IN THE MID seventeenth century, even as the English were conquering the Spanish Main and overtaking Dutch commercial interests around the globe, few would have suspected that the place destined to succeed the British Isles as the centre of the world was an untidy Dutch province on a small wilderness island strategically nestled at the mouth of an uncharted river in North America. The island is, of course, now called Manhattan, after the native word mannahata for hilly, or small, island Studies of American history tradtional) begin with the settlement at Jamestown, the pilgrim landing in Massachusetts, the notorious slave trade, and the taking of New Amsterdam for Charles 11, who renamed the city for his brother James, Duke of York. New York's Dutch history, although known generally, has been but a footnote, until now.
In The Island at the Centre of the World, Russell Shorto, using newly discovered and translated documents, traces the lives of the ordinary and occasionally extraordinary Dutchmen, some dubious and some daring, who settled Manhattan over the forty years before they yielded to the English.
Captain Henry Hudson, who had used