This admirable history of New Netherland is packed with facts, big and tiny, of the sort that make history eminently readable and perfectly clear. The Dutch settlers, who know only ten species of fish, catch shad and name it ""eleventh."" In 1674, with the same complacent lack of imagination, their home government gives back to England the colony just recouped by the brilliant, blundering assualt of a couple of errant Dutch admirals. New Netherland was doomed from the start, the authors contend, by the short-sighted greed of the Dutch West India Company, the incompetence of its appointed governors, the ambitions of its English neighbors, and the lazy assumption of all good Dutchmen that there's no place like home. Still, this account of New Netherland's 40 Dutch years portrays a brave, lively, tolerant people; and the best of the governors, Stuyvesant, who begins as a vain autocrat, polished silver band on his peg leg, grows under adversity and dies with dignity in New York. By the end of the 17th century the Dutch have scrupulously withdrawn from the New World. With clarity, vigor, and a certain nostalgia, the authors recount the story of that big mistake.