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Amsterdam: A brief life of the city Paperback – 18 Jan 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (18 Jan. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 186046789X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860467899
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 85,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

From its very earliest days when it was no more than a cluster of small farms among the reed banks of the River Amstel, to the present, easygoing, cosmopolitan city with its celebrated red-light district and ganja-filled coffee-bars, Amsterdam has always been a fascinating, individualistic city. Geert Mak, one of Holland's leading journalists, here takes the reader on a riveting topographical journey in a book that is both social history and travel guide. Mak has an all-seeing eye and the best kind of journalistic style; he is always interested in the human angle of things, the smaller truths. He misses nothing; every detail attracts his attention and his imagination, from a medieval shoe rescued from the estuarial mud to the graffiti on the side of a grand house, said to have been applied by a deranged merchant in his own blood, prophesying the city's doom. And what a great cast of characters there is: Jan Vermeer, Rembrandt (who discovered the trick of bidding for his own paintings at auction, so driving up the price), Spinoza, and the tragic Anne Frank, as well as more recent counter-cultural figures such as Johnny the Selfkicker and Kees Hoekert, the "marijuana expert", who once threw a live chicken at Queen Juliana's State coach. --Christopher Hart --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Lovers of Amsterdam will revel in the exhaustive reconstruction of everyday life in the medieval city" (Independent on Sunday)

"A strong sense of irony and a lively prose style make Geert Mak's Amsterdam one of the most unusual and engaging 'city books' I have read this year" (Sunday Times)

"Mak's brief is... to bring Amsterdam into the modern age. This he does with wit and style. But his real achievement... is to make accessible unfussily - and unsentimentally - one of Europe's most astonishing urban success stories" (James Woodall Financial Times)

"This excellent book is more than essential" (Irvine Welsh)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book skilfully combines a broad historical narrative with individual anecdotes about Amsterdam's more notable characters, and brings out the main themes of its history - trade, tolerance and solid middle-class practicality. While he clearly loves the city, Mak does not shy away from the more sordid aspects of its past, particularly its less-than-shining war record. The translator must also be highly commended - the language is flowing and natural, and one hardly realises that this is a translation. Altogether an excellent read, and a very good preparation for visiting the city.
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By Eugene Onegin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 17 May 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 23 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
Amsterdam, written by Geert Mak, a journalist and popular history writer, is a history of the city from its beginnings. It is great reading for anyone visiting or moving to Amsterdam, but because the city was so central to Dutch history, it also provides a good overview of the Netherlands' past. The book is well balanced, giving equal weight to the various periods since the city's foundation in the twelfth century. Holland's golden seventeenth century, of course, the century of Rembrandt, features well, but so do the modern era and its struggles. The book draws very largely from contemporary anecdotes and concentrates on the life and growth of the city, though it necessarily also touches on the political context. Finally, because its many small stories are so often related to existing buildings, streets, or canals, or to archaeological finds, the modern city comes alive as much as the historical. Recommended to me by a Dutch friend, complete with maps and illustrations, this is for anyone vaguely curious about that incredible European city that has been Amsterdam.
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Format: Paperback
Geert Mak writes well - his prose is approachable, and he turns history into a storytelling exercise.

The history of Amsterdam is fascinating - arguably, Amsterdam was the first modern city, founded on trade rather than church or empire; ruled by citizens, not kings or bishops. During the Dutch golden age, Amsterdam underwent a boom which turned a sleepy, provincial town into one of the most powerful players on the European political scene. Geert Mak paints this era beautifully, describing the politics, people, and society in detail.

From a modern perspective, Mak hints at the transition that happened as part of this trade boom - within a few generations, the Amsterdam traders started dealing in money and risk, rather than goods - leading to some of the first recorded bubbles (the tulip mania).

As Mak takes us through the years after the boom, he brings out a few characters as ways of telling his story; this accentuates the human aspects of the story.

As we get to the 20th century, Mak goes into a little more detail - his description of the persecution of the Jewish population is unemotional but harrowing.

The book left me wishing for more - more detail, more context - but it's already a reasonable size, and it's not clear what Mak could have left out.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having just visited Amsterdam I am finding this book fascinating. The author writes well and uses stories usually based on archeological finds, artifacts or paintings etc. to tell the story of this remarkable city. He knows his subject well, but has made this book a very accessible read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is written by an Amsterdammer who is fascinated by and proud of his city. As with "In Europe", he does not avoid cool, realistic assessments of those involved in the development of his subject, even if some of these are uncomfortable at times. He uses Amsterdam as a microcosm of the Netherlands at large. This should not be taken too far: not many Britons would wish to be regarded as Londoners manque. However it is an interesting slant on a fascinating story.

As ever, Mak exhibits an outstanding grasp of detail together with the ability to draw the reader into his story. Whilst in no way a guide book, to read it before visiting the city will add a very rich layer of enjoyment and understanding of a fascinating place.
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