book response: 1493 by Charles C. Mann (2011)

I really enjoyed Mann's previous work 1491, see that report here, 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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