Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 / Edition 2by Alfred W. Crosby
Pub. Date: 12/31/2003
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world--North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain because in many cases they were achieved by using firearms against spears. Alfred Crosby, however, explains that the Europeans' displacement and replacement of the native peoples in the temperate zones was more a matter of biology than of military conquest. Now in a new edition with a new preface, Crosby revisits his classic work and again evaluates the ecological reasons for European expansion. Alfred W. Crosby is the author of the widely popular and ground-breaking books,The Measure of Reality (Cambridge, 1996), and America's Forgotten Pandemic (Cambridge, 1990). His books have received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, the Medical Writers Association Prize and been named by the Los Angeles Times as among the best books of the year. He taught at the University of Texas, Austin for over 20 years. First Edition Hb (1986): 0-521-32009-7 First Edition Pb (1987): 0-521-33613-9
Table of Contents1. Prologue; 2. Pangaea revisited, the Neolithic reconsidered; 3. The Norse and the Crusaders; 4. The Fortunate Isles; 5. Winds; 6. Within reach, beyond grasp; 7. Weeds; 8. Animals; 9. Ills; 10. New Zealand; 11. Explanations; 12. Conclusion.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
I personally think this book was quite interesting and that people that like history, especially European imperialism, would like this book. It was very academic, though Crosby did make a few attempts at humor once in awhile, and read a lot like a textbook. There were a few pictures, but were not really much to entertain a reader. Overall, the information was very enlightening, and I enjoyed thinking about things I hadn't ever given any thought to before. For one thing, I didn't realize that so many of our plants and animals that we have here in the U.S. were actually brought here by the Europeans. I really enjoyed one of Crosby's anecdotes in "The Fortunate Isles" chapter about rabbits. An explorer brought to the island Porto Santo (in the Madeiras) a family of rabbits and set them free, where they promptly began reproducing like, well, rabbits. They soon were so numerous that they overtook the land and the settlers could not grow anything that didn't get eaten by the rabbits. The people tried to kill them off, but eventually had to leave the island! I found this so amusing, that the settlers were defeated in that area by their own ecological ignorance and rabbits. Since I am not farmer, I don't think of rabbits as such a bad thing, and I certainly got a laugh out of that story. This book was overall a very good, informative book and I'm glad I read it. The topic is quite fascinating and I really did learn a lot from Crosby. Although it could sometimes get long and boring, it was worth the read. I would recommend it to anyone, but especially to people that enjoy history.
Alfred W. Crosby’s book, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, combines history and ecology to explain how Europeans were able to gain control of so much foreign territory by unleashing their own plants, animals, and diseases into areas that had never before encountered them. Crosby begins by examining Pangaea, explaining that the separation of this great landmass led to differences in ecology between Europe and the “Neo-Europes,” which is what he calls the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand. Crosby later moves on to talk about the beginnings of European exploration, such as the Vikings, Crusaders, and eventually those who traveled to the Americas and Oceania. Crosby finally arrives at his main ideas when he writes about the plants, animals, and diseases the European brought with them. He says that because the Neo-Europes had such similar climates to Europe, these biological components were able to quickly take over and permanently change ecosystems. In general, the book offers a well-supported analysis of history by using an ecological lens. Most of the arguments make sense, such as the advantage that domestic animals gave to the Europeans or the idea that the Europeans were exposed to and therefore built up immunity to many diseases, a quality that the indigenous people lacked. Ultimately, I think the lengthy case study of New Zealand is the part that really brings Crosby’s ideas together. In this chapter, Crosby methodically examines the ways in which European ecology forever changed New Zealand. My main criticism about the book is that it takes Crosby a long time to get to his main points. We don’t read about his first main idea until nearly halfway through the book. Before this, he spends a lot of unnecessary time setting the stage, talking about the Portuguese landing at the Canary Islands, for instance. While interesting, I kept waiting for him to get to his main thesis. I think the book would be better if Crosby condensed the first half of the book and added more substance to the rest of it. Fortunately, the book reads less dryly than the typical history book. Crosby is able to weave some elements of storytelling alongside his carefully researched facts. He also adds some small instances of humor, which is appreciated. Another positive feature is that the book is fairly easy to understand for the average reader, especially one unfamiliar with science. All of Crosby’s ideas are pretty simple in essence and even the more scientific parts are not very difficult to understand. Overall, I definitely recommend this book for people interested in a new take on this part of history.
Stylistically, Crosby provides a very good systematic approach to how ecological imperialism has developed over the course of history. This demonstrates very well how each of the various factors builds upon and contributes to one another. One downside to this however, is that the background information can become a bit much for someone who already knows it and thus takes away potential time spent going deeper into other issues. One rather interesting section of the work was that on wind. Prior to this, Crosby discusses the early formation of Pangaea and the first Norse imperialists. Wind however serves as a key turning point to this whole process. It is fitting that this section comes roughly right in the middle of the set of chapters as it further reinforces this idea of the importance of wind as a turning point. For the early Europeans to successfully expand to these Neo Europes, they needed to fully understand the winds needed to propel them across the oceans. Many of the early sailors practiced and learned new techniques sailing among the islands off the Iberian Peninsula and the coast of West Africa. From trial and error, they learned that one could not simply sail straight back to the Iberian Peninsula. Rather, they had to come up with the technique of sailing "around the wind" In other words, one had to hold course on a contrary wind until one came across another that would take one back in the right direction. Thus, a sort of zigzag pattern was created which is now known as the process of tacking. This experimentation allowed for greater travel and navigation and allowed therefore for greater expansion. If the sailors ventured too far south however, they hit the latitudes near the middle of the African continent termed the "doldrums". These were also termed the horse latitudes because the horses on board were overthrown to make the ballast of the ship lighter so that it was easier to travel on less wind. It is interesting to note however that the sailors on board were carrying horses. This is a sign that the increased travel due to more knowledge of the winds meant that they were bringing animals to introduce into newly discovered lands. Thus, through greater navigation ability, the Europeans were able to travel further to these Neo Europes and begin settlement there. In summary, the chronological and overarching view of European expansionism portrayed by Crosby is, while sometimes a bit too concentrated on basic knowledge, overall very thorough and insightful. Particularly intriguing is his placement of the section on winds and his discussion thereof. Also interesting is his concept of the Neo Europes and their development. Overall, the work was very interesting and provided many good insights into very broad and complex topic.