The Island at the Center of the World

 

by Russell Shorto (Doubleday)

 

(This column first appeared in the July 1, 2004 issue of ArtVoice of Buffalo.)

 

The subtitle of Russell Shorto's The Island at the Center of the World answers the obvious question: What island is that? The subtitle is The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan & the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America. As Shorto points out, most of us know New York City as the place - aside from its early name New Amsterdam and those Peters: Minuit ($24 in 1626 or is it $26 in 1624) and Stuyvesant - that began with the English take-over. This is, I suggest, not only a remaking of history that assigns much credit for this nation's "melting pot" character to the Dutch, but it is a bang-up story and a great read. And it will also add a new hero to our pantheon (if we can learn to spell it): Adriaen van der Donck. Van der Donck, usually referred to by his cohorts as the Doncker (and with a bit of slight-of-hand, the source of the city name, Yonkers), was an able young lawyer who sought to bring democratic institutions to the New World. He came within a hair's-breadth of success with Dutch officialdom - making an enemy of his former friend Stuyvesant in the process. Unfortunately, Dutch-English wars intervened. Shorto credits the multi-year archaic Dutch to English translation project of Charles Gehring still underway in Albany as the source of this outstanding book that brings us new insights about the early history of our state and nation.-- Gerry Rising