In The Island at the Center of the World, Russell Shorto makes the case that Adriaen Van Der Donck and the New Amsterdam settlement on the island of Manhattan is the true birthplace of American identity and our focus on individual rights, not the later English colonies. To make this case, Shorto rewinds to the very beginning and tells of Henry Hudson’s explorations, the early pioneers who moved to the new world, the relatively peaceful and civilized nature of the Native Americans at the time, the skirmishes between the Dutch, Swedes, and English over land, and the inner struggle of the New Amsterdam colony over militaristic rule and representative government.
Shorto carries a good storyline, makes the characters interesting, and makes the reader laugh at unexpected points.
This is a timely read for me because I live on Van Der Donck Street in Yonkers, which was named after Adrien Van Der Donck’s honorific, Jonkheer. I listened to most of this book on my morning walks along the Hudson.