Amster, Amster, Dam Dam Dam
June 2017


Despite the alleged destination of the “three jolly fishermen,” most of us would not find much in the capital of the Netherlands to “dam dam dam.” The canals! The gabled houses! The tulips! Rembrandt! Van Gogh! Rijsttafel! What’s not to love about Amsterdam?

And, as is only appropriate for such a wonderful city, there are many wonderful histories and novels written about it.

  • Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto. In this engaging history, Shorto convinces me, at least, that Amsterdam is the font of liberalism, in both its senses: tolerance for free thinking and free love, but also the birth of political and economic freedom. (His equally fascinating book, The Island at the Center of the World, argues that the Dutch founding of Manhattan seeded America’s melting pot.)
  • The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age by Simon Schama. In this easy to read analysis, Schama examines why the Dutch seem so embarrassed about their wealthy past during the seventeenth century Golden Age.
  • Tulipmania by Mike Dash. This history focuses in on the tulip frenzy in the mid-1600s. For not only was Amsterdam home to the first stock market and first transnational corporation, it was also home to the first futures market and the original market bust.
  • Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach. For a fictional view of Tulipmania, try this novel of a love-triangle drama. Not great writing, but entertaining.
  • The Dinner by Herman Koch. A darkly suspenseful story of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives—all over the course of one meal for dinner in a high-end restaurant in Amsterdam. Very creepy story about creepy narrator with creepy plot. But nonetheless a good book!
  • The Light of Amsterdam by David Park. Thoughtful and lovely intertwining stories about three parent/child and husband/wife relationships, on weekend trip to Amsterdam.

What are your favorite books about Amsterdam?

  • Readers’ Responses to last month’s post on “One Hit Wonders”: (1) To Kill a Mockingbird was a suggested addition, since Harper Lee didn’t actually publish To Set a Watchman herself. (2) And it turns out that Wuthering Heights is more interesting than I knew: there is some possibility that Charlotte might have destroyed a second novel by her sister Emily.