Why the Dutch are Different: Into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates

Why the Dutch are Different: Into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates
Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Non-fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Stranded at Schiphol airport, Ben Coates called up a friendly Dutch girl he’d met some months earlier. He stayed for dinner. Actually, he stayed for good.

In the first book to consider the hidden heart and history of the Netherlands from a modern perspective, the author explores the length and breadth of his adopted homeland and discovers why one of the world’s smallest countries is also so significant and so fascinating. It is a self-made country, the Dutch national character shaped by the ongoing battle to keep the water out from the love of dairy and beer to the attitude to nature and the famous tolerance.

Ben Coates investigates what makes the Dutch the Dutch, why the Netherlands is much more than Holland and why the colour orange is so important. Along the way he reveals why they are the world’s tallest people and have the best carnival outside Brazil. He learns why Amsterdam’s brothels are going out of business, who really killed Anne Frank, and how the Dutch manage to be richer than almost everyone else despite working far less. He also discovers a country which is changing fast, with the Dutch now questioning many of the liberal policies which made their nation famous.

A personal portrait of a fascinating people, a sideways history and an entertaining travelogue, Why the Dutch are Different is the story of an Englishman who went Dutch. And loved it.

Many people have preconceived notions of the Netherlands, but are they right? Author Ben Coates, a British man, and married to a Dutch woman, has made his new home in Rotterdam. He gives readers insights into the culture and history of the Dutch people.

Some things we may have all read about, and Coates touches upon these; however, he adds many new things that the average reader may not have yet encountered. The Dutch have their own way of doing things, and it is both educational and amusing at times to read about them here. Why are the Dutch the way they are? Why is this country not just Holland? Why is the color orange so important to these people?

The Netherlands has its own problems due to geography and the physical aspects of the land itself. They find unique solutions, and these are laid out in an entertaining way of discovery for readers. Why not learn a bit of Dutch history as well? It intertwines with that of other countries. Readers will feel smarter for the gained knowledge and will likely enjoy themselves reading this travelogue.

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