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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

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Robertson Dean

17 Hours 47 Minutes

Random House (Audio)

August 2011

Audio Book Summary

From the author of 1491—the best-selling study of the pre-Columbian Americas—a deeply engaging new history of 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 radically different suites of plants and animals. When Christopher Columbus set foot in the Americas, he ended that separation at a stroke. Driven by the economic goal of establishing trade with China, he accidentally set off an ecological convulsion as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans.

The Columbian Exchange, as researchers call it, is the reason there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolates in Switzerland, and chili peppers in Thailand. More important, creatures the colonists knew nothing about hitched along for the ride. Earthworms, mosquitoes, and cockroaches; honeybees, dandelions, and African grasses; bacteria, fungi, and viruses; rats of every description—all of them rushed like eager tourists into lands that had never seen their like before, changing lives and landscapes across the planet.

Eight decades after Columbus, a Spaniard named Legazpi succeeded where Columbus had failed. He sailed west to establish continual trade with China, then the richest, most powerful country in the world. In Manila, a city Legazpi founded, silver from the Americas, mined by African and Indian slaves, was sold to Asians in return for silk for Europeans. It was the first time that goods and people from every corner of the globe were connected in a single worldwide exchange. Much as Columbus created a new world biologically, Legazpi and the Spanish empire he served created a new world economically.

As Charles C. Mann shows, the Columbian Exchange underlies much of subsequent human history. Presenting the latest research by ecologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians, Mann shows how the creation of this worldwide network of ecological and economic exchange fostered the rise of Europe, devastated imperial China, convulsed Africa, and for two centuries made Mexico City—where Asia, Europe, and the new frontier of the Americas dynamically interacted—the center of the world. In such encounters, he uncovers the germ of today’s fiercest political disputes, from immigration to trade policy to culture wars.

In 1493, Charles Mann gives us an eye-opening scientific interpretation of our past, unequaled in its authority and fascination.

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  • Anonymous

    Great book giving a fascinating perspective on how globalization evolved over the centuries.

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  • Anonymous

    This book gave me a whole new appreciation of world history. I strongly recommend it.

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  • Robert E M.

    The sequel to the fantastic 1491, this book similarly sports oodles of jaw-dropping facts (for example, earthworms and honeybees aren't native to the Americas? the Chinese population boom was due to central American potatoes?). The amount of research that went into this book must have been dumbfounding since it is thick with information. My only quibble is the incessant, beat-down worthy repetition of "the Columbian Exchange" in the first half of the book.

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  • Lars

    Once again Charles Mann has wrapped careful scholarship into a fascinating read! This book was a great sequel to 1491. It explains so much about the truly (global) world we live in today. You'll never again eat a humble potato or corn on the cob without thinking about how they, and many other simple things have shaped cultures worldwide.

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