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The Great Divide: Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  91 ratings  ·  24 reviews
Exploring the development of humankind between the Old World and the New--from 15,000 BC to AD 1500--the acclaimed author of "Ideas" and "The German Genius" offers a groundbreaking new understanding of human history.

Why did Asia and Europe develop far earlier than the Americas? What were the factors that accelerated--or impeded-- development? How did the experiences of Old
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published June 26th 2012 by Harper (first published January 12th 2012)
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Peter Watson calls this the greatest natural experiment in history. We all came from the same stock, yet humankind was separated for 16,500 years in the New World and the Old, and the rate of development was very different. Why?

In the New World, there were more volcanos, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc., so gods were viewed as more destructive, far angrier and colored all religion. And, catastrophes were tied to the need for continual sacrifices to appease gods.

Diamond’s thesis is that the sheer si
Pål Bakka
A fascinating interdisciplinary work. I cannot but like the basic argument in the text: That the differential path of development in the New World compared to the Old was the product of the particular combination of extreme weather and naturally occurring psychotropic drugs found only in the New. In the New World the gods were angrier than in the Old, and far easier to get into contact with.
Watson bills the book as a "history of 'ideology'", that is, a history of the evolution of human attempts
This was a fascinating book which reminded me a lot of "Guns Germs and Steel". I love when history is presented in an accessible way. Vast amounts of information are fit into easy-to-understand hypotheses. It's a lot like watching a PBS documentary.
I appreciated the colourful parts of history described, such as the use of hallucinogenic drugs, shamanism or bloodletting rituals. These things are much more entertaining to read about than grain surpluses, for instance.
This is one of the best books I have read in a long, long time. Not since Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies have I been so engrossed in a history of the human race.

Peter Watson manages to make a huge topic accessible and interesting and points out many things that are probably apparent to most people in the backs of their minds, but most of us do not realise it (e.g. the fact that religion is almost always a response to the physical environment encountered by h
Jack Murphy
very interesting, builds on Diamond with it's analysis of the factors that contributed to the difference between Old and New worlds. Starts from environment, adaptation, and then focuses on the different ideologies that formed in old and new. Put simply, the Old world history was driven by the shepherd, New world by the shaman.
Old world was east- west oriented, allowing easy adaptation of animals and crops on the same latitudes. However the weakening monsoons drove many to pastoralism (eg. mong
Peter Mcloughlin
This book tackles the same subject as Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. The emphasis however is not Human Commonalities but differences of developing cultures due to Geography. The book starts out with the Land bridge Crossing of the Ancestors of Native Americans. It then goes on to talk about the different cultural trajectories of the old world and the new world. First the old world had a more congenial climate than the new and less earthquakes and volcanism than the new in places where c ...more
Juliet Waldron
Lots to ponder here--huge amounts of information as the time span is from 15000 BC to 1500 AD, particularly on the aboriginal inhabitants of the western hemisphere and their fascinating ritualized and complex civilizations. So much of the later is newly discovered--just in the last 20 years--that alone would have drawn me into the book. Some of the author's conclusions left me jaw-dropped, however, and I was "off the bus" and then back on with a chapter by chapter regularity. Still, this didn't ...more
There are many things to like about this book. The history, archeology, religion, anthropology, biology and genetics, to name a few. I loved the idea, to compare the development and evolution of people in the Old world and the New, as they became completely separated from about 15.000 BC till Columbus. We trace the development of the first people as they spread out over the world and learn how their respective situations and inventions helped to shape their minds and civilizations.

There's a lot
Phenomenal book that overlays many disciplines of science with human prehistory. I have read the "Seven Daughters of Eve", "1491" and "1493", this book combines many elements from those books and much more. Only criticisms I have is that 1) there should have been more information regarding mitochondrial DNA, 2) more explanation as to which civilizations formed in the new world (macro scale) oh, and 3) A significant effort was made in explaining how dogs helped with early human development - it d ...more
dos terceas partes del libro me parecieroin muy interesantes, sin enbargo llega un momento en el que mas parece que el autor esta haciendo una coleccion de teorias extremas que un analisis cientifico, por ejemplo el atribuir gran parte de la cultura americana a la sismicidad es poco creible, basta con ver la cantidad de poblaciones que hay al rededor de los volcanes sin que ello muestre nada especial, de hecho son tan fertiles que la gente asegura que el volcan es su amigo.

En cambio poce le atri
Jane Walker
Most reviewers have cited Diamond's work, Guns, Germs and Steel as a precursor to this book, and I thought of that too. But Watson's thesis is somewhat wider and somewhat woollier, and it gets a bit bogged down in all the archaeological and other research which supports his ideas. There are some fascinating points, particularly about the development of religion and the influence of geography.
A fascinating and articulate book. It provides a comprehensive overview of the differences between ancient New World and Old World cultures, and analysis thereof -- although it provides little in the way of detailed accounts of individual civilisations.
I felt it could have benefited, firstly, from the inclusion of more specific historical examples as a means of illustrating the point at hand, and secondly, making an effort to occasionally bring the particular topic under discussion back to the
Dennis Noson
Intrigued I was, all the way through Peter Watson's Great Divide, but puzzled often by his asides, and diversions, especially the writer to reader caveats, regularly, about his penchant for fairly wild speculation. The upshot is he favored evidence that supported his various themes and main thesis, and claims that we readers have to accept this, right there in the text or footnotes.

I finished it up with a sense that this cultural and biological history of humankind was more about how fascinatin
Richard Jacobson
Mind-boggling. Jared Diamond meets Joseph Campbell meets Simon Winchester. This writing and exposition is sometimes disorganized ("in chapter 18 I will tell you about x, but right now I am going to talk about y, which refers back to fact z that I mentioned back in Chapter 3 . . ."), and I suspect half of it is disputed by the experts he cites or is just plain wrong. His biogeography derives much from Diamond. But, i think he goes beyond Diamond in folding in religion, culture, hallucinogens and ...more
A great large scale survey on a proposed three step process for societal divergence between Eurasia and the Americas. Starting with geographic factors which then feed into adaptive culture complexes and then ending up in a mutually self-reinforcing cycle societies can take radically different paths...and all it takes is some different plant and animals distributions and the unpredictability of el nino. Think of this book as like the mythological version of Guns Germs and Steel and like that book ...more
Robert Crisp
Excellent look into the so-called "axial age" of human history. Academic but not impenetrable, Watson does an fantastic job of discussing the origin of several movements in humanity. Of particular interest to me is religion, and Watson investigates and birth of major religions while tracing the impact of shamanism on religion and society at large. Watson also references the work of several authors (Karen Armstrong, among many) that I'll be looking into shortly.
Nina Selezneva
A wonderful thought-provoking book. Definitely worth reading, helps to demystify certain notions on the differences of the histories and progress of both the Old and New worlds. Thanks to it I appreciate and understand more the outrageous to our modern understanding religious and social practices of the New World, for example, that they had a - rational to the indigenous population - reason. Again - a wonderful, deep, filled with facts read. Highly recommend.
Edward Pertl
An amazing insight and comparison between European cultures and Meso-American cultures that uses evidence from archaeology, climate research, genetics, zoology, art and religion to examine the differences in culture and development between the two continents. An amazing work and I particularly loved the exploration of shamanism.
Very interesting. Well written. Totally lost interest though in the section on hallucinogenic drugs. It went on and on and on. Lots of references and examples which were not adding anything new. Got bored and gave up. May return later and restart after that section.
Chewy in places, extremely good in others. Appendix 2 is missing and is not at the website written in the book. A disappointing end.
10:1 ratio of naturally occurring hallucinogens between New World and Old World.
A good companion to Guns, Germs and Steel - how we got where we are, and why.
Athena marked it as to-read
May 23, 2015
Cristóbal Salamone
Cristóbal Salamone marked it as to-read
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Peter Watson was educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome, and was awarded scholarships in Italy and the United States.

After a stint as Deputy Editor of New Society magazine, he was for four years part of the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team of investigative journalists. He wrote the daily Diary column of the London Times before becoming that paper’s New York correspondent. He returned t
More about Peter Watson...
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities--From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century Landscape of Lies (Felony & Mayhem Mysteries)

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