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Shallow and snarky
on August 30, 2007
First of all, I was a big fan of the first 3 books. But this one was no where near as good. Here are some of my complaints.
He comes off as more forgiving of the Aztec empire (human sacrifice, slavery and all) than the Spaniards (slavery, sans human sacrifice). A little more examination into the changes in the native populations day-to-day life would have been appreciated.
He seems to dismiss the theory that germs were the dominant factor in allowing Europeans to conquer the Americas. While he does touch on disease in a few instances, his only direct approach is to portray this notion as a way to assuage white guilt. But this was, almost certainly, the reason why Europeans were able to conquer the Americas and not Africa or Asia.
He perpetuates the myth that the croissant was invented to commemorate the victory of the Siege of Vienna. In fact, the myth originally claimed that it was invented for the siege of Budapest, and this was most likely invented as well. The first time that this story is told is in 1938, far too long after the fact to be accepted as fact.
The treatment of slavery and the U.S. constitution is shallow. There were real conflicts here that could have been given better treatment. I'd rather that he'd saved this for another volume than skim over it.
The religious conflicts in Europe were much more complex, and deserved more in-depth treatment. Too often, Gonick makes snarky comments about the participants, but there were real fears, real ambitions, etc. that motivated these conflicts.
In fact, too often, just like his comparison of Aztecs to Spaniards, he seems willing to accentuate European sins over non-European sins. One can't help wondering what types of biases he harbors when addressing these comparisons. Was life in Peru really better under the native lords than under the Spaniards? Under what measurements?
As well, the Ottomans are never addressed directly, even though they were an important world power. And did the Ottomans work in the African slave trade (why yes, they did)? How did this effect Africa, Turkey, etc.?
Some of this may be alleviated in future volumes, but this volume by itself is weaker than previous ones.