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