Island at the Center of the World


cover I've been reading Russell Shorto's book "Island at the Center of the World." The book is a history of Dutch Manhattan and its affect on American history and values. I love American history of all sort and this was one of those rare books that is as exciting as a work of fiction, but is entirely factual. The books is based on recent translations of Dutch colonial records.

cover For anyone reading Neal Stephenson's "The Baroque Cycle," Shorto's book provides rich backdrop into part of the history of the times and many of the events will be recognizable. Some of "The Baroque Cycle" takes place in The Netherlands during parts of this same period.

I was struck by a quote from "Letters from an American Farmer" (written in 1782) contained in the last chapter of the book that, describing the descendants of the colonists in New Amsterdam, says:

What then is the American, this new man? He is either an European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode in his life he embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.

The reason this struck me is that as I've been watching various news information regarding the Iraq war over the last year, I was proud to see US Amry generals who were Lebanese, Hispanic, African-American, Philippino, and so on. Regardless of your view on the war, that level of integration is a great thing.