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Customer Review

80 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ecological history, August 4, 2011
This review is from: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Hardcover)
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Charles Mann knows how to write. He also knows how to make history interesting and come alive.

The title "1493" refers to all that time since Christopher Columbus, for whom Mann has had a fascination with, first discovered the new world. With that new discovery came changes and exchanges that have transferred the world. The great trade routes that developed from the new American continent to Europe and Asia--The Columbian Exchange-- created both beneficial and devastating results and altered what people ate around the world.

The changes most of us learned about in high school social studies classes: new diseases were introduced into the indigenous peoples of the Americas and many died. Columbus came looking for gold and silver but found also sugar, corn, tobacco, beans, tomatoes and so much more. Coffee, chocolate, rubber all followed. The Spaniards in turn brought in the horse and sheep and we all know the legend of the horse in the American West.

Little did Columbus realize, Mann states, that he and the men who followed to America began what was known as globalization. Coveted items were used as trading items for other equally coveted items. Wars were fought over these items because every monarchy wanted to have the most power over the control of earth's resources, and this thirst for power spilled into Asia as well.

There may not be too much new to learn from Mann's book. I had been aware of the "Columbian Exchange" but terms such as"Homogenocene" and the dawn of globalization is new to me. Mann then uses his writing and research skills to create detailed and interesting chapters to show how the movement of animals, plants and humans have created new species, varieties and that this movement was not always bad. If a killer disease kills off the rubber plantations in Brazil, for instance, there will still be rubber trees to support economic needs growing in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Like Mann says in the book by quoting one of his sources "The Industrial Revolution would not have happened without three things: steel, fossil fuel and rubber." I'd add human ingenuity to that triage.

Another skill that makes this book great reading is that Mann traveled to all his places to see the area for himself. This book is full of photographs of historical figures, old trade routes (plus nearly 100 pages of notes), and places he has been to. This makes the book read faintly like an imbedded travel book with history as the reason. Normally travel books that mesh with historical subjects don't always work so fluidly; this book does. And while many books often just focus on the Americas and Europe, Mann correctly includes a lot of footage about China and other Asian countries, proving that even the once reclusive Chinese and Japanese can not continue to thrive without the rest of the world. This makes the evidence of the effects of globalization more impressive.

History and science buffs would like this book. It's a hard one to put down because the reader wants to learn more about the ecological version of globalization.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 6, 2011 7:00:24 AM PDT
jim bene says:
The review in today's Wall Street Journal talked me into getting this book. It looks fascinating and reminds me of another I have on my shelf called "Indian Givers".
Jim Benefiel

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2011 7:05:58 AM PDT
Connie says:
You mean, my review wasn't good enough?!?! :(

I like the angle Mann takes with history here. Granted, names and dates are given, but he also talks about the ecological changes that took place once Europeans began settling the Americas in ernest. What would the US be without horses and sheep? What would Europe be without potatoes and green peppers?
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