book review

It is a curious thing, this curse or blessing of national identity. How do you see the world? More importantly how does your national identity change? I recently read Mr. Russell Shorto’s latest book Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City. Until a year ago Mr. Shorto had the prominence to be in the position of the director of the John Adams Institute in Amsterdam. Reviews on goodreads (the every person’s site for opinions on books) were very favourable, and equally some were less favourable. From what I could gather, the supporters of the book were generally Americans who had limited experience abroad. In this manner the references made in the book to facilitate cross cultural understanding made sense to those particular readers and, at the same time, irritated other those who might be described as perhaps more globe trotter types of readers. The more experienced traveler might prefer a more direct non interpretative approach. I am not going to argue that either side is superior to the other; this would be futile for what I am attempting to describe is the difference of experience in relation to the shading in a book which most people would not call in any way controversial. In fact the book appeared as a gesture of goodwill between the nations. Indeed, how could it be misconstrued of unworthy attention with the title declaring “most liberal” and written by an American? Liberty is valued, and what about a most liberal location? Is that always valued? Mr. Shorto’s book gives insight into the famous Dutch habit of “tolerance” from which perhaps his own book may have benefited.


Is tolerance liberty? Safe to say that repression is more than often a source of unwanted attention. Should it not, then, be wiser to “let it fly” and watch the wind take it away someplace else out of the limelight? Quite often during the twenty odd years that I have lived in the Netherlands, I have felt that I was allowed to say my part, and then after that was done, the Dutch in my life moved me back to, shall we say, a safe harbour where all the boats were tied up neatly as they should be in an orderly world. Still, on a personal note, I found parts of the book quite interesting, historically speaking, however the argument of the title was at times, far fetched and perhaps the Dutch in me disagreed but I kept my peace.