Reviewed by Aviva
Pete Jordan is a bike enthusiast who has lived and cycled in a number of cities in the US. When he came to the Netherlands, sight unseen, to do a degree in urban planning, he found himself surrounded by a cycling culture beyond his wildest dreams. In In the City of Bikes: The History of the Amsterdam Cyclist, Jordan tells the story of his family’s immersion into this culture, and the history of the bike and cyclists in Amsterdam decade by decade. His love for his subjects, both personal and historical, shines through and the massive amount of time his must have spent in archives researching his subject truly payed off. The chapters covering the Second World War alone are worth the price of the book, which is not to say you won’t be entertained and charmed by all the other chapters.
I will admit that I read Jordan’s earlier work, Dishwasher, and wasn’t that impressed, but if this book is any indication, he seems to have matured into a fantastic storyteller and found his voice as a travel writer. It’s hard to imagine anyone writing engagingly for 400 pages about anything as specific as the history of biking in Amsterdam, but this is exactly what Pete Jordan has accomplished. In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist is a well-researched, entertainingly-written love letter to city of Amsterdam and its two-wheeled inhabitants.
As a committed pedestrian, I have cursed the lawlessness of Amsterdam’s cyclists on numerous occasions. After reading this book, though, I can’t help but admire the democratized anarchy of the two-wheeled Amsterdammers and what they represent. One of the reasons I picked this book is because I will soon be leaving Amsterdam, and reading it made me realize I’ll miss it even more than I thought.