1493 Uncovering the new world Columbus created

Charles C. Mann

Book - 2011

"From the author of 1491-- the best-selling study of the pre-Columbian Americas-- a deeply engaging new history that explores 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 totally different suites of plants and animals. Columbus's voyages brought them back together-- and marked the beginning of an extraordinary exchange o...f flora and fauna between Eurasia and the Americas. As Charles Mann shows, this global ecological tumult-- the "Columbian Exchange"-- underlies much of subsequent human history. Presenting the latest generation of research by scientists, Mann shows how the creation of this worldwide network of exchange fostered the rise of Europe, devastated imperial China, convulsed Africa, and for two centuries made Manila and Mexico City-- where Asia, Europe, and the new frontier of the Americas dynamically interacted-- the center of the world. In 1493, Charles Mann gives us an eye-opening scientific interpretation of our past, unequaled in its authority and fascination"--

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New York : Knopf 2011.
1st ed
Physical Description
xix, 535 p. : ill. ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Charles C. Mann (-)
Review by Choice Review

Journalist Mann presents a long view of how globalization began and how it significantly influenced events of the past 400 years. According to Mann, globalization is not a new phenomenon and has not been either predominantly good or bad for human society, which is why people are so conflicted over it. The author organized his book into four sections, each consisting of two chapters. The first looks at the rise of tobacco as a world commodity and the spread of malaria and yellow fever to the Americas. The second shows how American silver and Chinese silk and porcelain, accompanied by the spread of maize and sweet potatoes to China, brought about the globalization of trade. The third describes the potato's contributions to the 18th-century agricultural revolution, both good and bad, and the ways rubber made the Industrial Revolution possible. The final section concludes with the shifts of Old World peoples to the Americas. This fine book synthesizes much research and draws its inspiration from Alfred W. Crosby's classic work The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (CH, Mar'73) and is a sequel to Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (CH, Apr'06, 43-4814). Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. R. Fritze Athens State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by New York Times Review

"THERE'S a chain of events in this best of all possible worlds," Dr. Pangloss says at the end of Voltaire's "Candide." "If you hadn't been caught up in the Inquisition, or walked across America . . . you would not be here eating candied fruit and pistachio nuts." "True," Candide answers. "But now we must tend our garden." Voltaire would have loved Charles C. Mann's outstanding new book, "1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created." In more than 500 lively pages, it not only explains the chain of events that produced those candied fruits, nuts and gardens, but also weaves their stories together into a convincing explanation of why our world is the way it is. Going one better than Voltaire, Mann's book opens in a garden as well as closes in one. The first is Mann's own in Massachusetts; the second, a Filipino family plot in Bulalacao. Despite being half a world apart, the two gardens grow many of the same plants, hardly any of which are native to either place. This, Mann tells us, is the hallmark of the ecological era we live in: the "Homogenocene," the Age of Homogeneity. "1493" picks up where Mann's best seller, "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus," left off. In 1491, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were almost impassable barriers. America might as well have been on another planet from Europe and Asia. But Columbus's arrival in the Caribbean the following year changed everything. Plants, animals, microbes and cultures began washing around the world, taking tomatoes to Massachusetts, corn to the Philippines and slaves, markets and malaria almost everywhere. It was one world, ready or not. Mann generously acknowledges how much of this story line comes from Alfred W. Crosby's classic "Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900," first published a quarter of a century ago. This book has had a huge influence in academia (it was one of the main inspirations for Jared Diamond's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Guns, Germs, and Steel"), but Mann has long felt it needed updating. When he met Crosby, he nagged the historian to write a new edition. Finally Crosby told him: "Well, if you think it's such a good idea, why don't you do it?" And so Mann did. "1493" is much more than just "Ecological Imperialism" warmed over, however. Mann takes the argument into new territory by suggesting that only by understanding what Crosby called "the Columbian Exchange" - the transfer of plants, animals, germs and people across continents over the last 500 years - can we make sense of contemporary globalization. The lesson of history, Mann argues, is that "from the outset globalization brought both enormous economic gains and ecological and social tumult that threatened to offset those gains." "With admirable evenhandedness, he shows how the costs and benefits of globalization have always been inseparable. We cannot have one without the other. Bringing the potato to Europe made it possible for the Irish famine to kill millions when the potatoes were stricken by blight, but it also kept other millions of half-starved peasants alive. Bringing malaria to the Americas depopulated some parts of the New World, but it also kept European armies out of other parts. Mann can even see the point of view of the chainsaw-wielding loggers who deforested the Philippines so that Americans could have cheap furniture: "These agents of destruction were just putting food on the table." Mann has managed the difficult trick of telling a complicated story in engaging and clear prose while refusing to reduce its ambiguities to slogans. He is not a professional historian, but most professionals could learn a lot from the deft way he does this. The book takes a roughly chronological approach, beginning in 1493 and continuing to 2011, and ranges across almost every continent. It is thoroughly researched and up-to-date, combining scholarship from fields as varied as world history, immunology and economics, but Mann wears his learning lightly. He serves up one arresting detail after another (who knew that "No Potatoes, No Popery!" was an English election slogan in 1765?), always in vivid language (as in his description of inland Brazil in the 1970s - "bad roads, poor land and lawless violence: 'Deadwood' with malaria"). Most impressive of all, he manages to turn plants, germs, insects and excrement into the lead actors in his drama while still parading before us an unforgettable cast of human characters. He makes even the most unpromising-sounding subjects fascinating. I, for one, will never look at a piece of rubber in quite the same way now that I have been introduced to the debauched nouveaux riches of 19th-century Brazil, guzzling Champagne from bathtubs and gunning one another down in the streets of Manaus. All historians struggle to get the balance between human will and vast impersonal forces just right. "Should part of the credit for the Emancipation Proclamation be assigned to malaria?" Mann asks, and while I'm sure he's right to answer that "the idea is not impossible," this claim (and one or two others) seems a stretch. But that is part of the book's appeal. Almost everyone will find something that challenges his assumptions. As well as making humans share the stage with other organisms, Mann also wants Europeans to surrender more of the limelight to the rest of humanity. In the 1960s, historians began to flip from casting Europeans as heroic adventurers who created the modern world to casting them as wicked exploiters. But they continued nonetheless to put Europeans in the main roles. Mann repeatedly emphasizes that the numbers do not bear this out. "Much of the great encounter between the two separate halves of the world," he observes, "was less a meeting of Europe and America than of Africans and Indians." As late as the 19th century, Europeans were still in a distinct minority in the New World. Mann might be faulted for sometimes seeming to forget that since 1492 it has overwhelmingly been Europeans (not Africans or Native Americans) who have put animals, plants and microbes into motion, but his larger points still stand. In setting off the Columbian Exchange, humans rarely knew what they were doing. Once begun, the process ran completely out of human control. And now that it has hit its stride, every animal, plant and bug in the world is caught up in it. Back in the 1870s, for instance, the British government, worried about its rubber supplies, offered to buy every rubber seed that could be smuggled out of Brazil. People didn't ask what this would mean for Laos - why would they? But 140 years on, the chain of events they set off has brought social upheaval and the threat of ecological collapse to this remote corner of the world. There is nowhere to hide from globalization. Mann shows that Dr. Pangloss was right: Candide's run-ins with the Inquisition and America's natives were not just random events. The Columbian Exchange has shaped everything about the modern world. It brought us the plants we tend in our gardens and the pests that eat them. And as it accelerates in the 21st century, it may take both away again. If you want to understand why, read "1493." A drawing from "The History of the Indies of New Spain," Diego Durán's account of the conquest of Mexico (circa 1581). Ian Morris is the author of "Why the West Rules - for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 21, 2011] Review by Booklist Review

From the same mold as Mann's popular and critical success, 1491 (2005), this tome surveys up-to-date scholarship on the ramifications of Columbus' voyage. Eschewing condemnation or exaltation, Mann aims to explain all that was exchanged during the centuries in which ships connected continents. Diseases, pests, plants, people, and silver are the major transports into which he delves, and he presents them in their scientific, geographic, economic, and historical aspects. Where academic debates persist (e.g., over how slavery became established in America, about what rendered China ravenous for Spanish silver), Mann advocates his view of the particulars, supported by his on-site reportage from places significant in his accounts, such as Manila and Columbus' first settlement. Shaping a sprawl of information, he emphasizes how homogenization was unleashed by transoceanic trade, as is illustrated most minutely in discussions of the potato, the rubber tree, and mixed-race societies. With its theme of globalization, Mann's survey should interest not only history readers but also those concerned about the environmental and social impacts of contemporary world commerce.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Having resurrected the isolated splendors of the pre-Columbian Americas in his bestselling 1491, Mann explores the global convergences-and upheavals-inaugurated by their discovery in this fascinating survey of the "Homogenocene" era. Mann traces the subtle, epochal influences of the intercontinental "Columbian Exchange" of flora, fauna, commodities, and peoples, showing how European honeybees and earthworms remade New World landscapes; how New World corn, potatoes, and fertilizer ignited Eurasian population booms; how Old World diseases prompted an eruption of slavery in the Western Hemisphere (the influx of Africans, not Europeans, to the Americas, Mann notes, was the main demographic result of the Contact); how Latin American silver undermined China's Ming Dynasty; and how the decimation of Indian peoples changed the world's climate. The author interweaves research on everything from epidemiology to economics into a lucid historical panorama that's studded with entertaining studies of Chinese pirate fleets, courtly tobacco rituals, and the bloody feud between Jamestown colonists and the Indians who fed and fought them, to name a few. Brilliantly assembling colorful details into big-picture insights, Mann's fresh, challenge to Eurocentric histories puts interdependence at the origin of modernity. 35 illus.; 12 maps. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Mann (correspondent, Atlantic Monthly, Science, and Wired) focused on the Americas before the arrival of Europeans, positing that the hemisphere was heavily populated and culturally diverse, with communities that dwarfed many European cities and with agricultural achievements enabling the feeding of large populations. He now turns his attention to the so-called Columbian Exchange, the era of contact between Old World and New World. Native American populations were decimated by the introduction of diseases to which they had no antibodies. Ecosystems around the world were transformed by the exchange of flora and fauna between Eurasia and the Americas. World trade was impacted as New World wealth altered economies around the world. Africa was particularly affected, as Africans began selling other Africans to serve as a workforce for Europeans in the Americas. VERDICT Although many have written about the impact of Europeans on the New World, few have told the worldwide story in a manner accessible to lay readers as effectively as Mann does here. While not the tour de force of his previous book, this is highly recommended for its intended audience. [See Prepub Alert, 1/31/11.]-John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A fascinating chronicle of the "Columbian Exchange," which mixed old and new world elements to form today's integrated global culture, the "homogenocene."People of European ancestry poured across the world after 1500, forming the majority in several continents and dominating everywhere. Historians traditionally credit Western superiority in organization and weaponry, but science journalist Mann (1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, 2005) argues convincingly that biology, not technology, gave them the critical advantage. Most readers will be surprised by the author's discussion of the history of Jamestown, America's first permanent English colony. Settled largely by incompetent adventurers eager to duplicate the jackpot of gold that Spaniards found in Mexico and Peru, they failed, dithered and starved to death by the thousands until, after 10 years, the jackpot appeared: tobacco, the first global commodity craze. Silk and porcelain crazes quickly followed. Arriving with Columbus, malaria and yellow fever debilitated white settlers throughout America, but Africans had partial resistance, a major factor in encouraging the slave trade. Historians have focused on gold, but an avalanche of South American silver poured into China as well as Europe, facilitating international trade as well as inflation, instability, war and today's currency system. Potatoes and corn from America probably stabilized Europe by eliminating periodic famines. They did the opposite in China, encouraging a population explosion that cleared forests, leading to floods and vast environmental degradation.Focusing on ecology and economics, Mann provides a spellbinding account of how an unplanned collision of unfamiliar animals, vegetables, minerals and diseases produced unforeseen wealth, misery, social upheaval and the modern world.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.