By Russell Shorto, October 2013.
If you've never been to Amsterdam, skip the book....it just won't make sense.
For those who've been there....it helps to explain an awful lot.
There are several million Americans who've been to Amsterdam.....most are former GI's from the 1950s to today....stationed in Europe, and simply took a weekend tour to the city.
I've been to Amsterdam five times. I probably would like to spend ten days there every single year.....if given a choice.
It's not like London, New York, Berlin or Rome. No skyscrapers. No political chaos. Limited number of statues or monuments. The food is marginal for the most part. And hotels within the city are way out of sight (I never stay in the city.....preferring Leiden, which is forty minutes away by train).
The book skips through the top hundred people who made Amsterdam what it is today. There's a somewhat sad and tragic story told throughout the book....over the growth and development of the city. Most of what we see in the world today....from commerce to political thought....came out out of Amsterdam.
The people in Amsterdam are fairly liberal in their lifestyles....which the author goes back to.....time and time again. Although it's not the kind of liberal stance that you hear about via US journalists or political hacks. Amsterdam liberal behavior.....is mostly about respecting an individual's own choices. It's a fairly acceptable city on weed and drug sales. The number of Dutch folks who use drugs regularly? A quarter of what you see in the US. You can't really explain this part of the story.
There's a curious part of Amsterdam laid out in this book....how the rich and poor generally lived in the same neighborhoods...because of the work atmosphere and canals. A great deal of development over the past five hundred years....comes because both groups understand each other, and allowed for interaction. People accept the rich....the rich accept the poor, and life goes on.
Throughout the book, there's also a layer of humor displayed by the folks of Amsterdam. In the worst of times....they were fairly cynical and sarcastic.
So, if you were looking for an odd book which weaves a rich tale of history in the making.....this one is a four-star book.