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Great Divide, The Hardcover – June 26, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


The past, Peter Watson argues in this magnificent history of sixteen and a half millenia, is a whole series of foreign countries - and explaining the differences between them helps accounts for just about everything we take for granted in the here and now...Impossible, of course, to summarise this massive book in a small review. Sufficient, perhaps, to say that the year's first necessary read is here. -- Christopher Bray WORD MAGAZINE In drawing together evidence from complex strands of archaeology, climatology, genetics and religious symbolism, Watson is compulsively speculative. -- Peter Forbes THE INDEPENDENT Synthesizers like Watson play a valuable role in disseminating and linking up specialist research findings -- Peter Coates TLS 20120608 An ingenious work about the course of human history...The author seems to know everything about his subject and to hold an opinion on every issue, which he enthusiastically passes on...fascinating KIRKUS REVIEWS --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 610 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780061672453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061672453
  • ASIN: 0061672459
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Watson is the author of War on the Mind, Wisdom and Strength, The Caravaggio Conspiracy, Ideas, and The German Genius. Educated at the universities of Durham, London, and Rome, he has written for the Sunday Times, the Times, the New York Times, the Observer, and the Spectator. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Anne Rice on September 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Books like this have to be beautifully written. If they weren't, I doubt anyone would read them. What the book offers is an interpretative overview of history that is well documented and makes for compelling reading. There is a wealth of material here and great bibliography. A book like this prompts us to put in coherent form what we know about thousands and thousands of years of history. And I think our minds long for this coherence, long to make sense of the tons of data we have accumulated in modern times about our past, and the wilderness of specialized studies published every day that are too numerous for any one reader to ever fully examine. --- I found this highly readable and entertaining, an excellent book for the scholar and a delight for the mainstream reader who loves history and has wondered about many mysterious cultural developments and whether they are at all related. Quite an achievement. Quite a find. Highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Juliet Waldron on December 16, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The subtitle is: “Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New” which comes close to a summing up, for this is history—roughly, from 15,000 BC to 1500 AD--as seen through a compound eye composed of studies in archeology, anthropology, geology, meteorology, climatology and mythology. It’s a massive (and often unwieldy) synthesis, with ideas and theories drawn from many disciplines, used to support a thesis about why the cultures of the New World evolved differently to the cultures of Asia, Africa and Europe, and, further, why the “discovery” of the 15th Century caused the great western civilizations to so speedily collapse. The wandering, highly speculative subject matter might drive a scientific specialist crazy, but as a writer and an avid reader of popular works by Jared Diamond, Barry Cunliffe, Brian Fagan, Spencer Wells, Bryan Sykes, J.P. Mallory et al, I couldn’t stop turning pages. There were points at which I was off the bus, but the “No Way!” moments didn’t, in the end, detract from my overall enjoyment. Copious notes and reference material are provided for further research. There is plenty here to provoke, educate and entertain. (Originally reviewed for the Historical Novel Society.)
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Chris Crawford on August 24, 2014
Format: Paperback
This book offers a detailed examination of the reasons for the many differences between the civilizations of the Old World and the New World. Jared Diamond addressed this question brilliantly in "Guns, Germs, and Steel'; this book attempts to delve into the matter in more detail.
Mr. Watson has done a great deal of research for this book; the expertise he brings to the subject is more than adequate for the task. It contains much useful information.
Unfortunately, it is also marred by stunning errors of judgement, errors so egregious that I lost faith in his writing. These are not simple mistakes, errors of fact, or misinterpreting research -- they are major blunders that I would never have expected given the amount of research he put into the book.
The first blunder is his oft-repeated claim that prehistoric people did not know that coitus can cause pregnancy. This was not an offhand comment of his: it is a major claim that re-appears multiple times. Now, it's certainly true that folk wisdom has some pretty strange ideas about conception, but the basic connection between coitus and pregnancy cannot possibly have been unknown to early man, and I am surprised that anybody would believe that they didn't know it.
Consider, for example, the concept of virginity, a prized attribute of a bride in many cultures. Every culture knows that pregnancy reveals the loss of virginity. To put it another way, a woman who has become pregnant could not possibly claim virginity. This played a crucial role in marriage arrangements in many cultures.
Even more fundamental, though, is the basic female psychology of sex. Females are naturally cautious about engaging in sex.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence Meyer on September 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
If you're a belt and suspenders type of guy--that is, you want to see a case built up brick by solid brick--this may not be the book for you. Its subject is global, its sources multidisciplinary, and its theses one highly speculative suggestion after another. Paleoanthropology, human genetics and linguistics, plate tectonics, climatology, comparative religion and mythology--these are just a few of the threads the author attempts to weave into the tapestry. Most academics working in these fields I suspect would have their heads handed to them on a plate by their professional peers were they to attempt such breathtaking causal and chronological linkages as this author attempts.

I confess I have not finished the book and may revisit this review if and when I begin to make out where he is going with it. For now, that is precisely my major problem with it. I credit the author with sincerely attempting to tackle a gargantuan mass of matter that I now think beyond the ken of any brain I can name to master.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By jan winters on January 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are a big picture person, this book is for you. Like Watson's History of Human Thought and Intellectual History of the Twenty Century, this book is meant to provoke you to think through some serious questions. Why would the people of the two hemispheres who share common ancestors develop so differently? I suspect most of us don't take the time to keep up with current research in different fields and most academics would be too cautious to make sweeping generalizations. Mr. Watson has attempted again to connect the dots from new research and to try to identify possible explanations - that have a rational basis - to age old questions. He is excellent at synthesizing and finding patterns.

A highly readable, thought provoking and an important contribution.
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