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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (edition 2012)

by Charles C. Mann

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Member:ElAlce
Title:1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
Authors:Charles C. Mann
Info:Vintage (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 720 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann

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Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
I won't add any details from the book to support my belief that it is a brilliant and detailed description of how foodstuffs, precious metals insects, disease, slavery, Europeans and indigenous people were all intertwined to bring us the world we have today. I'll let it be a surprise. This was the beginning of globalization and it is a very interesting read, if you want to learn more about why we eat potatoes in Europe and why the Amazon looks the way it does. The truth about both will undoubtedly surprise you. ( )
  K.J. | Aug 16, 2014 |
1493, the year after Columbus ostensibly discovered the new world, is also the starting point for what Mann describes as the Columbian Transformation. Much in the vein of Michael Pollan's natural histories of food, Mann shows many ways (by all means comprehensive) how mixing the old world with the new brought not only exciting new diseases such as small pox, but also abetted the spread of potatoes (the cloning method leading to the Great Potato Famine), rubber (a disaster in the making), earthworms, and, well, people. Some ports in Central and South America (as well as Caribbean islands) became crucial points of exchange. Trade with China, via the Philippines due to closed Chinese markets, exploited natives but brought them new, sometimes invasive crops. Tropical disease often made quick work of Europeans who lacked resistance, forcing their colonies to integrate with indigenous populations -- even slaves, just for mere survival. Policies regarding natives and slave peoples worked against occupying forces to create new racial combinations and new hybrid cultures to boot.

My only complaint is that, despite the size of the book, Mann probably tried to accomplish too much in this volume. Treating the mingling of cultures and native challenges should have been a book by itself, while a book on commodities, crops, and critters could have filled a second volume. I get he was trying to portray the similarities between people and things...but a little better focus would have worked better. Regardless, it's a fascinating read, and probably the first time I learned anything at all about the pre-Magellan Philippines. ( )
  JeffV | Jul 18, 2014 |
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. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Follow up to Mann's 1491 and possibly even more fascinating. His approach to globalization, which he situates as having had its beginnings in 1492 at the dawn of the Age of Exploration is truly a fresh take on this subject. Especially interesting is his account of the silver trade that ran from Mexico through Manila & on to Fujian in China. While European explorers were eager to find a sea route to China to more easily trade for spices, silk, etc. the Chinese remained little interested in what the West had to offer in way of trade goods. However, with the advent of silver mining in America, they discovered an insatiable appetite for a precious metal they did not have, silver. Highly recommended history of the Americas, bringing up to date how what started in 1492 continues to play out today.

( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
This is an interesting follow-up to 1491 by the same author. Somewhat sensationalist, and lacking in striking maps, Mann's book tries to explore the globalization started by the Spanish discovery of the Americas in the 1500's. He shows how, in his estimation, the desire to break into the Chinese market has been the principal economic driver since the 1480's. The information is usually well collected, and his case is often compelling.
Euro-centrists will find the book rather a trial, but their lot is hard work given our modern parallels. I think reading this book is time well spent. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Apr 24, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles C. Mannprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dean, RobertsonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lazzari, CarlaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Voorzanger, BartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307265722, Hardcover)

Guest Reviewer: Nathaniel Philbrick on 1493 by Charles C. Mann
Nathaniel Philbrick is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Last Stand; In the Heart of the Sea, which won the National Book Award; Sea of Glory, winner of the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize; and Mayflower, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history and one of the New York Times' ten best books of the year. He has lived on Nantucket since 1986.

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read.

With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

A Letter from Charles C. Mann

It looked an ice cream cone. But when I came closer, I realized that the boy was eating a raw sweet potato. His father had whittled at the top to expose the orange flesh, which the boy was licking; the unpeeled bottom of the sweet potato served as a handle.

This was at a farm about 300 miles northwest of Shanghai. Sweet potatoes are often eaten raw in rural China--a curiosity to Westerners like me. I didn’t realize that I had been staring until the boy ran to seek the protection of his father, who was hoeing a row of sweet potatoes. The father glared at me as I waved an apology. Because I don’t speak Chinese, I couldn’t tell him that I had been staring not at his son, but at the sweet potato in his hand. Nor could I say that I was staring because the sweet potato was an emblem of four hundred years of convulsive global change.

Sweet potatoes are native to Central America. Spanish ships carried them to Manila in the 1570s, and then a Chinese ship captain smuggled the vines past Spanish customs by wrapping them around ropes and coiling the ropes in a basket. He took the contraband plants to Fujian, in southeast China, across from Taiwan. It was a time of famine in China. The captain’s son took the sweet potatoes to the governor of Fujian, who in turn ordered farmers to plant the fanshu (foreign tubers). The famine ended. Other regions took up sweet potatoes to solve their food problems. Millions of lives were saved. For three centuries the food of the Chinese poor was not rice but sweet potato.

How did that Chinese kid get his sweet potato? Christopher Columbus. Scientists view Columbus as the man who inadvertently began an explosive global biological swap. After he established contact between the eastern and western hemisphere, thousands of plant and animal species ricocheted around the continents. It was the biggest event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs. The Columbian Exchange, as historians call it, is why there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in the United States, potatoes in Ireland, chili peppers in Thailand--and sweet potatoes in China.

It also is a big part of the reason why the British lost the Revolutionary War, why Mexico City became the world’s first truly international city, and why millions of African slaves were transported unwillingly across the Atlantic. Indeed, these are among the subjects of my book, which is largely about the Columbian Exchange.

The sweet potato--along with another American import, corn--did help save China from the calamity of famine. But they also caused another calamity. Traditional Chinese agriculture focused on rice, which had to be grown in wet river valleys. Sweet potatoes and corn could be grown in China’s dry highlands. Armies of farmers went out and cleared the forests on these highlands. The result was catastrophic erosion. Silt filled the Yangzi and Huang He (Yellow) rivers, setting off huge floods that killed millions of people. It was like one Katrina after another, a Chinese scientist told me. Beset by disaster, China fell behind in the race for global supremacy.

All of this history was encapsulated in the boy and his sweet potato, though he didn’t know it. To him, it was just a snack. When I took out my camera, the boy’s father rolled his eyes in disbelief. But I was taking a picture of centuries of global turbulence. The boy pouted; I clicked the shutter.

Timeline for 1493
200,000,000 B.C.: Geological forces begin to break up the world’s single giant continent, Pangaea, forever separating the hemispheres. After this, Eurasia and the Americas develop completely different suites of plants and animals.

1493 A.D.: Columbus sails on second voyage, establishing the first consequential European settlement in the Americas. Without intending to, he ends the long separation of the hemispheres—and sets off the ecological convulsion known as the Columbian Exchange.

1518: In the first environmental calamity of the modern era, accidentally imported African scale insects in Hispaniola lead to an explosion of fire ants. Spaniards flee the ant-infested island in droves; colonists in Santo Domingo hold procession in honor of St. Saturninus, praying for his aid against the insect plague.

1545: Spaniards discover the world’s biggest silver strike in Bolivia. In the next century, the world’s supply of this precious metal will more than double, giving Europe an economic edge that will help it colonize Africa, Asia and the Americas.

1549: Initial appearance of tobacco—the addictive American drug that becomes the first global commodity craze—in China. That same year, Hernán Cortés inaugurates the human part of the Columbian Exchange by signing the first contract to import large numbers of Africans to the American mainland.

1571: Miguel López de Legazpi colonizes Manila and establishes continual trade with China—Columbus’s life-long, never-fulfilled dream. Knitting the entire inhabited planet into a single web of trade, Legazpi’s actions are the beginning of today’s economic globalization.

~1615: Earthworms come to northern North America in English ship ballast. During the next three centuries, they will re-engineer forests from Ohio Valley to Hudson Bay.

1630-60: The gush of American silver finally causes its price to collapse, setting off a the world’s first global economic calamity.

1644: Collapse of Ming dynasty. Long struggle between remaining Ming in south and incoming Qing dynasty in north leads the latter to forcibly evacuate most of the southern coast; millions of dispossessed people pour into the mountains, where they grow maize and sweet potatoes, American crops first smuggled into China from Manila and other European bases.

1775: France’s Flour War, set off by high bread prices, persuades King Louis XVI to allow the pioneering nutritional chemist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier to stage a series of publicity stunts to persuade farmers to grow potatoes, a distrusted foreign species from Peru. Parmentier’s PR is so successful that broad swathes of northern Europe are soon covered with a monoculture of potatoes.

1781: Britain’s “southern strategy” pushes Gen. Cornwallis’s army into North America’s malaria zone, an area dominated by malaria parasites introduced from Europe and Africa. Defeated by malaria, the British army surrenders to a general it never fought: George Washington. This ends the Revolutionary War.

1845: Europe’s potato monoculture, which is unlike anything ever seen in Peru, turns out to be especially vulnerable to another Peruvian import, the potato blight. Ravaging the continent from Russia to Ireland, the blight causes a famine that kills an estimated two million people, half of them in Ireland.

~1867: Léopold Trouvelot, French amateur entomologist, smuggles gypsy moths to Medford, Mass., hoping to breed them with native silk-producing moths to produce a more robust silk-producer. Their almost immediate escape sets off an invasion that continues today. Trouvelot hurriedly returns to France before the dimensions of the problem can be known.

1880-1912: Industrializing nations, desperate for the elastic belts, pliable gaskets and the aborbent tires needed by steam engines and vehicles, buy every scrap of rubber they can get from the Amazon’s rubber trees, the sole source of high-quality latex. The ensuing rubber boom collapses after an Englishman smuggles rubber trees out of Brazil. Soon much of southeast Asia is covered with this foreign tree.

1979: The golden apple snail is sent from Brazil to Taiwan to launch an escargot industry there. It escapes, proliferates, and becomes a major menace to the island’s rice crop.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:47 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"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"--… (more)

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