tHe crooKed WorD

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
by Charles C Mann
537 pages
pub. Aug 9, 2011

From the author of 1491—the best-selling study of the pre-Columbian Americas—a deeply engaging new history of the most momentous biological event since the death of the dinosaurs.

More than 200 million years ago, geological forces split apart the continents. Isolated from each other, the two halves of the world developed radically different suites of plants and animals. When Christopher Columbus set foot in the Americas, he ended that separation at a stroke. Driven by the economic goal of establishing trade with China, he accidentally set off an ecological convulsion as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans.

The Columbian Exchange, as researchers call it, is the reason there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolates in Switzerland, and chili peppers in Thailand. More important, creatures the colonists knew nothing about hitched along for the ride. Earthworms, mosquitoes, and cockroaches; honeybees, dandelions, and African grasses; bacteria, fungi, and viruses; rats of every description—all of them rushed like eager tourists into lands that had never seen their like before, changing lives and landscapes across the planet.

Eight decades after Columbus, a Spaniard named Legazpi succeeded where Columbus had failed. He sailed west to establish continual trade with China, then the richest, most powerful country in the world. In Manila, a city Legazpi founded, silver from the Americas, mined by African and Indian slaves, was sold to Asians in return for silk for Europeans. It was the first time that goods and people from every corner of the globe were connected in a single worldwide exchange. Much as Columbus created a new world biologically, Legazpi and the Spanish empire he served created a new world economically.

As Charles C. Mann shows, the Columbian Exchange underlies much of subsequent human history. Presenting the latest research by ecologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians, Mann shows how the creation of this worldwide network of ecological and economic exchange fostered the rise of Europe, devastated imperial China, convulsed Africa, and for two centuries made Mexico City—where Asia, Europe, and the new frontier of the Americas dynamically interacted—the center of the world. In such encounters, he uncovers the germ of today’s fiercest political disputes, from immigration to trade policy to culture wars.

In 1493, Charles Mann gives us an eye-opening scientific interpretation of our past, unequaled in its authority and fascination.


Wow, the summary on Goodreads is like a review in and of itself. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts as well :)

This is all about how Columbus coming to the Americas was one of the biggest pushes towards our current globalization and how that actually changed societies, economies, agriculture, and religion.

Did you know that...

Potatoes orginated in South America (most likely Brazil) and there were hundreds of varieties.

American Indians would plant small amounts of a variety of food within the forests in whatever soil was open. No plowing or fields for them.

Rice did not originate in any of the Asian countries.

Rubber trees are considered "forest" in China, but strip the soil of all its nutrients and make it unusable for years. But, because they're cheap to plant and can yield profit, acres and acres and acres of land are being planted with them.

Early European settlers weren't racist against SKIN COLOR and in fact, had many interracial marriages and children. So many, in fact, that they they tried to classify the different combinations and had dozens of different classes. (They did discriminate though! They just thought the "evil" was in the blood, not the color of skin. Not much of a distinction overall, but still interesting. That's why interracial was okay in their eyes though, because if the children had one European parent, it was thought to override the bad blood from the other parent)

This is just a handful of interesting things that were new to me. The book is well documented, thoroughly researched, and he lets you know when what he is saying is an opinion or conjecture. He's not making a case for whether globalization was bad or good (why would he? There's really no way to reverse it), but very skillfully points out the pros and cons. And that sometimes the pros are the very thing that lead to the cons.
A fascinating read! Well written and thankfully devoid of pompous, boring jargon!

10/10 stars!

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