Around 1600 the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was in the middle of a war with Spain that would last for eighty years (1568-1648). Thousands of immigrants came to Amsterdam and greatly influenced the development of the Republic. Kiliaen van Rensselaer was among them. Growing up in a small eastern town on the war front he became part of the culture of this rapidly developing city, where he was trained as a jeweler and merchant by wealthy relatives. He would work together within this family network, for the rest of his life. Discussing the time in which he lived and his surroundings, the rapidly expanding city of Amsterdam, the great trading companies, the jewelry business and the people in his network this biographical study explores Van Rensselaer’s motivation and his ways to develop his ideas for establishing a North-American colony.
'Janny Venema […] has written a lively and insightful biography of Kiliaen van Rensselaer […]. While deliberately filling gaps in Van Rensselaer’s fascinating curriculum vitae by constructing events as they might have happened, the author brings to life the aspirations and career of a man whose family networks, skills and ambitions capture the spirit of Amsterdam’s merchant elite at the time. The book is particularly informative for readers with little prior knowledge of Dutch history and society in the seventeenth century. […] Venema skillfully reconstructs the business associations in Amsterdam’s jewelry trade […]. The story if further enlivened by accounts of Van Rensselaer’s family life, including many deaths, a murder, weddings and funerals. One of the goals of this book is the "locating of more 'new' and so far undiscovered primary source material about New Netherland" (15), but much of the story remains firmly focused on life in Amsterdam prior to the establishment of the WIC. […] The book is beautifully illustrated with images of family members […] and other facets of Dutch life in the Golden Age. It is richly appended with the reproduction of inventories of Het Gekruiste Hart and the architectural plans of the house. A detailed genealogical table is particularly helpful to outline the extended kinship networks which dominated trading and business enterprises at the time, not just in the Netherlands, but elsewhere in Europe. The book thus opens a window into the international world of Dutch society in the seventeenth century.’ Raingard Esser in: BMGN 126 (2011) 4, p. 122-123; 'The main reason of writing this book was not to provide the reader with new material about the New Netherland colony Rensselaerswijck, nor to write a complete biography of Van Rensselaer. The purpose of this book is to give more insight into Kiliaen van Rensselaer as a driving force behind the peopling of the New Netherland colony Rensselaerswijck.' Gwendolyn E. van Essen op: www.historischhuis.nl/recensies, 02-02-2011; 'The frequency with which the narrative is enhanced through use of the imagination is truly a great pity, as it is quite clear that much work and energy has been put into this book about one of the most important men in the history of Dutch America. […] In defense of this book I must concede that Venema provides a good framework for those readers who are in need of a good overview of the relationship between the West India’s Company’s affairs in Brazil and the Company’s opposition against colonization of New Netherland. A few other well-developed topics should be mentioned as well: the Amsterdam jewelry business in the early 1600s; and the social and professional network Kiliaen managed to create, maintain and expand. Janny Venema has tried to create her own Grand Design by describing too many developments while providing too much context.' Joost Schokkenbroek in: International Journal of Maritime History, 23 (2011) 1, p. 353-356; 'Janny Venema has researched and written a masterful history of a man who never set foot in North America, yet had a profound influence on the settlement and history of New York. […] This volume far surpasses a biography. Dr. Venema places her subject firmly within the context of time and place, painting such a vivid picture of his surroundings that we are transported to Amsterdam in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. The book is brilliant in its scholarship and beautiful in its presentation. Its pages are adorned with outstanding illustrations depicting the material culture of Amsterdam in this period. […] Dr. Venema is so attuned to Kiliaen's times that she periodically indulges the imagination, allowing readers to see his world as she sees it. We are forewarned, by the use of italics, when her writing is the product of imagination and should not be confused with verifiable, historical fact. […] This is an educated and informed imagination; imagination based firmly in historical fact acquired from years of intense study. […] Dr. Venema combines solid scholarship, well-chosen illustrations, and informed imagination to produce an excellent study of the man and his vision.' Karen Mauer Green in: The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 142 (2011), p. 237-238.