-examination.… Brilliant and magisterial narrative history”

Chicago Tribune

Masterly … A new foundation myth …Shorto writes at all times with passion, verve, nuance and considerable humor.”

The New York Times Book Review

Rattlingly well told – a terrific popular history about a past that beautifully illuminates the present.”

The Sunday Times [London]

A dramatic, kaleidoscopic and, on the whole, quite wonderful book.… This is one of those rare books in the picked-over field of colonial history, a whole new picture, a thrown-open window.… [A] full-blooded resurrection of an unfamiliar American patriot.”

The New York Observer

Deserves to be a bestseller …narratively irresistible, intellectually provocative, historically invaluable”

The Guardian

A spry, informative history.… Shorto supplies lucid, comprehensive contexts in which to see the colony’s promise and turmoil.… [D]elivers the goods with clarity, color and zest.”

The Seattle Times

As Russell Shorto demonstrates in this mesmerizing volume, the story we don’t know is even more fascinating than the one we do …Historians must now seriously rethink what they previously understand about New York’s origins …”

The New York Post

Russell Shorto fires a powerful salvo on the war of words over America’s origins … he mounts a convincing case [that], in Shorto’s words, Manhattan is where America began.’ Readers . . find themselves absorbed in what can only be described as a plot, revolving around two strong men with conflicting visions of the future of Dutch North America.”

America: The National Catholic Weekly

Fascinating.… A richly nuanced portrait set against events on the world stage.”

Time Out New York

Shorto brings this … deeply influential chapter in the city’s history to vivid, breathtaking life [with] a talent for enlivening meticulous research and painting on a broad canvas.… In elegant, erudite prose, he manages to capture the lives of disparate historical characters, from kings to prostitutes.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Remarkable.… [C]ompulsively interesting.… . Shorto argues that during the brief decades of its Dutch colonial existence Manhattan had already found, once and for all, its tumultuously eclectic soul.”

New Statesman

Shorto delineates the characters in this nonfiction drama convincingly and compellingly.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

[An] absorbing, sensual, sometimes bawdy narrative featuring whores, pirates, explorers and scholars. With clarity and panache, Shorto briskly conveys the complex history of the age of exploration.”

Times Literary Supplement

Shorto’s book makes a convincing case that the Dutch did not merely influence the relatively open, tolerant and multicultural society that became the United States; they made the first and most significant contribution.”

American History

The Island at the Center of the World ranks among the best books ever written about New Amsterdam, the Dutch settlement on Manhattan that would become New York City. Shorto’s prose is deliciously rich and witty, and the story he tells — drawing heavily on sources that have only recently come to light — brings one surprise after another. His rediscovery of Adriaen van der Donck, Peter Stuyvesant’s nemesis, is fascinating.”

— Edwin G. Burrows, coauthor of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History

A landmark work …Shorto paints the emotions and attitudes of his characters with a sure hand, and bestows on each a believable, living presence.”