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Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City (2013)

by Russell Shorto

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4182143,617 (3.85)38
Tourists know Amsterdam as a picturesque city of low-slung brick houses lining tidy canals; student travelers know it for its legal brothels and hash bars; art lovers know it for Rembrandt's glorious portraits. But the deeper history of Amsterdam, what makes it one of the most fascinating places on earth, is bound up in its unique geography--the constant battle of its citizens to keep the sea at bay--and the democratic philosophy that this enduring struggle fostered. Amsterdam is the font of liberalism, in both its senses. Tolerance for free thinking and free love make it a place where, in the words of one of its mayors, "craziness is a value." But the city also fostered the deeper meaning of liberalism, one that profoundly influenced America: political and economic freedom. Amsterdam was home not only to religious dissidents and radical thinkers but to the world's first great global corporation. In this effortlessly erudite account, Russell Shorto traces the idiosyncratic evolution of Amsterdam, showing how such disparate elements as herring anatomy, naked Anabaptists parading through the streets, and an intimate gathering in a sixteenth century wine tasting room had a profound effect on Dutch--and world--history. Weaving in his own experiences of his adopted home, Shorto provides an ever surprising, intellectually engaging story of Amsterdam from the building of its first canals in the 1300s, through its brutal struggle for independence and its golden age as a vast empire, to its complex present in which its cherished ideals of liberalism are being questioned anew.--Publisher description.… (more)
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» See also 38 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
I have posted my review on my blog The Itinerant Librarian. Click (or copy and paste to your browser) the link:


Link: http://itinerantlibrarian.blogspot.com/2013/10/booknote-amsterdam.html ( )
  bloodravenlib | Aug 17, 2020 |
I listened to this book on Audible, and I enjoyed so much I will probably read the hardback version. The history of Amsterdam covers both the political and cultural contributions of the Dutch society to medicine, trade, philosophy, and the arts. Of particular interest to me as Jew, was the history of the Jewish culture in Amsterdam. This history included Spinoza's impact as well as the Nazi invasion in which so Jews were sent off to concentration camps. Of course, Anne Frank being one of the most famous. Great book! ( )
  kerryp | Jul 4, 2020 |
What an excellent history of such a wonderful city, which managed to be both a capitalist superstar at one time as well as a beacon of tolerance. Oh, if we could only emulate that combination of virtues. ( )
  gbelik | Apr 1, 2020 |
More like a survey of historical Dutch than a story of city history. Dry, long, boring, uninteresting. All are the exact opposite of Amsterdam. ( )
  Rex_Lui | Sep 12, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Russell Shortoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Windsor, Michael J.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Tourists know Amsterdam as a picturesque city of low-slung brick houses lining tidy canals; student travelers know it for its legal brothels and hash bars; art lovers know it for Rembrandt's glorious portraits. But the deeper history of Amsterdam, what makes it one of the most fascinating places on earth, is bound up in its unique geography--the constant battle of its citizens to keep the sea at bay--and the democratic philosophy that this enduring struggle fostered. Amsterdam is the font of liberalism, in both its senses. Tolerance for free thinking and free love make it a place where, in the words of one of its mayors, "craziness is a value." But the city also fostered the deeper meaning of liberalism, one that profoundly influenced America: political and economic freedom. Amsterdam was home not only to religious dissidents and radical thinkers but to the world's first great global corporation. In this effortlessly erudite account, Russell Shorto traces the idiosyncratic evolution of Amsterdam, showing how such disparate elements as herring anatomy, naked Anabaptists parading through the streets, and an intimate gathering in a sixteenth century wine tasting room had a profound effect on Dutch--and world--history. Weaving in his own experiences of his adopted home, Shorto provides an ever surprising, intellectually engaging story of Amsterdam from the building of its first canals in the 1300s, through its brutal struggle for independence and its golden age as a vast empire, to its complex present in which its cherished ideals of liberalism are being questioned anew.--Publisher description.

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