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

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Staff Reviews

An insightful history of the first city in Europe to lay the foundations of what we now call liberalism. From its early days as a religious pilgrimage destination, to the economic liberalism of The East India Company, to its present day expression of social liberalism, Shorto deftly explores Amsterdam’s cultural development. (Lilly)

— From Staff Picks - Lilly


In this effortlessly erudite account, Russell Shorto traces the evolution of one of the world's greatest cities. From the building of its first canals in the 1300s, through the brutal struggle for Dutch independence and its golden age as the capital of a vast empire, to its complex present in which its cherished ideals of liberalism are under siege, Shorto provides an ever-surprising, intellectually entertaining story of Amsterdam. He also weaves in his own experiences of his adopted home. In the end, "Amsterdam" is an endlessly captivating portrait of a city that has profoundly influenced the modern world.

About the Author

Russell Shorto is the author of "Gospel Truth: The New Image of Jesus Emerging from Science and History," He has written for "GQ," "The New Yorker," "The Miami Herald," "Travel & Leisure," and "The New York Times Magazine," He lives in Putnam Valley, New York, with his wife and their two daughters.

Praise For…

"Rich and eventful...[A] book that easily fuses large cultural trends with intimately personal stories."
--The New York Times

"Shorto conjures the anything-goes spirit of contemporary Amsterdam, with its pot-smoking and red-light districts, from the city's fascinating past as a major port city...Shorto's brilliant follow-up to his previous book on Dutch Manhattan (The Island at the Center of the World) is an expertly told history of a city of new, shocking freedoms and the tough-minded people that developed them."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"[An] engaging new brims with the sights, smells and sounds of a nearly thousand-year-old bustling, mercantile city."
--Associated Press

"Shorto is a marvelous picture painter in words...And that makes Amsterdam a pleasure to savor on many levels."
--The Seattle Times

“The story of a great city that has shaped the soul of the world. Masterful reporting, vivid history—the past and present are equally alive in this book.”
James Gleick, author of The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood

"Shorto is an excellent storyteller and rootler of strange facts, and Amsterdam should be issued as standard kit for anyone visiting the city who is not entirely corroded by vice."
--The Guardian

“Amsterdam is a small place that casts a big shadow. As Russell Shorto shows in this smart, elegant book, culture and geography have conspired to thrust the city into the midst of our day's most important debates. How much individual freedom can we live with? What are the limits of acceptance? How can people from different parts of the world -- people with different beliefs, backgrounds and values -- coexist in our increasingly globalized cities? Not only is this a wonderfully readable account of the city that Shorto has come to call home, it is also a history of how the Dutch invented -- and sometimes failed to live up to -- today's concepts of liberty and tolerance.”
—Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493

"The dynamic historical account of a vibrantly complex European city and the legacy of social, political and economic liberalism it bequeathed to the Western world...Shorto's examination of Amsterdam's colorful history offers important insights into the promise and possibility of enlightened liberalism. Vigorous, erudite and eminently readable."
--Kirkus Reviews

“Most urban histories focus on bricks and mortar; not this one. Russell Shorto writes engagingly about how a city can engender ideas—order, tolerance, comfort, egalitarianism, entrepreneurship—and in turn be shaped by them. Amsterdam argues convincingly that Western liberalism has been greatly influenced by this small, modest, crazy-yet-conventional place.”
Witold Rybczynski, author of How Architecture Works: A Humanist’s Toolkit
“An often brilliant, and always enjoyable, investigation of liberalism's Dutch roots.  Shorto is once again revealed as a passionate and persuasive historian of culture and ideas."
--Joseph O’Neill, author of Netherland
“Russell Shorto loves Amsterdam, I love this book.”
—Job Cohen, former mayor of Amsterdam
Russell Shorto's luminous book is a riveting history of one of the world's most remarkable cities. It is also an entertaining history full of deftly drawn characters and intoxicating ideas which have made Amsterdam the birthplace of liberalism in its many and shifting incarnations.”
—Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor & Publisher, The Nation
"This is a wonderful history of a great and fascinating city. Shorto is a gifted writer, and the rich and multi-layered story he tells of Amsterdam -- its rise as a mercantile power, its politics and culture, its famously tolerant ways, and the tensions generated by these over the centuries -- reveals much about contemporary American society as well, since many of our values and aspirations are an inheritance from this most liberal center of the Dutch Golden Age."
Steven Nadler, William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy and award-winning author of Rembrandt’s Jews and Spinoza: A Life

Product Details
ISBN: 9780307743756
ISBN-10: 0307743756
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publication Date: August 12th, 2014
Pages: 357
Language: English
Series: Vintage