1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

by Charles C. Mann


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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 of 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307265722
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/09/2011
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 704,870
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.62(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Charles C. Mann is a correspondent for The Atlantic, Science, and Wired, and has written for Fortune, The New York Times, Smithsonian, Vanity Fair, and The Washington Post, and for HBO and Law & Order. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he is the recipient of writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation. His 1491 won the National Academies Communication Award for the best book of the year. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

The Seams of Panagaea
Although it had just finished raining, the air was hot and close. Nobody else was in sight; the only sound other than those from insects and gulls was the staticky low crashing of Caribbean waves. Around me on the sparsely covered red soil was a scatter of rectangles laid out by lines of stones: the outlines of now- vanished buildings, revealed by archaeologists. Cement pathways, steaming faintly from the rain, ran between them. One of the buildings had more imposing walls than the others. The researchers had covered it with a new roof, the only structure they had chosen to protect from the rain. Standing like a sentry by its entrance was a hand- lettered sign: Casa Almirante, Admiral’s House. It marked the first American residence of Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, the man whom generations of schoolchildren have learned to call the discoverer of the New World.

La Isabela, as this community was called, is situated on the north side of the great Caribbean island of Hispaniola, in what is now the Dominican Republic. It was the initial attempt by Europeans to make a permanent base in the Americas. (To be precise, La Isabela marked the beginning of consequential European settlement—Vikings had established a short-lived village in Newfoundland five centuries before.) The admiral laid out his new domain at the confluence of two small, fast- rushing rivers: a fortified center on the north bank, a satellite community of farms on the south bank. For his home, Columbus—Cristóbal Colón, to give him the name he answered to at the time—chose the best location in town: a rocky promontory in the northern settlement, right at the water’s edge. His house was situated perfectly to catch the afternoon light.

Today La Isabela is almost forgotten. Sometimes a similar fate appears to threaten its founder. Colón is by no means absent from history textbooks, of course, but in them he seems ever less admirable and important. He was a cruel, deluded man, today’s critics say, who stumbled upon the Caribbean by luck. An agent of imperialism, he was in every way a calamity for the Americas’ first inhabitants. Yet a different but equally contemporary perspective suggests that we should continue to take notice of the admiral. Of all the members of humankind who have ever walked the earth, he alone inaugurated a new era in the history of life.

The king and queen of Spain, Fernando (Ferdinand) II and Isabel I, backed Colón’s first voyage grudgingly. Transoceanic travel in those days was heart-toppingly expensive and risky—the equivalent, perhaps, of spaceshuttle flights today. Despite relentless pestering, Colón was able to talk the monarchs into supporting his scheme only by threatening to take the project to France. He was riding to the frontier, a friend wrote later, when the queen “sent a court bailiff posthaste” to fetch him back. The story is probably exaggerated. Still, it is clear that the sovereigns’ reservations drove the admiral to whittle down his expedition, if not his ambitions, to a minimum: three small ships (the biggest may have been less than sixty feet long), a combined crew of about ninety. Colón himself had to contribute a quarter of the budget, according to a collaborator, probably by borrowing it from Italian merchants.

Everything changed with his triumphant return in March of 1493, bearing golden ornaments, brilliantly colored parrots, and as many as ten captive Indians. The king and queen, now enthusiastic, dispatched Colón just six months later on a second, vastly larger expedition: seventeen ships, a combined crew of perhaps fifteen hundred, among them a dozen or more priests charged with bringing the faith to these new lands. Because the admiral believed he had found a route to Asia, he was sure that China and Japan— and all their opulent goods—were only a short journey beyond. The goal of this second expedition was to create a permanent bastion for Spain in the heart of Asia, a headquarters for further exploration and trade.

The new colony, predicted one of its founders, “will be widely renowned for its many inhabitants, its elaborate buildings, and its magnificent walls.” Instead La Isabela was a catastrophe, abandoned barely five years after its creation. Over time its structures vanished, their very stones stripped to build other, more successful towns. When a U.S.–Venezuelan archaeological team began excavating the site in the late 1980s, the inhabitants of La Isabela were so few that the scientists were able to move the entire settlement to a nearby hillside. Today it has a couple of roadside fish restaurants, a single, failing hotel, and a little-visited museum. On the edge of town, a church, built in 1994 but already showing signs of age, commemorates the first Catholic Mass celebrated in the Americas. Watching the waves from the admiral’s ruined home, I could easily imagine disappointed tourists thinking that the colony had left nothing meaningful behind— that there was no reason, aside from the pretty beach, for anyone to pay attention to La Isabela. But that would be a mistake.

Babies born on the day the admiral founded La Isabela—January 2, 1494— came into a world in which direct trade and communication between western Europe and East Asia were largely blocked by the Islamic nations between (and their partners in Venice and Genoa), sub- Saharan Africa had little contact with Europe and next to none with South and East Asia, and the Eastern and Western hemispheres were almost entirely ignorant of each other’s very existence. By the time those babies had grandchildren, slaves from Africa mined silver in the Americas for sale to China; Spanish merchants waited impatiently for the latest shipments of Asian silk and porcelain from Mexico; and Dutch sailors traded cowry shells from the Maldive Islands, in the Indian Ocean, for human beings in Angola, on the coast of the Atlantic. Tobacco from the Caribbean ensorcelled the wealthy and powerful in Madrid, Madras, Mecca, and Manila. Group smoke-ins by violent young men in Edo (Tokyo) would soon lead to the formation of two rival gangs, the Bramble Club and the Leather- breeches Club. The shogun jailed seventy of their members, then banned smoking.

Long-distance trade had occurred for more than a thousand years, much of it across the Indian Ocean. China had for centuries sent silk to the Mediterranean by the Silk Road, a route that was lengthy, dangerous, and, for those who survived, hugely profitable. But nothing like this worldwide exchange had existed before, still less sprung up so quickly, or functioned so continuously. No previous trade networks included both of the globe’s two hemispheres; nor had they operated on a scale large enough to disrupt societies on opposite sides of the planet. By founding La Isabela, Colón initiated permanent European occupation in the Americas. And in so doing he began the era of globalization—the single, turbulent exchange of goods and services that today engulfs the entire habitable world.

Newspapers usually describe globalization in purely economic terms, but it is also a biological phenomenon; indeed, from a long-term perspective it may be primarily a biological phenomenon. Two hundred and fifty million years ago the world contained a single landmass known to scientists as Pangaea. Geological forces broke up this vast expanse, splitting Eurasia and the Americas. Over time the two divided halves of Pangaea developed wildly different suites of plants and animals. Before Colón a few venturesome land creatures had crossed the oceans and established themselves on the other side. Most were insects and birds, as one would expect, but the list also includes, surprisingly, a few farm species—bottle gourds, coconuts, sweet potatoes—the subject today of scholarly head-scratching. Otherwise, the world was sliced into separate ecological domains. Colón’s signal accomplishment was, in the phrase of historian Alfred W. Crosby, to reknit the seams of Pangaea. After 1492 the world’s ecosystems collided and mixed as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans. The Columbian Exchange, as Crosby called it, is the reason there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in the United States, chocolates in Switzerland, and chili peppers in Thailand. To ecologists, the Columbian Exchange is arguably the most important event since the death of the dinosaurs.

Unsurprisingly, this vast biological upheaval had repercussions on human kind. Crosby argued that the Columbian Exchange underlies much of the history we learn in the classroom—it was like an invisible wave, sweeping along kings and queens, peasants and priests, all unknowing. The claim was controversial; indeed, Crosby’s manuscript, rejected by every major academic publisher, ended up being published by such a tiny press that he once joked to me that his book had been distributed “by tossing it on the street, and hoping readers happened on it.” But over the decades since he coined the term, a growing number of researchers have come to believe that the ecological paroxysm set off by Colón’s voyages—as much as the economic convulsion he began—was one of the establishing events of the modern world.

On Christmas Day, 1492, Colón’s first voyage came to an abrupt end when his flagship, the Santa María, ran aground off the northern coast of Hispaniola. Because his two remaining vessels, the Niña and Pinta, were too small to hold the entire crew, he was forced to leave thirty- eight men behind. Colón departed for Spain while those men were building an encampment— a scatter of makeshift huts surrounded by a crude palisade, adjacent to a larger native village. The encampment was called La Navidad (Christmas), after the day of its involuntary creation (its precise location is not known today). Hispaniola’s native people have come to be known as the Taino. The conjoined Spanish-Taino settlement of La Navidad was the intended destination of Colón’s second voyage. He arrived there in triumph, the head of a flotilla, his crewmen swarming the shrouds in their eagerness to see the new land, on November 28, 1493, eleven months after he had left his men behind.

He found only ruin; both settlements, Spanish and Taino, had been razed. “We saw everything burned and the clothing of Christians lying on the weeds,” the ship’s doctor wrote. Nearby Taino showed the visitors the bodies of eleven Spaniards, “covered by the vegetation that had grown over them.” The Indians said that the sailors had angered their neighbors by raping some women and murdering some men. In the midst of the conflict a second Taino group had swooped down and overwhelmed both sides. After nine days of fruitless search for survivors Colón left to find a more promising spot for his base. Struggling against contrary winds, the fleet took almost a month to crawl a hundred miles east along the coast. On January 2, 1494, Colón arrived at the shallow bay where he would found La Isabela.

Almost immediately the colonists ran short of food and, worse, water. In a sign of his inadequacy as an administrator, the admiral had failed to inspect the water casks he had ordered; they, predictably, leaked. Ignoring all complaints of hunger and thirst, the admiral decreed that his men would clear and plant vegetable patches, erect a two- story fortress, and enclose the main, northern half of the new enclave within high stone walls. Inside the walls the Spaniards built perhaps two hundred houses, “small like the huts we use for bird hunting and roofed with weeds,” one man complained.*

Most of the new arrivals viewed these labors as a waste of time. Few actually wanted to set up shop in La Isabela, still less till its soil. Instead they regarded the colony as a temporary base camp for the quest for riches, especially gold. Colón himself was ambivalent. On the one hand, he was supposed to be governing a colony that was establishing a commercial entrepôt in the Americas. On the other hand, he was supposed to be at sea, continuing his search for China. The two roles conflicted, and Colón was never able to resolve the conflict.

On April 24 Colón sailed off to find China. Before leaving, he ordered his military commander, Pedro Margarit, to lead four hundred men into the rugged interior to seek Indian gold mines. After finding only trivial quantities of gold—and not much food—in the mountains, Margarit’s charges, tattered and starving, came back to La Isabela, only to discover that the colony, too, had little to eat—those left behind, resentful, had refused to tend gardens. The irate Margarit hijacked three ships and fled to Spain, promising to brand the entire enterprise as a waste of time and money. Left behind with no food, the remaining colonists took to raiding Taino storehouses. Infuriated, the Indians struck back, setting off a chaotic war. This was the situation that confronted Colón when he returned to La Isabela five months after his departure, dreadfully sick and having failed to reach China.

A loose alliance of four Taino groups faced off against the Spaniards and one Taino group that had thrown its lot in with the foreigners. The Taino, who had no metal, could not withstand assaults with steel weapons. But they made the fight costly for the Spaniards. In an early form of chemical warfare, the Indians threw gourds stuffed with ashes and ground hot peppers at their attackers, unleashing clouds of choking, blinding smoke. Protective bandannas over their faces, they charged through the tear gas, killing Spaniards. The intent was to push out the foreigners—an unthinkable course to Colón, who had staked everything on the voyage. When the Spaniards counterattacked, the Taino retreated scorched- earth style, destroying their own homes and gardens in the belief, Colón wrote scornfully, “that hunger would drive us from the land.” Neither side could win. The Taino alliance could not eject the Spaniards from Hispaniola. But the Spaniards were waging war on the people who provided their food supply; total victory would be a total disaster. They won skirmish after skirmish, killing countless natives. Meanwhile, starvation, sickness, and exhaustion filled the cemetery in La Isabela.

Humiliated by the calamity, the admiral set off for Spain on March 10, 1496, to beg the king and queen for more money and supplies. When he returned two years later— the third of what would become four voyages across the Atlantic—so little was left of La Isabela that he landed on the opposite side of the island, in Santo Domingo, a new settlement founded by his brother Bartolomé, whom he had left behind. Colón never again set foot in his first colony and it was almost forgotten.

Despite the brevity of its existence, La Isabela marked the beginning of an enormous change: the creation of the modern Caribbean landscape. Colón and his crew did not voyage alone. They were accompanied by a menagerie of insects, plants, mammals, and microorganisms. Beginning with La Isabela, European expeditions brought cattle, sheep, and horses, along with crops like sugarcane (originally from New Guinea), wheat (from the Middle East), bananas (from Africa), and coffee (also from Africa). Equally important, creatures the colonists knew nothing about hitchhiked along for the ride. Earthworms, mosquitoes, and cockroaches; honeybees, dandelions, and African grasses; rats of every description—all of them poured from the hulls of Colón’s vessels and those that followed, rushing like eager tourists into lands that had never seen their like before.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2011
            -Lev Grossman, Time Magazine Best Books of 2011
“Compelling and eye-opening.”
            - Publishers Weekly Top 100 Books of 2011
“Voltaire would have loved Charles C. Mann’s outstanding new book, 1493. 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 . . . 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 . . . 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 . . . 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.”
            -Ian Morris, The New York Times Book Review
“Mann’s book is jammed with facts and factoids, trivia and moments of great insight that take on power as they accumulate . . . Fascinating and complex, exemplary in its union of meaningful fact with good storytelling, 1493 ranges across continents and centuries to explain how the world we inhabit came to be.”
            -Gregory McNamee, The Washington Post
“For fans of long-form nonfiction, 1493 presents multitudinous delights in the form of absorbing stories and fascinating factoids . . . As a writer, Mann displays many fine qualities: evenhandedness, a sense of wonder, the gift of turning a phrase . . . Mann loves the world and adopts it as his own.”
            -Jared Farmer, Science
“Even the wisest readers will find many surprises here . . . Like 1491, Mann’s sequel will change worldviews.”
            -Bruce Watson, San Francisco Chronicle
“Engaging . . . Mann deftly illuminates contradictions on a human scale: the blind violence and terror at Jamestown, the cruel exploitation of labor in the silver mines of Bolivia, the awe felt by Europeans upon first seeing a rubber ball bounce.”
            -The New Yorker
“A muscular, densely documented follow-up [to Mann’s 1491] . . . 1493 moves at a gallop . . . As a historian Mann should be admired not just for his broad scope and restless intelligence but for his biological senstivity. At every point of his tale he keeps foremost in his mind the effect of humans’ activities on the broader environment they inhabit.”
            -Alfred W. Crosby, The Wall Street Journal
“In the wake of his groundbreaking book 1491 Charles Mann has once again produced a brilliant and riveting work that will forever change the way we see the world. Mann shows how the ecological collision of Europe and the Americas transformed virtually every aspect of human history. Beautifully written, and packed with startling research, 1493 is a monumental achievement."
            -David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z
“Mann is trying to do much more than punch holes in conventional wisdom; he’s trying to piece together an elaborate, alternative history that describes profound changes in the world since the original voyage of Columbus. What's most surprising is that he manages to do this in such an engaging way. He writes with an incredibly dry wit.”
            -Charles Ealy, Austin American-Statesman
“The chief strength of Mann’s richly associative books lies in their ability to reveal new patterns among seemingly disparate pieces of accepted knowledge. They’re stuffed with forehead-slapping ‘aha’ moments . . . If Mann were to work his way methodically through the odd-numbered years of history, he could be expected to publish a book about the global impact of the Great Recession sometime in the middle of the next millennium. If it’s as good as 1493, it would be worth the wait.”
            -Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Almost mind-boggling in its scope, enthusiasm and erudition . . . Almost every page of 1493 contains some extraordinarily provocative argument or arrestingly bizarre detail . . . Ranging freely across time and space, Mann’s book is full of compelling stories . . . A tremendously provocative, learned and surprising read.”
            -Dominic Sandbrook, The Times of London
“A book to celebrate . . . A bracingly persuasive counternarrative to the prevailing mythology about the historical significance of the ‘discovery’ of America . . . 1493 is rich in detail, analytically expansive and impossible to summarize . . . [Mann’s book] deserves a prominent place among that very rare class of books that can make a difference in how we see the world, although it is neither a polemic nor a work of advocacy. Thoughtful, learned and respectful of its subject matter, 1493 is a splendid achievement.”
            -John Strawn, The Oregonian
“Despite his scope, Mann remains grounded in fascinating details: why tobacco exhausted the soil; how fevers and blights attacked their victims; what made rubber stretchy; how maize cultivation in the highlands could ruin rice paddies in the lowlands. Such technical insights enhance a very human story, told in lively and accessible prose.”
            -Alex Nalbach, Cleveland Plain-Dealer
“Spirited . . . One thing is indisputable: Mann is definitely global in his outlook and tribal in his thinking . . . Mann’s taxonomy of the ecological, political, religious, economic, anthropological and mystical melds together in an intriguing whole cloth.”
            -Jonathan E. Lazarus, The [Newark] Star-Ledger
“Mann’s excitement never flags as he tells his breathtaking story . . . There is grandeur in this view of the past that looks afresh at the different parts of the world and the parts each played in shaping it.”
            -Marek Kohn, Financial Times
“Fascinating . . . Convincing . . . 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.”
            -Starred review, Kirkus
“A landmark book . . . Entrancingly provocative, 1493 bristles with illuminations, insights and surprises.”
            -John McFarland, Shelf Awareness
“A fascinating survey . . . 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.”
            -Starred review, Publishers Weekly
“In 1491 Charles Mann brilliantly described the Americas on the eve of Columbus’s voyage. Now in 1493 he tells how the world was changed forever by the movement of foods, metals, plants, people and diseases between the ‘New World’ and both Europe and China. His book is readable and well-written, based on his usual broad research, travels and interviews. A fascinating and important topic, admirably told.”
            -John Hemming, author of Tree of Rivers
“Fascinating . . . Engaging and well-written . . . Information and insight abound on every page. This dazzling display of erudition, theory and insight will help readers to view history in a fresh way.”   
            -Roger Bishop, BookPage
“Charles Mann expertly shows how the complex, interconnected ecological and economic consequences of the European discovery of the Americas shaped many unexpected aspects of the modern world. This is an example of the best kind of history book: one that changes the way you look at the world, even as it informs and entertains.”
            -Tom Standage, author of A History of the World in Six Glasses

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1493 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 81 reviews.
QuietFury More than 1 year ago
Charles Mann writes the type of book that should be read in history classes everywhere. This one takes off where 1491 left off and is equally as fascinating. The amount of material covered is enormous but never overwhelming. Topics include everything from the potato famine to tobacco farming to both sides of slavery all over the world. Mann doesn't simply tell us when things happened. He tells us how and why. 1493 is well written, easy to follow and incredibly informative.
TJS555 More than 1 year ago
Just finished reading "1491" so was compelled to continue the journey with "1493". Reading these books makes me realize just how totally inadequate my eduction in American history has been, at both the high school & college levels - every page amazed in the facts revealed. Mann is a journalist, which added greatly to the pleasure of the read - he writes beautifully. Reading these books put me on that hill in Darien, with 1000 years of history spread out before my wondering eyes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really good read. Lots of new ideas to mull over about the globalization of plants, food, economies....and how far back these issues go. Author's background in magazine writing helps make these complex issues understandable. I strongly recommend this book!
jceMD More than 1 year ago
A must-read for people interested in History from a different point of view than that of school books. Real-life History. Combined with books from Howard Zinn and Eric Hobsbawm, one can have a glimpse on what probably happened on earth some time ago.
johnjord205 More than 1 year ago
I found this book very interesting and it gave me a greater understanding of how the world became what it is today. It points out the accomplishments and failures of the many peoples, races, religions, nations, who formed the world as it exists today. It gave me greater insight into how deeply entrenched many of the problems are that we have to deal with today.
AnnIL More than 1 year ago
Lots of good information, but seems to have been written in haste. Not as good as 1491 was. But worth the read.
labdaddy4 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought 1491 was excellent - this is even better! It probably helps to have read 1491 first - sets the stage and style. 1493 is a very detailed and complete investigation and analysis of the influences (all of them) on the "New" World as the western hemisphere is discovered and "developed" and influenced. Also very interesting is the influence of the western hemisphere that spills back onto Europe, Africa, and Asia. Mann dubs this the Colombian Exchange.
rivkat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tracks the ¿Columbian exchange¿ of biological material (sweet potatoes, potatoes and people prominent among the participants) from the Americas to Asia, Africa, and Europe, and back again. It¿s a neat way to organize the history, and contextualizes many huge changes¿especially the most environmentally destructive ones, as society after society fouled its own nest in response to particular encounters with globalization.
Darcia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Charles Mann writes the type of book that should be read in history classes everywhere. This one takes off where 1491 left off and is equally as fascinating. The amount of material covered is enormous but never overwhelming. Topics include everything from the potato famine to tobacco farming to both sides of slavery all over the world. Mann doesn't simply tell us when things happened. He tells us how and why. 1493 is well written, easy to follow and incredibly informative.
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely fascinating. Worms and parasites, slaves and masters, greed and commerce, tobacco and guano ¿ all have radically shaped today's world, and continue to do so. The Columbian Exchange united, both for better and for worse, this earth in ways that Columbus could never have dreamed.The author's writing is well organized, researched, illustrated, and annotated. Given that, it still could have been boring but it wasn't. Charles Mann kept me entertained and interested through every word, remarkable considering how much information he was able to impart in the roughly 400 pages of text. I knew bits and pieces of this story, but never the bigger picture as he was able to show me. He did this without becoming pedantic, condescending, or proselytizing. I highly recommend this book to anyone at all interested in the history and future of this planet.I received a free uncorrected proof of this book for purposes of review.
dickmanikowski on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is simply too damned popular.After looking for it for weeks in local public libraries, I finally snagged a copy from the HITS shelf of Troy Public Library. The downside, though, is that HITS only circulate for 7 days, with no renewals allowed.So despite the fact that I'm only on p. 367, I'm going to play by the rules and return the damned book tonight. I'll see if it's still on the shelf TH or FR.It's a fascinating examination of the Columbian Exchange--the movement of crops, goods, and people between Europe, Africa, Asia, and the New World that began with Columbus stumbling across an unexpected continent while sailing to China.The author shares a wealth of information, both significant and seemingly trivial. Very, very, very much worth reading.PS--Finally checked it out for a second time and finished it.
jasonlf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A remarkable global history from 1493 to the present, describes the trade and exchange of people, plants, commodities, and microorganisms between Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. It is nowhere nearly as original as Charles Mann's previous 1491, with presented a revolutionary portrait of pre-Columbian America, nor Guns, Germs and Steel, which covers some of the same terrain. But it is still a thoughtful, balanced, creative, and large-scale history of what the author, following earlier works, calls the "Columbian exchange." The book is journalistic in nature and draws on a wide variety of research including conventional history, genetics, environmental studies, farm studies, and economic history.Mann's thesis is that since 1493, a massive Transatlantic and Transpacific trade has helped create a new era in global environmental history, the Homogenocene -- which is a homogenizing of the people, plants and people around the world. Some of the exchanges he describes are well known and well documented, like the slave trade. Others I had never heard of, like the large role that the guano mining and trade played in 19th century agriculture. All of them are described in a vivid and humanizing way, for example describing the horrors of guano mining by essentially enslaved Chinese laborers, the boomtowns that it created in Peru, the cartels that controlled it, and the impact it had on European agriculture. In between these levels of familiarity, are detailed descriptions of the trade in tobacco, silver, the potato, rubber, rice, sugarcane, malaria and yellow fever.In the course of this, the book covers the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, the founding of the America's and the rise of Europe. It is also interesting in that it spends as much time on China and Asia, not just as a source of materials for the West but also in describing how the trade in items like silver and the potato transformed Asian economies, societies, and even their physical topographies. The Philippines get a particularly interesting treatment in the book, as the crossroads of the Asia, the New World, and Europe.I appreciate Mann's balance in writing the book. He is unstinting in his descriptions of the human and ecological horrors brought by the exchange. But he is also clear and forthright about their massive benefits that these exchanges have brought.
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a terrifically interesting and entertaining book, which presented me with at least two blockbuster ideas that changed the way I think about the past. I'll get to those in a minute, but first a few general points. Charles Mann is a science journalist:who seems to specialize in BIG topics. His 2005 book ("1491", which argues that the pre-Columbian population of the Americas was much larger and more sophisticated than generally assumed), was very well received. I enjoyed it so much, and thought it so valuable a book, that I was very anxious to read "1493"."1493" lived up to my (high) expectations. Mann is remarkable writer, with an extraordinary ability to present very complex facts and ideas in way that's not just accessible to the lay reader, it's fun for the lay reader. This isn't to say that the book isn't carefully researched -- the text is followed by almost 100 pages of footnotes, and throughout he cites and acknowledges the scientists and others from whom he has drawn information. It's just that Mann manages to combine a myriad of facts and hypotheses into a compelling narrative. And he often puts this in very concrete terms, focussing on individual people, commodities or events. It adds up to a fascinating read. It is also a very important one, with implications for the future as well as about the past. Mann's subject in this book is the Columbian Exchange, the sudden movement of plants, microbes, animals and people between the eastern and western hemispheres after Columbus' voyage to the Americas in 1492. A well known effect of this was the eastern hemisphere adoption of western hemisphere foods (tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, coffee, and on and on). Another effect that's only been recently come to be widely understood is the devastating impact on the pre-Columbian population of the Americas; as many as 80% died in the epidemics that followed the introduction of diseases to which they had no immunity. But the population die-off and the exchange of plant species are not the only effects of the Columbian Exchange. Mann's book explores the myriad ways in which the Exchange -- globablization -- has shaped the world of today.Two things I learned from the book struck me particularly. First, like most Americans of my generation (older) I learned in school that the colonization of the Americas was carried out by white people, who moved into a largely uninhabited continent. "1491" took care of the uninhabited: "1493" takes care of the white. Mann says that from 1500 to 1840, about 3.4 million white Europeans emigrated to the Americas. Over the same period, about 11.7 million captive Africans were sent to the Americas. Except for New England, much of the United States and most of Latin American was far more black than white. (And probably in 1840 still more Indian/Native American than anything else). The racial balance changed as white immigration ramped up and as millions upon millions of blacks died too young, but the picture of early America looks very different to me now. Secondly, Mann discussed at length the 19th century ecological disaster that engulfed China. I had always assumed that the floods that killed so many millions in China had always happened, and were the result of geography. There have indeed always been floods, but their severity and human cost grew logarithmically in the 19th century. New crops led to more food and to rising population growth, and at the same time to more potential cash crops, increasing the pressure on existing land holdings, and leading to vast land clearances. That made the floods far worse when they came, undermining the political structure and compounding China's problems. This was interesting not just a light on the past, but as a warning signal for the future. The review is already too long, so, to sum it up: Great book!! Read it!! Give it to friends and family!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even better than his work "1493", Charles Mann takes a well-researched and masterfully analyzed look at the economic, demographic, and cultural impact of the accidental discovery of the Americas. Excellent read, difficult to put down or even read only once!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing feat of research. In depth and detailed to a fault. Liked very much but sometimes read like someone forgot to edit the raw data. Would highly recommend for anyone who is fascinated by post Columbian history. Extremely in-depth.
AnnieBM More than 1 year ago
To learn the lessons of history, one must know it...I recommend reading Mann's 1491 before reading 1493. Both are excellent. They offer succinct summaries of current discussions in history, anthropology, and related areas. While 1491 is focused on cleaning up an out-dated sense of the Americas historically and anthropologically, 1493 focuses on how the European encounter with the Americas dramatically affected the whole world, especially as different economically important species were transported. This book puts much of the current world in better perspective including how much chattel slavery shaped the modern situation. The last chapter really brings home the impact for today and the irony in many of our perceptions and conservation efforts.
huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
Good History Book. 1493 is a good history book. I enjoyed the information about malaria, potatoes, and sweet potatoes the most. I learned about Casta Paintings, which I found informative. I would recommend it 1493 to selected others.
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