In Anthony Bailey's excellent The Light in Holland (1970) he suggests that within Holland's striking dichotomies (geophysical to behavioral) there is a curiously successful ""mechanism of compromise."" In this agreeable and lively historical profile and contemporary tribute to the city of Amsterdam Cotterell also stresses the Hollander's tolerance for variety, an ""agreement to co-exist."" Except for some violent religious and political excesses in the 16th century, Amsterdam's solid burghers respected (or perhaps ignored) diversity and the city became a haven for persecuted groups, artists, and intellectuals. ""Everybody,"" wrote Descartes to a friend, ""is so absorbed in profit-making that I could spend my whole life here not being noticed by a soul."" Cotterell reviews the city's past from doughty Frisians in the raw damp of the north through years of glory, transition, and nightmare (there is a section on the Nazi occupation) to the student turmoil of the '60's (an amusing account of the Dam memorial ""Sleep-Outs""). Along the way the author views buildings, canals, works of art, and personages -- Rembrandt to Van Gogh; Spinoza to Anne Frank. With an expansive bibliography and photographs to promote the author's contention that Amsterdam is ""the most civilized and agreeable city in the world.