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173 of 190 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kept me up past my bedtime
Charles Mann has a knack for making the details of history into fascinating reading, and this book did, indeed, keep me up reading past my bedtime. The book combines the results of his prodigious reading, his own travels and personal experiences, and his conversations with some of the leading scholars in the field.

On the heels of his earlier success (1491),...
Published on August 1, 2011 by Phelps Gates

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92 of 105 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't Purchase the Kindle Version!
This is a very interesting book and a good follow up to 1491. The problem is, I purchased the Kindle version for $5.00 less than the hard copy version. This was a mistake. Pay the extra five bucks. Although I love my Kindle and have read about 40 books on it so far, because of the number of maps and illustrations central to the understanding and enjoyment of 1493,...
Published on October 13, 2011 by CB


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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks the Respect of the First, December 12, 2012
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1493 / 978-0307265722

I really enjoyed Charles Mann's 1491, but after struggling to get through 1493, I'm afraid to re-read the first and find that my opinion may now be reversed.

1491 was for me a wonderfully compiled and comprehensive look at the Americas before Columbus arrived and everything was inexorably changed. I appreciated the information presented in the book, as well as the manner in which it was presented -- I was strongly affected by Mann's tone with that volume and how he seemed to take a great deal of care in writing his narrative respectfully as well as engagingly and accurately. We, the readers, may have been treading on the bones of history, but there was (for me) a sense that we were doing so with reverence.

1493, on the other hand, seems to suffer from the success of the first.

We'll start with the title, which seems to imply that 1493 will be what 1491 was: a comprehensive look at the Americas in that pivotal year, only instead of taking a snapshot immediately before Columbus' arrival, we'll look at immediately after. Unfortunately, this isn't really the case; 1493 is about what Mann calls "the Columbian Exchange", by which he means the fact that people, animals, plants, insects, microorganisms, etc. were ferried all over the world by travelers (like, but not limited to, Columbus) into new ecosystems, where they wrought serious changes to the local ecology and economy.

This isn't a bad thesis, and certainly there are a number of interesting facts here, but it means we're talking about a globe-spanning topic with millions of individual unique examples, without any single narrative to really tie things firmly and interestingly together. Perhaps the book would have worked better if it were limited to the Americas, as 1491 had been, and just looked at what the Europeans introduced into the American ecosystem -- and possibly a look at what the Europeans brought back from America with them. That would have been a more cohesive narrative, I think, than trying to tie the African slave trade in the 1700s in with a look at the effects of sweet potatoes on Communist China in the 1900s.

Even if you're willing to stick with the narrative wherever it takes you -- and without being bored sometimes at the ratio of encyclopedic facts to engaging narrative -- there's additionally a huge tonal shift between this book and its predecessor, and for me at least this was a serious obstacle. 1491 had a very respectful tone, and was very self-aware of its own shortcomings. Mann openly acknowledged that he was something of a dilettante historian, and that he was only stepping forward with his book in order to fill a literary gap that he felt needed filling. There were troubling untruths being told in service to the Columbus myth and he felt that the record needed to be set straight on certain issues.

Yet here in 1493, it feels like Mann has shed his respectful demeanor and taken on a tone that seems terribly self-aggrandizing. Just to select from the first chapter alone, he spends a tremendous amount of time setting up a Golden Mean Fallacy: 'some people claim THIS, other people claim THAT, but the truth is here in the middle'. This isn't necessary, it detracts from the narrative, and it pads the book out to a tedious length for no reason that I can see other than so Mann can pat himself on the back for being Right while others are Wrong rather than just getting to the meat of the subject matter. Here is one quote where he handles different aspects of the Columbus myth:

"Unsurprisingly, native people rarely endorse this view of their history, and Colón's part in it. An army of activists and scholars has bombarded the public with condemnations of the man and his works. They have called him brutal (he was, by today's standards) and racist (he wasn't, strictly speaking--modern concepts of race had not yet been invented); incompetent as an administrator (he was) and as a seaman (he wasn't); a religious fanatic (he surely was, from a secular point of view); and a greedy monomaniac (a charge, the admiral's supporters would say, that could be leveled against all ambitious souls). Colón, his detractors charge, never understood what he had found."

I don't understand why Mann wants to bash on the people he sees as ideological opponents (an "army of activists"? Really?), instead of just talking about Columbus from the ground up. He would have been better served to do so, really, because this kind of summing up of the opposition seems so lazy as to make me worry about the scholarship of the rest of the book. For instance, Columbus isn't called "racist" because his detractors mistakenly believe he subscribed to the same understanding of race as we do today; they call him "racist" because he didn't have a problem with enslaving and casually genociding people who weren't sufficiently like himself to deserve his empathy. They are, in other words, applying the term to his actions rather than to his supposed train of logic in service to those actions. For Mann to pretend otherwise troubles me: either he really doesn't understand Columbus' detractors, or he does understand and he's deliberately misrepresenting them. I find that a matter for concern.

Later, in the same chapter, Mann will casually dismiss local disapproval with the Columbus monument in Santo Domingo as nothing more than misplaced anger at dictator Rafael Trujillo, and will go so far as to lecture the residents on what they should consider the 'true' meaning of the Columbus monument:

"Residents of the walled-off slums around the monument told reporters that they thought Colón deserved no commemoration at all. A thesis of this book is that their belief, no matter how understandable, is mistaken. The Columbian Exchange had such far-reaching effects that some biologists now say that Colón's voyages marked the beginning of a new biological era: the Homogenocene. The term refers to homogenizing: mixing unlike substances to create a uniform blend. With the Columbian Exchange, places that were once ecologically distinct have become more alike. In this sense the world has become one, exactly as the old admiral hoped. The lighthouse in Santo Domingo should be regarded less as a celebration of the man who began it than a recognition of the world he almost accidentally created, the world of the Homogenocene we live in today."

So, just to be clear, Dominicans who regard the local monument to Columbus as a reprehensible commemoration to Columbus are wrong because they "should" view the monument as recognition of the fact that some people -- including, but not limited to, Columbus -- piloted a lot of different ships to a lot of different places over a lot of different time periods, and some of the results of those events are things like sweet potatoes and their effect on Communist China. Clearly.

I wanted -- so much! -- to like 1493. I expected to like it so much that even after receiving a free copy through Vine, I purchased an e-book version as well so that I could have both. I did this because I liked the scope, the cohesion, and the tone of 1491 immensely. But the scope of 1493 is so vast as to be almost infinite, the narrative cohesion is non-existent in places and is often abandoned in favor of lists of facts, and the tone seems to indicate that the author thinks he understands history better than anyone else, in the wake of one extremely popular and successful book. Because of that, I personally did not find 1493 to be entertaining, enlightening, or respectful of the subject matter, and I really cannot recommend it.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.

~ Ana Mardoll
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Broad in scope, and rich in detail, August 14, 2011
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We all have a pretty good idea of the changes wrought by Columbus' voyages to the new world. Europe got corn, tomatoes, and Mexico, and the Americas got Europeans, slaves, and Syphilis. But the story is much, much, deeper than that.

As author Charles McCann tells it, this book had its genesis in the writings of geographer Alfred Crosby, whose confrontationally-titled "Ecological Imperialism" got McCann thinking about the deeper implications of the "Columbian Exchange," as Crosby named it, and how they echoed throughout the world, from the Southernmost tip of South America, through the New World, Africa, and to the most remote regions of China. The story begins with the writings of a geographer, but this isn't a simple Jared Diamond narrative in which geography is the driving force behind all global dynamics. Microbiology, for instance, plays a very significant role, especially in the history of slavery. Back in the 18th Century it was well known that slavery was not a terribly viable source of labor; Adam Smith had documented that in his writings. Early settlers in New England knew that while a slave cost $25, an indentured servant could be had for a five year contract for $15, and the servant was a much more highly motivated worker, and not one looking to escape. So what was the attraction of slavery?

The key is malaria. Malaria was known throughout Europe in the 17thC, and became increasingly troublesome as people drained seaside bogs (which were regularly washed out by the tide) and created areas of standing water, in which mosquitoes bred. In the Americas, though, there was a second, more virulent and more deadly form of malaria that couldn't survive in the North, but which flourished in the South. It killed Europeans by the boatload, but a large percentage of Africans carried with them natural resistance to malaria. These Africans became the backbone of the agricultural workforce in the humid, tropical Southern states, while their owners and overseers kept away from the swamps and marshes, living in homes built on hills, where winds swept the area clean of mosquitoes. Both malaria and Yellow Fever, also brought to the new world by the first African slaves, also shaped the economics of coffee planting, sugar cane, and more in the tropics.

We all know that the Spanish came to Mexico in search of gold, and brought back the silver that contributed to the wealth (and paradoxically, the downfall) of Spain. What's less well known is that the bulk of the silver mined in Peru went to China, which had a tremendous demand for coin silver. The need for this silver forced China, which had always rejected contact with the rest of the world, to trade with the Spanish and Portuguese by way of intermediaries in the Philippines- which is one reason the people of the Philippines have both Asian and European ancestry. Trade eventually migrated to the coast of China, where a people called the Hakka engaged in direct trade with foreigners. This trade also contributed to the fall of the Ming dynasty, who were conquered by Moslem invaders who became the Qing. These new rulers banned trade, and drove the coastal traders in China inland, where they settled in what became Szechuan Province. Thus did Peruvian silver lead to the creation of a new culture and cuisine in China!

There are scores of stories like this, and all are interconnected in one way or another. Potato cultivation in the Andes by ancient Peruvians leads to one variety of potato feeding the poor of Europe- and then the transfer of guano fertilizer from South America to Europe brings with it a spore that wipes out an entire continent's crop- helped, in part, when the Irish were convinced to abandon their simple method of tilling that they shared with the ancient Peruvians in favor of modern, English tillage. The discovery of the vulcanization of rubber led to the export of rubber trees throughout Asia and the enslavement of millions- and to the industrial age, rubber being a critical material needed for seals, couplings and bushings in the steam age and beyond.

I've barely touched on the material covered in 1493. This is a fascinating book, from the first page to the last, and one that will greatly broaden your understanding of not just the effects of the Columbian Exchange, but of the biological, economic, and social interconnectedness of the world.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating book, but problems with the kindle edition, October 18, 2011
This review is from: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Kindle Edition)
Like many others, I found the book fascinating even though some portions were not fully convincing. The sweep is very broad -- I could imagine several of the major topics being turned into standalone books and pursued more in-depth.

I read the Kindle edition, then looked at the hard cover book as a comparison.

Two negatives about the Kindle edition
* there are many interesting maps in this book -- the kindle provides each map in two sizes. Yet I found that the screen resolution of the kindle was not detailed enough to be able to read the maps (even in the bigger size). When I later examined the hard cover book I was able to see a marked difference in the maps. Even though the book has only one size of maps, the much higher resolution in print is very significant.
* the "percentage read" is misleading in this book. The kindle I used is relatively new, I've read a few other books on this kindle, none had this problem. I was reading along and got to 55% of the book and suddenly found myself done. When I checked the hard cover edition, I confirmed that I had read all the content of the book. I saw about 100 pages of notes, bibliography, but this still did not fully explain why the main content of the book ended at 55%. My only theory about this relates to the 2 sizes of the maps -- perhaps they consume a lot of storage and the "percentage read" is skewed because of the large amount of storage taken by the maps.
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42 of 58 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Needs organization, vision, and less preach, August 29, 2011
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Ugh. Where to start?

I requested this and I had hoped that it would be what it promised: a discussion of the world that was created by the Columbian Exchange. This was not that book.

Rather, this is a hodge-podge of random things that happened after Columbus "discovered" America. The problem is that it doesn't have any vision, structure, or organization.

In some ways, it actually works. There are fun things to discover in here, like reading about samurai preventing African slaves from getting robbed in Mexico by Chinese.

In most ways, though, it fails. The chapters themselves meander, which is fine, provided that it takes us somewhere. But he doesn't. Instead, he seems to meander aimlessly, and the chapters end with little or nothing in the way of conclusion.

This becomes pretty evident later in the book, where the author keeps referring back to earlier chapters to make current points.

On some level, I find the book lacking in focus as well. There's way, way too much here about Asia. I understand that the Columbian Exchange includes Asia, but I think that it dilutes the focus. Moreover, after you get to that part, Mann seems to lose track of what he was even doing, and suddenly turns it into a treatise on slavery in the New World. He does get some good details in there about the interactions between Indian and African slaves, but it's buried in endless details of slave revolts and similar historical detritus.

Also, it gets pretty preachy. At some point, basically ten pages from the end of the book, Charles Mann FINALLY recognizes that globalization has some good effects, and that a great many of the people who are its victims (from our perspective) are actually desiring these things (from their perspective).

Finally, a couple points of irritation on a personal level.

For example, on pg. 114, the author suggests that "the idea ... part of the credit for the Emancipation Proclamation be assigned to malaria" is "not impossible". This kind of random speculation has no place in history, even in popular history.

A second example: Mann proclaims that the Columbian Exchange is partly responsible for the rise of Europe, which may or may not be true, but is hardly supported by what Mann presents here.

His historian credentials may have been fantastic in 1491, but he makes rookie mistakes here. Establish what you want to argue, but don't blow it clear out of proportion.

In brief, too much detail about some things, too little about others. Lacking in vision and organization. It's hard to make it through this book, and, from what I've heard, that's a pretty common feeling.

Grade: C-
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars even better than 1491, July 3, 2012
By 
John Umland (Southeast CT USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I really enjoyed Mann's previous work 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, but this one was even better. My biology concentration at UConn, oh so many years ago, was in ecology. The interconnected web of the life sciences is a thrill to me, as it is in my current career as a ADME biologist. But I also enjoy the interconnectedness of history. This book, 1493, explaining how the world changed after Columbus landed in Caribbean in 1492, is an exemplary web and enthralling to read. Since I borrowed the book from my local library I refrained from dog earring the pages, but if I had my own copy, it would be a mess. The concept I most enjoyed was the homogocene. There's no good link out there for this concept, so I'll take a stab at explaining it. Once Columbus enabled the Spaniards to establish beach heads in the Americas they biomes of the continents started to mix. Then when the Spaniards crossed the Pacific and established a trading post on the western side of the Philippines to trade with China further mixing occurred. And when Africans were imported for labor to the Americas, all the continents, except Antarctica were connected. The oceans no longer provided a barrier between biomes. Everything became susceptible to homogenization. Smallpox wiped out American empires, then European armies wiped out the rest. The Europeans brought malaria with them to the Americas where it flourished. The only reliable labor came from malarial resistant populations, Africans, who were imported by the millions to mine American mineral riches (silver, gold, guano) and farm American agricultural riches (latex, sugar, tobacco). These were shipped, not only back to Europe, but also to China, who traded silk and porcelain that went East again, through Central America back to Europe.

The American potato kept Europe out of regular famine cycles. American tobacco got Europeans and Asians addicted and regular consumers. American guano islands fertilized the soil to keep up production of those things. An American potato virus caused the Irish famine. The potato and corn enabled Chinese peasants to have more food stability than rice provided.

Slaves regularly escaped. Some were formerly military leaders who had become prisoners of war in Africa sold to European slavers. Their experience enabled them to lead successful rebellions and escapes and keep fellow escapees alive and well in the forests of the new world. They lived alongside Native Americans, intermarrying with some tribes, and finding great success with their resistance to malaria, using it as an ally to weaken Europeans determined to bring order. What couldn't be done with the usual weapons of warfare, was done by waiting until the mosquito season resumed when more soldiers would be killed. These villages of escapees thrived in Brazil, Florida, and Nicaragua. The heritage of these escapees continues today in the generations that have thrived into the modern world.

The details are too numerous, which is why I heartily recommend reading this book. There is no way to summarize it, when everything is important.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ... and tedious!, September 7, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Charles Mann has written a sort of history of the world following Columbus -- or Colon, as he insists on calling him. The book is basically an updating of Alfred Crosby's "The Columbian Exchange," which was originally published in 1973. Crosby was the first to systematically consider the epic changes resulting from bringing together the New World and the Old World in 1492. The exchange of peoples, plants, and microbes fundamentally changed world history. Interesting point and Mann tells a pretty good story, but I found his account rather disjointed. He skips back and forth in time and location. For instance, Mann's discussion of rubber plantations in contemporary southern China and Laos precedes by many pages his account of Cortez conquering the Aztecs. The amount of space devoted to different topics is also a bit odd. The account of Cortez not only comes late in the book, but is fairly brief and sketchy compared with his very long discussion of piracy on the south China coast in the 1500s.

Mann is a very good writer, so his stories are generally interesting. But there are so many of them and the relationship between some of them and his main theme is often tenuous. So, while I began the book enjoying it quite a lot, ultimately I found it tedious. I was expecting a more tightly focused narrative, not a discussion of every even remotely relevant tidbit that Mann uncovered in his research. Overall, then, I was disappointed in the book and would give it 3 1/2 stars.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Accent-on-Writing History, August 11, 2011
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Of course the first order of business for historians is accuracy and objectivity. In the past, that hasn't always been the case, but it should be now for that very reason. Just as high among priorities is the writing itself. Engaging as it is -- every bit as fascinating as anything a fiction writer can dream up -- history deserves adept writing. This is what I like best about 1493. It is well-written, even if a lot of it is familiar.

To give you an idea of Charles C. Mann's style, here are a few of the "hooks" he uses to begin sections within the book. "It is just possible that John Rolfe was responsible for the worms." "The morning had been clear and bright, an ominous sign." "The Great Hunger left such a scar in Ireland that historians could barely bring themselves to look at it for more than a century."

Wide-ranging, the book is divided into sections called "Atlantic Journeys" (lots of Jamestown stories and a close look at malaria in the South), "Pacific Journeys" (focusing on China, its hunger for silver and other precious metals newly-claimed by the Spanish in the new world), "Europe in the World" (the lowly potato gets some respect), and "Africa in the World" (the slave trade and the colonies). These sections are sandwiched by an introduction discussing Columbus's standing in history (Mann seems neutral like Switzerland) and a coda (Mann himself visits the Philippines to ruminate on all that's come before).

Obviously a lot is missed in a book that casts its net this wide, but it is a rigorous, fact-filled treatment of the many effects set in motion by three causes called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. What's more, it's nicely written. For a history text, you could do much worse than that, which is why the book comes recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, January 6, 2013
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This review is from: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Kindle Edition)
1493 is well worth reading. I would recommend reading Mann's 1491 book first. Both books provide insights to the Americas before Columbus and to globalization since Columbus that are a great deal different than I learned in school (fifty years ago). Some of the content may be disputed, but Mann does a very good job of indicating his sources.

I would have given this review five stars except that I thought some of the detail repetitive and unnecessary. I think the editors should utilize their red pencils more often.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not particulalry deep or historical, but really entertaining, August 30, 2012
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This review is from: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Kindle Edition)
More a collection of stories stitched together by the concept of the Columbus exchange than an actual historical book, inter-speeded with perhaps too many personal anecdotes and reflections from the author.
But it is very well written and entertaining, and one can never know too much about the history of our world, and how greed from Chinese merchants in the Philippines to the silk exchange in Acapulco bay helped shape the world as we know it today.
Highly recommended
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brave New World, April 30, 2012
By 
James Ferguson (Vilnius, Lithuania) - See all my reviews
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It wasn't quite what I expected, but Charles Mann leads the reader on a fascinating journey in the wake of Columbus, focusing mostly on the environmental impact of his "discovery" of the New World. Mann literally spans the globe, as the establishment of Spanish colonies in the Americas would have far reaching consequences.

Most interesting to me was how silver came to be the currency of exchange, allow Spain to trade with China, when it established its trading outpost in the modern-day Philippines. Along with silver, came corn, rubber and potatoes which would radically alter the landscape of the world. Mann discusses how corn came to replace rice for many Chinese, and how rubber trees would be transplanted to Indochina, bringing with them unsuspected pests that would wreak havoc on ecosystems. In this sense, the book has similarities with Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies but explores different terrain. One of the most interesting chapters was on the highly profitable mining of bird guano and how the British cornered the market in this new fertilizer. Mann describes how the shift to mono-cultures had a tremendous impact on agriculture. At first, these new crops seemed to solve much of the world's food shortages, but then as the Irish famine made all too painfully aware, putting all your "eggs in one basket" can lead to devastating consequences as an unforeseen blight wiped out much of Ireland's food supply.

Mann also offers a long study on how slavery evolved and re-shaped the ethnic identity of many countries, particularly those in Central and South America. The miscegenation that took place, with particular focus on Brazil, reshaped cultural patterns and changed the political dynamics in these countries. He offers a number of intriguing case studies, and discussed the long term impact of this human cross-pollination. 1493 is a fascinating study and meditation on life after Columbus. We don't fully realize how rapidly the world changed after this fateful "discovery," and how continents became so interdependent, where before they had been relatively isolated from each other.
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