The Great Divide: Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New [NOOK Book]


Exploring the development of humankindbetween the Old World and the New—from15,000 BC to AD 1500—the acclaimed authorof Ideas and The German Genius offers agroundbreaking new understandingof human history.

Why did Asia and Europe develop far earlierthan the Americas? What were thefactors that accelerated—or impeded—development? How did the experiences of OldWorld inhabitants differ from their New Worldcounterparts—and what factors influenced ...

See more details below
The Great Divide: Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$13.29 price


Exploring the development of humankindbetween the Old World and the New—from15,000 BC to AD 1500—the acclaimed authorof Ideas and The German Genius offers agroundbreaking new understandingof human history.

Why did Asia and Europe develop far earlierthan the Americas? What were thefactors that accelerated—or impeded—development? How did the experiences of OldWorld inhabitants differ from their New Worldcounterparts—and what factors influenced thosedifferences?

In this fascinating and erudite history, PeterWatson ponders these questions central to thehuman story. By 15,000 BC, humans had migratedfrom northeastern Asia across the frozen Beringland bridge to the Americas. When the worldwarmed up and the last Ice Age came to an end,the Bering Strait refilled with water, dividingAmerica from Eurasia. This division—with twogreat populations on Earth, each unaware of theother—continued until Christopher Columbusvoyaged to the New World in the fifteenth century.

The Great Divide compares the developmentof humankind in the Old World and the Newbetween 15,000 BC and AD 1500. Watson identifiesthree major differences between the twoworlds—climate, domesticable mammals, andhallucinogenic plants—that combined to producevery different trajectories of civilization in thetwo hemispheres. Combining the most up-to-dateknowledge in archaeology, anthropology, geology,meteorology, cosmology, and mythology, thisunprecedented, masterful study offers uniquelyrevealing insight into what it means to be human.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Watson, a former senior editor at the London Sunday Times, explores the radically different cultures and fates of the Eastern and Western hemispheres in this sweeping comparative history from the last Ice Age to the Columbian contact. His analysis spotlights gross environmental disparities: compared to the Old World, the Americas had a smaller land mass and population, a geographical layout that impeded cultural and technological exchange, a dearth of domesticable plants and animals and an unstable climate and terrain wracked by hurricanes, droughts, volcanoes, and earthquakes. But Watson reaches further—sometimes implausibly far—in linking physical and ecological conditions to ideology and religion; he contends that the New World’s frequent geoclimatic disasters provoked rites of human sacrifice to propitiate angry gods, and that the Old World’s experience with animal husbandry helped engender both the Judeo-Christian tradition and rationalism. Watson (The Caravaggio Conspiracy) integrates reams of multidisciplinary scholarship into an ambitious and stimulating unifying framework. Inevitably, some of his speculations feel forced, especially on the meanings of the New World’s bloodthirsty rituals and shamanistic jaguar deities, which feel like exotic enigmas beside the more familiar narrative of Old World progress. Still, like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, his grand-scale history contains fascinating insights at every turn. B&w illus.; maps. Agent: Robin Straus Agency. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
An ingenious work about the course of human history. From the time ancient people came into America until Columbus landed, two entirely separate populations existed on Earth, one in each hemisphere. Journalist and cultural historian Watson (The German Genius, 2010, etc.) examines that epoch of over 16,000 years as they adapted, developing different survival strategies, customs, languages, religions and ultimately different civilizations. After leaving Africa, modern humans took about 50,000 years to reach eastern Siberia, arriving during the last ice age when sea levels were lower, exposing a land bridge to Alaska. Around 15,000 years ago, many crossed. They entered a violent hemisphere with destructive hurricanes, dramatic temperature and rainfall variations and 90 percent of the world's tornados, as well as far more seismic and volcanic activity than Old World mainland areas. Added to naturally occurring hallucinogenic and stimulant plants (rarer in the Old World), New World religions and ideology displayed a vivid, apocalyptic tone. Watson discusses what these migrants brought: specific flood and creation myths, genetic markers, language elements and dogs. Agriculture and cities eventually developed, but the New World made do without horses or other beasts of burden, except the llama, which never reached Mexico, as well as large, edible domestic animals, the plow and the wheel. The author seems to know everything about his subject and to hold an opinion on every issue, which he enthusiastically passes on. Watson makes a fascinating case that while there may be a single human nature, long exposure to dissimilar landscapes, food, animals and climate created two unique approaches to this nature.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062196675
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/26/2012
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 1,314,610
  • File size: 6 MB

Meet the Author

Peter Watson has been a senioreditor at the London Sunday Times, a New York correspondentof the London Times, a columnist for theLondon Observer, and a contributor to the New YorkTimes. He has published three exposés on the world ofart and antiquities, and is the author of several booksof cultural and intellectual history. From 1997 to 2007he was a research associate at the McDonald Institutefor Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.He lives in London.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Author's Note: The Aztecs 'as evil as Nazis' vii

Maps xi

Introduction: 15000 BC-AD 1500: A Unique Period in Human History xxi

Part 1 How the First Americans Differed from Old World Peoples

1 From Africa to Alaska: The Great Journey as Revealed in the Genes, Language and the Stones 3

2 From Africa to Alaska: The Disasters of Deep Time as Revealed by Myths, Religion and the Rocks 23

3 Siberia and the Sources of Shamanism 48

4 Into a Land Without People 56

Part 2 How Nature Differs in the Old World and the New

5 Rings of Fire and Thermal Trumpets 81

6 Roots v. Seeds and the Anomalous Distribution of Domesticable Mammals 105

7 Fatherhood, Fertility, Farming: 'The Fall' 116

8 Ploughing, Driving, Milking and Riding - four things that never happened in the New World 139

9 Catastrophe and the (All-Important) Origins of Sacrifice 149

10 From Narcotics to Alcohol 165

11 Maize: What People Are Made Of 180

12 The Psychoactive Rainforest and the Anomalous Distribution of Hallucinogens 193

13 Houses of Smoke, Coca and Chocolate 213

14 Wild: the Jaguar, the Bison, the Salmon 226

Part 3 Why Human Nature Evolved Differently in the Old World and the New

15 Eridu and Aspero: the First Cities Seven and a Half Thousand Miles Apart 249

16 The Steppes, War and 'a new anthropological type' 271

17 The Day of the Jaguar 300

18 The Origins of Monotheism and the End of Sacrifice in the Old World 324

19 The Invention of Democracy, the Alphabet, Money and the Greek Concept of Nature 358

20 Shaman-Kings, World Trees and Vision Serpents 381

21 Bloodletting, Human Sacrifice, Pain and Potlatch 413

22 Monasteries and Mandarins, Muslims and Mongols 444

23 The Feathered Serpent, the Fifth Sun and the Four Suyus 467

Conclusion: The Shaman and the Shepherd: The Great Divide 499

Appendix 1 The (Never-Ending) Dispute of the New World 523

Appendix 2 (Available online): From 100,000 kin groups to 190 Sovereign States: Some Patterns in Cultural Evolution 547

Notes and References 549

Sources for Figures 585

Index 587

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)