Michael Pollan and Russell Shorto will discuss Shorto’s new book, AMSTERDAM: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City.
Popular notions of Amsterdam aside—its picturesque brick houses and tidy canals, its legal brothels and hash bars, its glorious collection of Rembrandt portraits—the deeper history of Amsterdam is bound up in its unique geography: the constant battle of its citizens to keep the sea at bay and the democratic philosophy that this enduring struggle fostered. Amsterdam is the font of liberalism, in both its senses. Tolerance for free thinking and free love make it a place where, in the words of one of its mayors, “craziness is a value.” But the city also fostered the deeper meaning of liberalism, one that profoundly influenced America: political and economic freedom. Amsterdam was home not only to religious dissidents and radical thinkers but to the world’s first great global corporation.
In AMSTERDAM, Shorto traces the idiosyncratic evolution of the city, showing how such disparate elements as herring anatomy, naked Anabaptists parading through the streets, and an intimate gathering in a sixteenth-century wine-tasting room had a profound effect on Dutch and world history. Weaving in his own experiences of his adopted home, Shorto provides an ever-surprising, intellectually engaging story of Amsterdam from the building of its first canals in the 1300s, through its brutal struggle for independence, its golden age as a vast empire, to its complex present in which its cherished ideals of liberalism are under siege.
Russell Shorto is the bestselling author of Descartes’ Bones and The Island at the Center of the World and a contributing writer at the The New York Times Magazine. He lives in Amsterdam, where he is Director of the John Adams Institute.