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Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Studies in Environment and History)

3.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  784 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world--North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain because in many cases they were achieved by using firearms against spears. Alfred Crosby, however, explains that the Europeans' displacement and replacement of th ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 12th 2004 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1986)
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Mar 31, 2014 Hadrian rated it really liked it
A lot of us have read, or are at least familiar with, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. His book takes an 'materialist' approach to human history, and how agriculture and disease played a major role in how Western civilization became so dominant over the areas that it colonized.

Crosby's book, Ecological Imperialism was written eleven years before Diamond's book, and it carries many similar ideas, but presented in a different way.

His first task is to ask how an
Feb 19, 2016 Ioana rated it did not like it
This book sounds/looks amazing, and I was so excited to finally get around to it (it's been sitting on my shelves for a few years). Alas, it turned out to be a non-critical, awfully confused hodge-podge of random strands from various disciplines (ecology, history, anthropology, geography) strung loosely together into a knotted mess that made it clear that Crosby does not have adequate knowledge in ANY field, certainly not enough to write such an important work.

Crosby engages in such tactics as q
Feb 04, 2013 Adam rated it really liked it
This classic of biogeography has been on my to-read list for a few years (I'm not sure where I got the rec from - possibly Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization?). I was under the impression it was a narrower and less fully formed iteration of Jared Diamond's ideas in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. There is a lot of overlap between the two, especially in the epidemiological arena (really an older idea than either of them, and Crosby goes so far as to ...more
May 08, 2013 Ken-ichi rated it liked it
Walking around with this book made me feel like yet another Berkleyan post-hippy fuming over my unresolved anger and guilt over yet another heinous crime perpetrated by my European cultural forebears: they didn't just enslave Africans, they didn't just exterminate all the Amerindians, but by Gaia, their very ecosystem took over the world! WTF, Columbus?! Where did it end?

To clarify, I am not that guy (well, mostly), and this is not that book (ditto), despite the title. This book is another explo
André Sá
Mais história que biologia, e a parte mais essencial foi mal explorada a meu ver...Não obstante levanta importantes questionamentos e da uma panorama que eu ainda não tinha domínio
Dec 02, 2012 Jerry rated it liked it
Crosby is a great writer and he has intriguing things to say. However, he is incredibly Eurocentric and Christian biased. It can grow tiring hearing how great Europeans are compared to the ethnic groups they conquered (often brought up with belittling and/or unflattering terms). Shame, really, because it totally undermines what could have been a splendid little history of the European conquest of the rest of the world. I recommend at least perusing the book if you're interested in the subject, b ...more
Jan 06, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ecologists, Anthropologists, Historians
Recommended to Michael by: David Johnson
This book gets sort of a low-four star rating, because it doesn't go much beyond what it sets out to do, but what it sets out to do is ambitious and impressively handled. Crosby begins by asking why human European emigrants and their descendants have come to live throughout the temperate zones of the world, then goes on to point out that they have brought their native biotas along with them, allowing for the transformation of local ecologies into what he refers to as “Neo-Europes.” The dandelion ...more
Jan 29, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-history
Recommended by Michael Pollan (in
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World) and clearly an important influence on Jared Diamond's
Guns, Germs and Steel, this is a good book for people who want to go deeper into current ideas about how the West got where it is (on top) and why (neither because of a superior intellect or a superior capacity for cruelty). The author, Alfred Crosby, doesn't waste the reader's time hyperventilating about the injustice of it all. He just lets a few anecdo
Jan 16, 2014 Alger rated it really liked it
A classic that is now more thought provoking than useful as a method of seeing history.

I love this book, and its influence is wide ranging, but an uncritical reading can lead one straight to Jared Diamond style Ecologic Determinism or worse. So it is dated and needs to be read in context, but it is not useless.

Post Script: After reading the reviews here, I think it needs to be emphasized that Crosby was a pioneer in Environmental Studies. This book was written at a time when European superiorit
Sep 15, 2013 Joeji rated it did not like it
This book seems to argue for a new understanding of world and colonial history but instead just ends up reinforcing old environmental determinist tropes about the superiority of Europe and the inferiority of the rest of the world. Even if Crosby never explicitly makes such arguments, his sloppy use of metaphor betrays an understanding of cultures as high or low, depending on their relationships to technology, nature, etc. further, he seems to define culture as a behaviorist-biological phenomenon ...more
Erica Mukherjee
Jul 09, 2015 Erica Mukherjee rated it it was amazing
Alfred Crosby explores the origins of global inequality in Ecological Imperialism. Using globe-spanning examples ranging across hundreds of years, Crosby demonstrates that the reason Europeans were so successful in colonizing particular localities was because of the plants, animals, and illnesses they brought with them. Crosby terms these hangers-on "portmanteau biota" and argues that without them European colonization of the Americas and Oceania would not have been possible. The book, originall ...more
Daniel Burton-Rose
Jan 01, 2012 Daniel Burton-Rose rated it liked it
This book opened up an important line of inquiry, but in Crosby's blithe hands the consideration of the role of micro-organisms and animals in "softening up" of indigenous populations before the arrival of European settlers too easily turns into an excuse for decimation and genocide.
Austin Matthews
May 30, 2012 Austin Matthews rated it liked it
The book is worth placing at the 5 star level for the explanation. However, it is very repetitive and some passages are repeated in multiple chapters. I felt like reading only the country-by-country case study could provide adequate information for someone only moderately interested.
Feb 18, 2016 eldaldo rated it it was amazing
This book blew my mind. Just like Alfred Crosby's previous book, The Columbian Exchange, it is a book of both biology and history, my two favorite subjects. But, more than that, it is full of ideas and concepts that I had never really considered before. One big concept is that the Neolithic revolution (agriculture and resulting population densities) was an ecological phenomenon that spread throughout the old world and whichever pre-neolithic people it touched were either conquered and adapted to ...more
Jan 19, 2013 Cyndi rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
While in a few places, Ecological Imperialism is a difficult read it is nevertheless fascinating to delve deaper into World History and see how Europeans settled in different parts of the world. Many times we think of the conquest in terms of military might but there is so much more. Crosby shows that the effects of guns was significant but not nearly as much as the changes in flora, fauna and the effects of diseases ravaged in the New World.
Crosby calls the areas where Europeans were able to s
Jul 25, 2014 Katherine rated it really liked it
Shelves: topical-history
I probably wouldn't have picked up this book if it weren't assigned for class, but it was still an interesting read. Not all the pages were assigned, but I read the whole thing anyway, so it must have been pretty interesting (and not just that I misplaced the syllabus and didn't know which pages to read). I though Crosby's theory/argument was interesting, but also a bit... presumptuous? I mean, it's easy to say that European flora and fauna were so successful in the New World because of certain ...more
Oct 21, 2007 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Crosby develops a profound argument about the geographical location of Europeans. He argues that climate is a bigger force in European (and neo-European) location as anything else. Crosby asks big questions about the extinction of megafauna and exposes European imperialism that transcended bigger guns and bank acocunts. This environmental history text relies heavily on ecology and environmental science and subsequently dilutes (in my mind) it's social ramifications, but nonetheless it's a solid ...more
Sep 07, 2015 Peeyush rated it it was amazing
Found a 2nd hand copy at the Junction Bookstore in Thimpu, Bhutan. This is a brilliant analysis of Europe's successful colonialism of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and certain other parts of the world. Original work, an eye opener on how ecology played an important, rather vital role in the favour of colonialism. I think it is a msut read for anybody who works on history, ecology, island eco-systems, ethnography or even anybody who wants to have a better understanding of the world today
Aug 07, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed
The writing style is engaging. The tone feels dated but kind, like a lecture from a favorite uncle. It's an interesting approach to a period
filled with conflict and horrors.

Like many books the beginning felt stronger than the end. The early sections on prehistoric humanity felt like they could use an update. The mention of a present day human population of 5 billion in the conclusion felt similarly jarring. Still, for a 30-year-old science book, it remains an interesting read.
Roberto Peña
Overall Crosby does an amazing job at telling the historical facts, albeit through a European lens. He does a great job at explaining what agency Europeans had and what “advantages” they had while “discovering” new worlds. The fact that he chooses not to challenge the injustices that happened and frames it in a way that implies “this was meant to happen” somewhat diminishes the importance of biodiversity that used to exist. But there is hope, he does somewhat give judgment implying an obvious fa ...more
Robert Ripson
If you are a germ-a-phobe, this may not be the book for you. This an interesting look at how, not only military, social, and economic imperialism shaped the world, but how the seemingly insignificant role of those microbes that live off their hosts played a major role in European expansion beyond their borders.
Apr 11, 2015 Isabelle rated it it was ok
Very readable and well explained, but at times repetitive. I found Crosby incredibly absolutist in his understanding of why Europeans were able to colonise certain regions and not others. I don't think a complete dismissal of political, economic, social and cultural factors is appropriate...
Aug 30, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
I read this book 20 years ago and loved it. It came up in conversation recently, and I realized how vividly I remembered it.
"Let us begin with what is possibly the 'weediest' of all the large domesticated animals, the pig." Oh hellll yeaaah
Oct 03, 2014 Amanda rated it liked it
Was fairly interesting, although a little tedious in sections. Read it for history in first year.
An expanded/updated work by Crosby, which looks at other areas of the world as well
Oct 13, 2015 Grant rated it it was amazing
Crosby's groundbreaking work argues that the European "portmanteau biota" - the plants, animals, and diseases that accompanied European explorers and settlers were crucial in creating "Neo-Europes" in the temperate zones. In these areas - the US and Canada, the cone of South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand - European diseases decimated the indigenous people and European plants and animals altered the environment in ways that made it entirely suited for European agricultural, he ...more
Meri B
Jan 16, 2012 Meri B rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
For a person who has never enjoyed any non-fiction history books....I actually really enjoyed this book. It was the first required reading for a history class I didn't feel like throwing against a wall or burning afterwards. It was still pretty slow going for me, but I found myself quite interested in the content. I finished it much faster than what was required. In fact, I finished it before the class even began! I'm looking forward to this class. I guess this book is pretty good, if even I, th ...more
Ronald Flynn
Jun 02, 2015 Ronald Flynn rated it it was amazing
This book is totally great!
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