Review: Book
Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, Russell Shorto, published 2013

Amstersdam-250x378If you have any interest in liberal thinking, tolerance and the enlightenment, then this is a book you must read.

Given the threats to these values almost daily by the current Australian government, it is a must to take time out and do a reality check on just how far backwards these elected clowns are trying to take us.

While obviously about the city, this book is really a celebration of the people and their influence on the whole western world.

To use the author’s own words:

The first part of this book is about how the city of Amsterdam grew to become, briefly, a world center, it developed a number of institutions and ways of seeing and doing that are elements of what we can broadly call liberalism: an ideology centered on beliefs about equality and individual freedom that is the foundation of Western society.

The world’s first stock market; a society focused on the concerns and comforts of individuals, one that is run by individuals acting together rather than by some outside force; the concept of tolerance, whether regarding religion, ethnicity, or other differences; art that is bound up with the experience of the individual human being and the desire to know just who each of us is; the family home as a uniquely special place: these are all parts of liberalism in the broadest meaning of the word.

The second part of the book’s theme is that Amsterdam’s liberalism was exported in several ways and thus, from several directions, came to influence who we are today.


This is a book you cannot put down. The author’s very personal style is very engaging.  He tells the story from one who now lives and works there and who loves the city.

And I love the idea that Amsterdam became what it is because of where it is, being founded on land that no-one else, because it was swamps and water. That meant that the aristocratic powers of Europe saw the area as useless and therefore it was unwanted by anyone else. The people owned the place and designed it to be for the people. And so – now you will have to read the book.

To help build your enthusiasm for this journey, there’s a very informative write-up in the Guardian – click here.

For me?

I now need to get  Russell Shorto’s earlier book: The Island at the Centre of the World. This one being about New Amsterdam – that became New York.


Totally Recommended: Rating 10/10


Paul Costigan 19 April 2014


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