3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Anecdotal and Informative,
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This review is from: Amsterdam: A brief life of the city (Paperback)
There are countless travel guides to Amsterdam, but many fewer books in English which give you a broad overview of Amsterdam's historical, geographical and cultural development. This is what Geert Mak sets out to do and on the whole he has created an entertaining and enlightening portrait of one of Europe's most lively and individualistic cities. Mak's approach is thematic focusing on particular aspects of the city's history which he considers most crucial to the city we see today. Therefore, you will find sections on the cities endless battle with flooding, the development of trade, the relationship with the Dutch colonies, Amsterdam's fierce desire to retain a degree of independence from the rest of the Netherlands up to more recent history such as the black years of the Nazi occupation and the protests of the 1960's and 1970's which often put those who wanted to preserve the unique architectural heritage of Amsterdam at odds with the city council. Mak intersperses his narrative with many personal and often amusing anecdotes which prevents the narrative from becoming dry and I defy anyone not to learn something new about the city from this book. One revelation for me was the observation that Amsterdam is a very young city with little or no history before 1300 which, allied to the fact that no royal family or central administration was ever based here for long has given the city its distinctive look without the grandiose buildings and avenues of power you find in London, Paris or Rome. There are are couple of caveats to my recommendation. The book stops in 1980 so we learn nothing of the current tensions and issues which affect Amsterdam and the writing style doesn't always flow particularly well, partly connected to the translation perhaps. Nonetheless, a very good read for anyone who loves this fascinating city.