There is a lot here to satisfy the curious New Yorker--Broadway's origin as an Indian path, stories about the first Brooklynites--but what makes this worth reading is its portrayal of Adriaen van der Donck, who opposed the autocratic rule of Peter Stuyvesant and insisted that the inhabitants of New Amsterdam deserved the rights of Dutch citizens, as opposed to employees of the Dutch East India Company. Trained as a lawyer at Leyden University (possibly even under the tutelage of Spinoza and Descartes), he even sailed back to the Netherlands at one point to make his case before the States General. Shorto shows that the egalitarianism of the Dutch Golden Age was brought to America by van der Donck and how echoes of it even made their way, more than a hundred years later, into our founding documents. Despite all this, however, van der Donck was forgotten after his death in an Indian raid. The only sign of him left in New York is the town of Yonkers (New Amsterdammers called him "Jonker," i.e. landowner).
Most refreshing about this book is the vision it presents of a freewheeling, open society in early America--an attractive alternative for anyone who spent their school years learning about the prudent and stuffy Pilgrims. Shorto fittingly writes in a relatively breezy and unacademic style, a la Barbara Tuchman. Sometimes he takes the informality too far. On the whole, though, I found this a very worthwhile read.