Cover image for Amsterdam
Mak, Geert.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Kleine geschiedenis van Amsterdam. English
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 338 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DJ411.A55 M3513 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Cosmopolitan, stylish, even a little decadent, Amsterdam--"the Venice of the North"--is a city of legendary beauty. From a twelfth-century settlement of wooden huts at the mouth of the River Amstel, it had become by the late sixteenth century one of the great cultural capitals of Europe and a major financial center. In this gracefully written examination of Amsterdam's soul--part history, part travel guide--the Dutch writer Geert Mak imaginatively depicts the lives of early Amsterdammers and traces the city's progress from a small town of merchants, sailors, farmers, and fishermen to a thriving metropolis. Mak's Amsterdam is a city of dreams and nightmares, of grand civic architecture and magnificent monuments, but also of civil wars, uprisings, and bloody religious purges. In his delightfully instructive journey through the city and through time, Mak displays an eye for the bizarre and the unexpected: a Rembrandt sketch of a young girl executed for manslaughter; the shoe of a medieval lady unearthed during a remodeling project; a graffito foretelling the city's doom on the wall of a mansion, daubed by a deranged burgomaster with his own blood. Amsterdam remains a magnet for travelers from around the world, and this charmingly detailed account of its origins and its history through the present day is designed to help the reader step into daily life in a truly modern city.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Brief visits to Amsterdam by Americans usually evoke cursory impressions of a city with charming canals (the "Venice of the North"), a laid-back lifestyle, and the multitudes moving on bicycles. Mak is a native of Amsterdam and a prominent journalist in the Netherlands. In this delightful survey of Amsterdam's past and present, Mak does not necessarily contradict these pleasing images--rather, he provides an enriched portrait of a city that he clearly loves. He incorporates elements of political, economic, and art history as well as utilizing his refined eye to offer the best elements of a travel guide. While he acknowledges that his city has often been uniquely blessed, he doesn't ignore the seamier aspects of Amsterdam's saga, which include a substantial share of civil strife and bloodshed. For those who have visited or hope to visit this metropolis, Mak's survey will provide both enjoyment and essential information. --Jay Freeman

Library Journal Review

Dutch journalist Mak's models in this excellent study of the origins and evolution of the Netherlands' most distinguished city are Johan Huizinga (The Autumn of the Middle Ages) and Simon Schama (An Embarrassment of Riches). He begins each chapter with an offbeat example of a different age's preoccupations: modern construction unearths medieval artifacts, Rembrandt sketches a hanged girl, a 17th-century burgomaster goes mad, and a Resistance leader is betrayed to the Nazis. He interweaves these tales with cultural, economic, and social history to capture the distinct character of each age across nearly a millennium of history: "Amsterdam is a city, but...also a country by itself...a city that spreads out progressively across the country. Our political debate is about as exciting as a wet sponge. [B] conducted in a pleasant sort of anarchism, a yielding order, a sober chaos. For centuries, [we] have simply had no need for nationalism." This is a superior history of a fascinating subject, written with vigor and grace and infused with wisdom, wit, and scholarship. Enthusiastically recommended.DDavid Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1 The Beautifully Constructed House
2 Bread and Stones
3 The Enemy
4 Towards a New Jerusalem
5 The Joy of God's Wrath
6 Insiders and Outsiders
7 The Ice Age Explained
8 The Fire Palace
9 The Last Stop of Train
10 The Years of Moral Panic
Index of Proper
Names Index of Places