Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Rate this book
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

557 pages, Hardcover

First published August 9, 2011

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Charles C. Mann

33 books943 followers
Charles C. Mann is a correspondent for Science and The Atlantic Monthly, and has cowritten four previous books including Noah’s Choice: The Future of Endangered Species and The Second Creation . A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he has won awards from the American Bar Association, the Margaret Sanger Foundation, the American Institute of Physics, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, among others. His writing was selected for The Best American Science Writing 2003 and The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2003. He lives with his wife and their children in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
7,345 (39%)
4 stars
7,068 (38%)
3 stars
2,990 (16%)
2 stars
647 (3%)
1 star
330 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,591 reviews
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 28 books387 followers
April 6, 2017
Chances are, you’re aware that the potato originated in Peru and smallpox in Africa, and that both species crossed the Atlantic shortly after Columbus. You probably know, too, that the potato later became a staple in many European countries and that smallpox decimated the native population of the Americas. However, what you may not know is how profound was the impact on the course of history of the exchange of animals, plants, minerals, and microorganisms from the Old World to and from the New.

Historians call this phenomenon the Columbian Exchange. Writing in 1493, Charles C. Mann refers to it as a turning-point equally as profound as the development of agriculture. One after another, this brilliant book brushes away a host of cherished myths that have grown up in the shadows of history.


■ The Columbian Exchange was by no means limited to commerce between Europe and the Americas. It was a truly global phenomenon, with far-reaching effects in Asia and Africa as well. Mann refers to the era ushered in by the Columbian Exchange as the “Homogenocene” — a new phase in human history when globalization became a reality and the world we share became increasingly homogenized.

■ Though the Conquistadors’ search for gold was largely frustrated, their discovery of a mountain of silver in Bolivia led to Spain’s flooding the world with so much of this metal that it eventually wrecked the economies of both Europe and China.

■ When Europeans sailed westward to colonize the New World, the native population was huge. For example, the Eastern seaboard of North America was more densely populated than Western Europe. Diseases inadvertently introduced from Europe and Africa reduced the population by half or more within the first few decades.

■ Most Americans think of the westward movement of people as a European phenomenon. It was, in fact, predominantly African. Africans, transported over the sea as slaves, outnumbered European colonists by huge ratios. Not until the 19th Century, when the Irish potato famine and political upheaval across Europe produced mass emigration to the Americas, did the ethnic balance tip.

These are just a few of the eye-opening themes Charles Mann develops so ably in 1493. If you have even a passing interest in how the world got to be the way it is, read this book.

(From www.malwarwickonbooks.com)
Profile Image for Ana Mardoll.
Author 7 books387 followers
December 13, 2012
1493 / 978-0307265722

I really enjoyed Charles Mann's 1491, but after struggling to get through 1493, I'm afraid to re-read the first and find that my opinion may now be reversed.

1491 was for me a wonderfully compiled and comprehensive look at the Americas before Columbus arrived and everything was inexorably changed. I appreciated the information presented in the book, as well as the manner in which it was presented -- I was strongly affected by Mann's tone with that volume and how he seemed to take a great deal of care in writing his narrative respectfully as well as engagingly and accurately. We, the readers, may have been treading on the bones of history, but there was (for me) a sense that we were doing so with reverence.

1493, on the other hand, seems to suffer from the success of the first.

We'll start with the title, which seems to imply that 1493 will be what 1491 was: a comprehensive look at the Americas in that pivotal year, only instead of taking a snapshot immediately before Columbus' arrival, we'll look at immediately after. Unfortunately, this isn't really the case; 1493 is about what Mann calls "the Columbian Exchange", by which he means the fact that people, animals, plants, insects, microorganisms, etc. were ferried all over the world by travelers (like, but not limited to, Columbus) into new ecosystems, where they wrought serious changes to the local ecology and economy.

This isn't a bad thesis, and certainly there are a number of interesting facts here, but it means we're talking about a globe-spanning topic with millions of individual unique examples, without any single narrative to really tie things firmly and interestingly together. Perhaps the book would have worked better if it were limited to the Americas, as 1491 had been, and just looked at what the Europeans introduced into the American ecosystem -- and possibly a look at what the Europeans brought back from America with them. That would have been a more cohesive narrative, I think, than trying to tie the African slave trade in the 1700s in with a look at the effects of sweet potatoes on Communist China in the 1900s.

Even if you're willing to stick with the narrative wherever it takes you -- and without being bored sometimes at the ratio of encyclopedic facts to engaging narrative -- there's additionally a huge tonal shift between this book and its predecessor, and for me at least this was a serious obstacle. 1491 had a very respectful tone, and was very self-aware of its own shortcomings. Mann open acknowledged that he was something of a dilettante historian, and that he was only stepping forward with his book in order to fill a literary gap that he felt needed filling. There were troubling untruths being told in service to the Columbus myth and he felt that the record needed to be set straight on certain issues.

Yet here in 1493, it feels like Mann has shed his respectful demeanor and taken on a tone that seems terribly self-aggrandizing. Just to select from the first chapter alone, he spends a tremendous amount of time setting up a Golden Mean Fallacy: 'some people claim THIS, other people claim THAT, but the truth is here in the middle'. This isn't necessary, it detracts from the narrative, and it pads the book out to a tedious length for no reason that I can see other than so Mann can pat himself on the back for being Right while others are Wrong rather than just getting to the meat of the subject matter. Here is one quote where he handles different aspects of the Columbus myth:

"Unsurprisingly, native people rarely endorse this view of their history, and Colón's part in it. An army of activists and scholars has bombarded the public with condemnations of the man and his works. They have called him brutal (he was, by today's standards) and racist (he wasn't, strictly speaking--modern concepts of race had not yet been invented); incompetent as an administrator (he was) and as a seaman (he wasn't); a religious fanatic (he surely was, from a secular point of view); and a greedy monomaniac (a charge, the admiral's supporters would say, that could be leveled against all ambitious souls). Colón, his detractors charge, never understood what he had found."

I don't understand why Mann wants to bash on the people he sees as ideological opponents (an "army of activists"? Really?), instead of just talking about Columbus from the ground up. He would have been better served to do so, really, because this kind of summing up of the opposition seems so lazy as to make me worry about the scholarship of the rest of the book. For instance, Columbus isn't called "racist" because his detractors mistakenly believe he subscribed to the same understanding of race as we do today; they call him "racist" because he didn't have a problem with enslaving and casually genociding people who weren't sufficiently like himself to deserve his empathy. They are, in other words, applying the term to his actions rather than to his supposed train of logic in service to those actions. For Mann to pretend otherwise troubles me: either he really doesn't understand Columbus' detractors, or he does understand and he's deliberately misrepresenting them. I find that a matter for concern.

Later, in the same chapter, Mann will casually dismiss local disapproval with the Columbus monument in Santo Domingo as nothing more than misplaced anger at dictator Rafael Trujillo, and will go so far as to lecture the residents on what they should consider the 'true' meaning of the Columbus monument:

"Residents of the walled-off slums around the monument told reporters that they thought Colón deserved no commemoration at all. A thesis of this book is that their belief, no matter how understandable, is mistaken. The Columbian Exchange had such far-reaching effects that some biologists now say that Colón's voyages marked the beginning of a new biological era: the Homogenocene. The term refers to homogenizing: mixing unlike substances to create a uniform blend. With the Columbian Exchange, places that were once ecologically distinct have become more alike. In this sense the world has become one, exactly as the old admiral hoped. The lighthouse in Santo Domingo should be regarded less as a celebration of the man who began it than a recognition of the world he almost accidentally created, the world of the Homogenocene we live in today."

So, just to be clear, Dominicans who regard the local monument to Columbus as a reprehensible commemoration to Columbus are wrong because they "should" view the monument as recognition of the fact that some people -- including, but not limited to, Columbus -- piloted a lot of different ships to a lot of different places over a lot of different time periods, and some of the results of those events are things like sweet potatoes and their effect on Communist China. Clearly.

I wanted -- so much! -- to like 1493. I expected to like it so much that even after receiving a free copy through Vine, I purchased an e-book version as well so that I could have both. I did this because I liked the scope, the cohesion, and the tone of 1491 immensely. But the scope of 1493 is so vast as to be almost infinite, the narrative cohesion is non-existent in places and is often abandoned in favor of lists of facts, and the tone seems to indicate that the author thinks he understands history better than anyone else, in the wake of one extremely popular and successful book. Because of that, I personally did not find 1493 to be entertaining, enlightening, or respectful of the subject matter, and I really cannot recommend it.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.

~ Ana Mardoll
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,199 followers
February 7, 2020
1493 is all over the place...and that's a good thing.

Charles C. Mann's follow up to his spectacular 1491 look at the pre-Columbian Americas is quite an admirable undertaking. Here he looks at the consequences of Columbus's voyages to the Americas. For better and/or for worse they had far reaching affects, especially biologically. Mann's premise seems to state that Columbus was not a morally good man, but he should be recognized as bringing about the world's biological homogenization. Though this is no murder mystery, I'm going to refrain from giving examples, because that would spoil the fun of reading 1493.

...hm...well, that doesn't give me much else to talk about.
Profile Image for Tom Lichtenberg.
Author 77 books73 followers
January 5, 2012
Human history no longer belongs to the twin poles of Eurocentricism, which either praise or damn European superiority or dominance, respectively. One consequence of recent globalization and multiculturalism is a redress of the balance of the human story, one which assigns both place and respect (and appropriate blame) to all of the civilizations of size in this world. It reminds us that not only Europeans engaged in the African slave trade, that not only Europeans conquered and settled and traded and stole. Certainly they did all this as well, and in large measure, but not exclusively. The book 1493, by Charles C Mann, is part of this trend and has many interesting stories to tell, centered around the global ecological consequences of Columbus' voyages to the Caribbean. These tales range from tracking the history of malaria and its attendant socio-political consequences (on slavery and war, among other things), to the suggestion that the mini Ice Age in Europe in the 17th century may have been due to the mass decimation of North American native peoples, which was primarily due to the introduction to the continent of infectious diseases such as smallpox. Apparently the native people engaged in widespread burning as an agricultural practice, and the cessation of this, along with the consequent overgrowth of trees, led to a reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In other words, wherever there have been large numbers of humans, they have impacted the environment, including the realm of climate change. That we are doing such now with the fossil fuel burn-off is undeniable, but it is also not unprecedented. It's a conceit of our time that we are the first to do everything. In fact, all of our actions and their unintended consequences are part of a sequence that has been ongoing since the time of the first large-scale human populations, such as in China, Egypt, Mexico, Peru, and elsewhere. Mann argues that the voyages of Columbus kicked off the process of globalization that we are merely continuing now and have been for more than five hundred years. It's a long and complex story, with lots of fascinating aspects, covering the entire planet, from Asia and Africa to Europe and the Americas. It is a truism that history is the story of the conquerors, but we are all now, in this time, survivors of the past, and merely by survival we are all the victors today. History is becoming more and more a story of us all, a vast and curious tapestry of societies all around the world that have far more in common than they ever had differences. It's about time we were all included.
Profile Image for Nancy.
277 reviews42 followers
September 7, 2011
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created explores what happened when the New World and Old World came into contact from an ecological, biological, and economic perspective. The result is history not as made by kings and queens and generals, but by the potato, tobacco, the spice trade, and infectious disease. Take this, for instance: West Africans have an inherited immunity to malaria, the disease that beset early colonists and their indentured servants and then the native people of the Americas they originally enslaved to work the malarial-ridden fields of sugarcane, tobacco, and rice. So can we trace the institution of slavery in this country to a disease? Mann argues persuasively that there is a connection, though he is quick to point out that it would be simplistic to say that malaria caused slavery, and is just as quick to say that slavery would have existed in the Americas without it. And, of course, people being what they are unfortunately, greed and callousness are factors too, another point Mann makes. Phew. It's fascinating stuff, but it becomes something of a chore to get through, I'm sorry to say, especially because I thought his book 1491 (about the pre-contact Americas) was not only brilliant but very readable.
Profile Image for Libby.
290 reviews45 followers
March 20, 2015
Remember Fourth Grade? Sister Mary Anne taught us to singsong "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two." Then we skipped to Jamestown in 1607. Did you ever get the feeling that we had missed a lot of something somewhere? Well, boys and girls, we surely did! Charles C. Mann has given us a marvelous account of the events that occurred that directly relate to what he calls the Columbian exchange. Now most of us have a vague idea that the invasive European powers brought some unwelcome gifts like influenza and small pox. Most of us have a faint awareness that foods like the potato and tomato crossed to Europe from the Americas. Almost everyone knows that the Spaniards looted for gold and silver. But the things we don't always know may have caused more world shaking events. It was not simply gold doubloons that powered the rise of Western Europe. Trade in items like pineapple, sweet potatoes, blue and white Ming porcelain, ladies' fans of silk and lace, and people, enslaved and free, but mostly in some form of servitude. Mann recounts stories of the deadly silver mines of Potosi, the Manila Galleons, the trade in sugarcane, natural rubber and mosquitoes. He recounts his stories with clarity and wit. This book is easy to read and easy to love. It's full of really neat stuff!
Profile Image for Tristram Shandy.
680 reviews192 followers
April 13, 2021
Globalization and the Homogenocene

1493. Uncovering the New World Columbus Created is Charles C. Mann’s follow-up to his book 1491, in which he took a look at what life was like in the Americas before Columbus arrived there and how it changed after 1492. In 1493, the author widens his scope of analysis in that he deals with the question of how the entrance of the American continent into the Old World’s ken has shaped the course of history and the face of the earth.

According to Mann, Columbus started a new biological era, which can be called the Homogenocene, in which ”places that were once ecologically distinct have become more alike.” (p.23) Not only is this true with regard to crop plants and farm animals being spread from one continent to another and yet another – Mann looks at potatoes, maize and rubber as prominent examples – but also of organisms that had a more harmful effect on their new environments. Sometimes, as in the case of the spread of rubber trees in China, it is even tricky to tell whether this development is to be welcomed or deplored. What makes Mann’s book so interesting is that he aptly combines the ecological consequences of what he calls the Columbian Exchange with history, as for example in his chapter on the Irish Famine or when he talks about slavery. Here, the author sees connections between the prevalence of diseases like yellow fever or malaria and the reliance on chattel slavery – an interesting side effect being that the ecological changes wrought by the establishment of sugar cane or other plantations were favourable to the spread of mosquitoes that carried the malaria disease. Sometimes, as when he claims that the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707 may well have to do with a Scottish colonial enterprise in Panamá that failed due to malaria, his theories seem rather bold but that’s part of the fun his book provides. Another example of such an audacious thesis is his idea that the Little Ice Age, whose global peak was from the end of the 16th century to the last third of the 17th century, may well have been caused by the decrease of native American tree-burning populations because of smallpox pandemics in the wake of Euro-American contacts.

For Mann, the Columbian Exchange is the starting point of globalization proper, which was ultimately established when Miguel López de Legazpi reached the Philippines, conquered Manila and started trade with China, whose monetary problems necessitated the influx of large quantities of silver, which were mined in Potosí. From this moment, one can talk of a trade net spanning the entire world. Unfortunately, the influx of silver was so large that it would eventually ruin the economies both of China and of much of Europe.

In the last third of his book, Mann also has a lot of interesting things to say about slavery. Having been brought up on solid Western movie fare in my childhood, I always pictured the colonization of America as a fight between European settlers and Indians, the former coming in so great numbers that the original inhabitants never stood a chance. What I did not know, however, was that between 1500 and 1840, among all the humans that came to the Americas, there were 11.7 million Africans, as opposed to 3.4 million Europeans, which means that the number of Africans and Indians heavily outweighed the number of Europeans. Only in the course of the 19th century would the balance tip in favour of Europeans. Another thing that this book taught me was that a very large number of slaves managed to escape – a lot of them, by the way, had military training because they were sold as POWs by other Africans to the Europeans –, to hide in the jungle or in the mountains and live in secluded communities, so-called quilombos, which they often successfully defended against their former masters’ attempts at destroying them.

Mann’s approach is not only highly interesting with regard to the holism of his way of looking at things, i.e. his ability to frequently convince his readers of the connections he draws, but it also shows that it is possible to look at human history without categorizing some civilizations as victims and others as perpetrators, thus divesting both sides of their dignity by presenting them as either non-agents or demons. In Mann’s book 1493, you will find a sine ira et studio approach that shows how the various economic interests of people from societies from all over the world interacted, creating consequences that were sometimes intended, sometimes not, and that changed the world for better as well as for worse.
Profile Image for Sonny.
415 reviews26 followers
January 6, 2023
― “The Columbian Exchange, as Crosby called it, is the reason there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in the United States, chocolates in Switzerland, and chili peppers in Thailand. To ecologists, the Columbian Exchange is arguably the most important event since the death of dinosaurs.”
― Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Charles Mann’s book, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created builds on the ideas of his previous best-seller 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Charles Mann is a science journalist, not a historian, an anthropologist or an archeologist. In his previous work, he carefully sifted through the evidence to provide a picture of life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus (Cristóbal Colón in Spanish) —a picture that is quite different than what most of us learned in school about the Americas before the arrival of Europeans. The old picture of the New World was one of a vast wilderness inhabited by small, scattered bands of Indians. Most researchers now believe that Indians were here far longer and in far greater numbers than previously believed. Current estimates are that there were between 40 and 60 million Native Americans living in the western hemisphere when Columbus arrived here, roughly equivalent to the population of Europe at that time. Researchers also now believe that the natives also had a much greater impact on their environment than previously believed.

The problem has been that there has been a gap between what researchers have discovered and what the general public knows. Mann argues that the Western Hemisphere before 1492 was “a thriving, stunningly diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade, and culture, a region where tens of millions of people loved and hated and worshipped as people do everywhere.” In 1491, Mann provides some explanation for the differences between the common stereotypes and what archaeologists are finding. The first explorers brought with them European diseases previously unknown to the New World, diseases such as smallpox, typhus, measles and influenza for which natives had no immunity. It is now thought that these diseases wiped out as much as 95 percent of the Indians.

― “As it does today, malaria played a huge role in the past—a role unlike that of other diseases, and arguably larger. When Europeans brought smallpox and influenza to the Americas, they set off epidemics: sudden outbursts that shot through Indian towns and villages, then faded. Malaria, by contrast, became endemic, an ever-present, debilitating presence in the landscape. Socially speaking, malaria—along with another mosquito-borne disease, yellow fever—turned the Americas upside down. Before these maladies arrived, the most thickly inhabited terrain north of Mexico was what is now the southeastern United States, and the wet forests of Mesoamerica and Amazonia held millions of people. After malaria and yellow fever, these previously salubrious areas became inhospitable. Their former inhabitants fled to safer lands; Europeans who moved into the emptied real estate often did not survive a year.”
― Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

In 1493, Mann describes the ecological and economic impact of the arrival of Europeans and Africans in the New World. The explorers forever changed the places they visited because of what they brought with them and the practices they established.

― “Colón and his crew did not voyage alone. They were accompanied by a menagerie of insects, plants, mammals, and microorganisms.”
― Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

While history texts largely ignore the plants, animals and insects the voyagers brought with them, Mann reveals that the changes wrought by the arrival of non-native species brought by the new settlers. He argues that these changes altered both the planet’s ecological shape and its political shape. Before Colón’s arrival, China had the most developed economy in the world. After 1492, European societies became the principal economies of the world.

One of the more fascinating discussions involves the impact of various previously unknown plants—tobacco, the potato, rubber, and quinine—on the rest of the world. Mann provides an update on the work of historian Alfred W. Crosby, who created the term “Columbian Exchange” in 1972, which argues that the discovery of the New World led to a free exchange of plants, animals, people and ideas. Mann shows how much of what came out of the discovery was detrimental to many cultures, most of all the Native Americans. In his view, the arrival of Columbus in the Americas and the subsequent trade and travel changed the evolution of the entire planet.

― “The Columbian Exchange had such far-reaching effects that some biologists now say that Colón’s voyages marked the beginning of a new biological era: the Homogenocene. The term refers to homogenizing: mixing unlike substances to create a uniform blend. With the Columbian Exchange, places that were once ecologically distinct have become more alike. In this sense the world has become one, exactly as the old admiral hoped. The lighthouse in Santo Domingo should be regarded less as a celebration of the man who began it than a recognition of the world he almost accidentally created, the world of the Homogenocene we live in today.”
― Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Mann’s primary thesis is that the Columbian Exchange paved the way for the homogenized and globally connected culture we find in the world today. He shows how much of the change that has occurred began with the Columbian Exchange. While his premise is not new in the world of historians, Mann has created a text that explains these changes in a text available to the average reader.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
801 reviews2,502 followers
November 25, 2011
This fascinating, authoritative book describes the "Columbian Exchange" after Columbus' "discovery" of the Americas. The book describes the exchange of people, products, plants, animals, and micro-organisms between the Americas and the rest of the world. Much of the book discusses the growth and trade of tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, silver, sugar, slaves, mosquitoes, smallpox, guano and rubber. Charles Mann emphasizes the unintended consequences of this trade.

The book is peppered with interesting facts. In England, for example, it was much more lucrative for rich people to hire indentured servants than to buy slaves. However, until the 19th century, twice as many slaves were brought to the Americas as Europeans, largely due to the fact that Africans were less susceptible to malaria! Jamestown was the American settlement where African slaves were first bought. Jamestown was a project of a private investment company; huge amounts of capital and large numbers of English people went there. Most of the people perished, due to arrogance and incompetence.

Spanish conquistadors displayed amazing inhumanity to the populations they encountered in the Americas--not just by modern standards, but even by the standards of their time. Even the Spanish rulers recognized the inhumanity, and tried unsuccessfully to rein in the Spanish atrocities. Mexico City was the first truly international metropolis, inhabited by people from all the continents.

The Chinese economy during this time period was a mess. Incoming rulers would periodically invalidate the currency, and replace it with new currency, thus bankrupting the nation with impunity, all for the sake of personal vanity. Silver from Bolivia helped to temporarily stabilize the economy, before wrecking it again.

Many other reviewers have compared 1493 to Charles Mann's earlier book 1491, which details the Americas before Columbus. However, one should not view 1493 as simply a continuation of 1491, as 1493 is just as much about the "old world" as it is about the new. One can view 1493 as being primarily about unintended consequences, both good and bad, for the new world as well as for the old world.
Profile Image for Chungsoo Lee.
64 reviews33 followers
December 29, 2012
The subtitle is noteworthy: "Uncovering the New World Columbus Created," not "Discovered." In arriving at the New World, Charles C. Mann proposes, Columbus created a new world of globalization and modernization. The author carries the readers through a breathtaking geological scope and time span stretching from Spain, England, Americans (north and south), Africa, China, and Philippines and from the 15th through 21st centuries in a truly global and cosmic scale, providing an account of trade, diseases, ecological booms and busts, piracy, slavery, wars, and many more topics. This is not a history of the past but a compelling genealogical account of how the present came about. I now understand the present Americans, Philippines, and China better than ever, thanks to this book. This book tells the history told not by the winners but by the victims of the inevitable "Columbus exchange" that changed everyone's life forever all around both in individual and societal scare and both the victims and the perpetrators alike who are affected by the "Columbus exchange." Like a careful archeologist and a genealogist, Mann uncovers the hidden, repressed, ignored, or otherwised forgotten facts which account for the genealogy of the present in the Nietzschean sense. Betweens the lines in many pages of the book one can hear the cries of the victims who fell at the hands of harsh enslavement in the American plantations, the Andes mountains, and the Amazonian rain forests and river basin along with the silent weeping of the earth from the soils of China, Philippines, and elsewhere. The utter devastation and destruction of the Indian races by diseases and human cruelty cannot be ignored.

This is a compelling and well written book (equally well narrated by Robertson Dean) with a remarkable thesis: That Columbus ushered in the global age with all of its ecological, political, and economical consequences still impacting the present global world. The link Columbus established unknowingly around the world is called "the Columbus exchange" whereby not only goods and cultures were exchanged by trade and exploit but also micro organisms, plants, diseases, and host of other species that were exchanged wittingly or unwittingly not only between Americas and Europe but also with China and Philippines, Brazile, and Central America. The Columbus exchange was an exchange of global magnitude that tied the world into one destiny, one corner of the earth affecting the other, for good or ill. The result of the global exchange is called "homogenescene" (sp?) - making and mixing diverse species so as to shape the world into an homogeneous and essentially one ecologically and culturally familiar place.

To be sure, Columbus never saw China, his ultimate destination. But his dream of establishing the lucrative trade route to China (for silk and spices) was realized less than 100 years later, in 1565, when Miguel López de Legazpi, the first royal governor, arrived in Cebu from New Spain (Mexico), who shared the same vision and goal as Columbus, and met the Chinese merchants for the first time. Thus, the global galleon trade began in earnest. At the bottom of Columbus's ambition was to bring the riches of China to Spain in order, in turn, to fund the Franciscan goal of rescuing Jerusalem from the Muslims. Of course, the purported reason was to evangelize China. (Columbus resided in the Franciscan monastery and later years believed that he was the only qualified person to convert the Chinese emperor to Christianity.) Columbus was eventually sponsored by the Spanish monarch who lusted after the China's wealth, then the world's richest country.

For better or for worse, the consequences of the Columbus exchange, foreseen and unforeseen, were of biblical proportion: the indigenous Indian races first in the now-a-day Puerto Rico and soon thereafter the rest of the Americas were almost completely wipe out by malaria, small pox, hepatitis, and yellow fever; the introduction of corn and sweet potatoes to China deforested the country, causing unprecedented flood and famine, while also making China the world's most populous nation. The Ming Dynasty coveted the silver shipped from the New Spain (Mexico) in order to fund its currency. But millions of Incas died while mining and refining silver from the mountains of Inca (Peru and other places), as poisoned by mercury while being forced to labor in the Peruvian mountains. Spain's wealth based on silver and her rise to world power was obtained at the cost of millions of Inca Indians' lives that perished at the silver mines and refineries. The European luxuries and booms in burgeoning cities like Seville, London, and Paris were brought by the sacrifice of the Indians. Riding in the galleon trade was also the American tobacco, first smoked by the native Indians. Tobacco quickly addicted Londoners, Chinese, as well as the Japanese emperor and countless others around the globe, including the priests who smoked it during the mass in the cathedrals of Europe. All corners of the world were at once hooked in nicotine-a true globalization brought on by the Columbus exchange. The list of the Columbus exchange brought on with global implications for good or ill goes on and on. But the underlying thesis of the book is that these ecological changes were revolutionary not only biologically but also economically, socially, and politically, giving the ultimate rise to the Western dominance in the modern age--the dominance obtained at the cost of devastation of the Indians and by the African slave labor.

The malaria was transported from London but once it landed in the tropical climate of James Town, it took off like a wild fire, decimating both the American indians and the new comers alike. The death toll of the new comers to the disease was staggering; but its impact on the Indians were greater. It was malaria that could explain the passivity of the Indians who did not wipe out the white invaders despite many opportunities to do so. It was malaria that even explains in an important way the defeat of the British forces later, giving rise to American Independence. It was malaria too which made African slaves more viable as slaves economically in America, as the Indian slaves (first used by the tobacco farmers) grew feeble and smaller in numbers in the face of malaria. African slaves were genetically superior to the European slave masters to resist malaria; but the superiority worked against them, as it make them more attractive as slave laborers. As Mann puts it, the slave ships from Africa were riding on the winds of malaria, providing much needed labor force for harvesting the tobacco in James Town, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere. Yes, James Town, the first American settlement, was founded on the tobacco leaves to meet the demands of the nicotine addiction in Europe. It must also be noted that James Town gave birth to the first representative democracy as well as the first institution of slavery. The first slave was purchased there only 4 days after establishing the first representative governing council.

If James Town in Virginia fed the nicotine crave in London and elsewhere in Europe, the eastern most Caribbean island, Barbados, first supplied the sugar craze in Europe--the taste of which was first discovered when the Crusaders invaded the Middle East. There again in Barbados, the African slaves proved to be superior in resisting the malaria, who also in turn brought with them the yellow fever from Africa which in turn devastated the Dutch traders and slave masters, while not affecting the Africans themselves who were immune from the disease. Nonetheless, the lucrative sugar industry could not be deterred by the onslaught of diseases. The labor force had to be provided at all cost, which in turn ushered in a full blown slavery industry, the like of which was never seen in the entire history of slavery from ancient time to the present from Rome to Africa. Adam Smith opposed slavery, arguing that it did not make economic sense (i.e., slaves did not speak the language, did not know how to farm European way, would rebel or run away, as they did). But with the help of malaria and yellow fever cradled in the ideal Caribbean/Mid-Atlantic tropical conditions (like James Town), these diseases made slavery of Africans viable and superior alternative to the indentured servants from Europe or to the native Indian slaves (who could not be put to slavery if they were baptized as Christians). Again, Africans' physical superiority contributed to their enslavement to their detriment. However, more than half escaped and intermarried with Indians and founded the modern nations such as Nicaragua and Haiti. There were more Africans and Indians than Europeans until the massive European immigrations in the 19th century; as every European brought two or three African slaves to America.

Potatoes transported to Europe gave population boom, which stabilized the governments of England, Dutch, Spain, and Portugal, who in turn were able to focus outward and expand toward the world in their respective imperialistic ambitions and dominance. Nothing else but potatoes were largely responsible for their rise, says the author. With the rise also came the downfall, however, as potatoes were grown in mass, uni-crop farming--specially in Ireland--which in turn were wiped out by the pestilent that attacked potatoes exclusively and efficiently, causing the infamous Irish famine, which in turn created the influx of Irish immigrants to the US in the mid 19th century. Another example of the global impact of the Columbus exchange.

African slaves were not docile laborers. They rebelled and joined with the native Indians and successfully fought against the slave masters. The run-away slaves, not the Spaniards, were the first ever to see the Pacific Ocean from the ridges of high mountains in Panama. They ran many successful ambushes and gorilla attacks against the plantations from which they escaped, so much that they gave the Spanish government enormous problems. The maroons (the Spanish word for renegades) joined forces with the native indians but also with English pirates (include the famous pirate Drake) to attack Spanish shipments of silver and other goods. Many maroons were absorbed by the Indian communities (which in turn were formed in the deep forests unreachable by the Europeans) and married Indian women, thus creating the present day latin American nations such as Mexico, Nicaragua, and Brazil. (They had no choice but to marry Indians, as only one third of the African slaves brought to America were women; and marrying to a Christianized Indian woman meant legal protection (though only good on paper) from enslavement.) Haiti was the first nation of maroons to form an independent nation, which shocked the slave trading nations of Europe. Thousands of Napoleon troops, to came to squish the rebellion, fell to the yellow fever, which in turn caused France to give up Haiti in the end. Defeat at the Haiti also largely contributed to selling off at a bargain the large chunk of America in the Louisiana Purchase. American diseases then were largely responsible for bringing about American Independence and the Louisiana Purchase!

The maroons forms many parts of the present Mexico. The maroons called Quilombolas in Amazon jungles were only recently acknowledged formally by Brazilian government. It appears that they have finally gained freedom but they are facing the industrial globalization that threatens their livelihood through deforestation for timber. The struggles of the maroons continues.

It must be underscored once again: That from silver extracted through devastation of Indian land and forced slavery arose the Spanish world power; and that from the equally devastating African slavery that cultivated tobacco and sugar came the Western commerce and imperialism. Also It is also from the forced Indian labor in South America the rubber was extracted and brought to England to fuel the industrial revolution, as rubber was one of the three essential elements of the Industrial Revolution along with steel and fossil fuel. The atrocities committed to the Amazonian indians by the rubber industry--even to the present day--not to mention the environmental disasters, must be underscored. Thanks to the Columbus exchange, the rubber production became truly global, as Indonesia and southern China are nowadays aggressively cultivating the foreign trees, driving away the forests and the animals.

In short, there was (and still is) enormous human cost to the rise of western imperialism and wealth. The wealth of London, Paris, Madrid, and other European cities sailed on the blood of the American Indians and African slaves. The Western rise and dominance had nothing to do with free trade, the efficiency of capitalism, or the Western technology and ingenuity. Until Columbus landed in America, the Incas and China had the most advanced civilizations known to the world at the time. (Charles Mann's previous book, 1491, offers the most up-to-date account of the perished but once dynamic and thriving Indian civilizations that once dominated in the American landscape.) The present demographic dominance of Caucasians in North America will be short lived; and the world will become increasingly "homogenescene." And the affects of the Columbus exchange will continue for better or for worse.

Wealth accumulated off the back of the poor gamblers, as seen in the skylines of Las Vegas, and a society promoting such accumulation of wealth (such as in the US) cannot be sustained economically and morally.  But such phenomenon is not only a deviation and anomaly of capitalism (an honest result of a free market economy, as some would say!) but, I submit in light of reading this book, a global phenomenon inaugurated by the "Columbus exchange," the exchange which made such usurpation possible in a global scale.  Structurally, there is no difference between the way in which the wealth of Las Vegas was obtained (from the back of the poor) from how the wealth of the colonial imperialism of the West was won (off the back of the wretched Indians and African slaves), thanks to the Columbus exchange.  Wealth by usurpation of the poor and the weak must be the overarching theme of world history from ancient times to modern or post modern capitalism. The Columbus exchange locked the world globally forever in this inextricable chain of economic and political injustice.
Profile Image for Thurston.
7 reviews
May 19, 2019
Both this and 1491 have given me a really vivid portrayal of the Americas before and after Columbus set sail and the world he inadvertently created.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,475 followers
July 30, 2012
Well written and mind expanding tour of the economic and ecological changes that were set in motion in the centuries after Columbus' landing in the New World. The interconnectedness of the world is elucidated in Mann's dizzying excursions to the European colonies in the Americas and Caribbean, Africa, and China.

The roots of globalization are to be found in the so-called "Columbian Exchange", the transfer of peoples, plants, domesticated animals, agricultural practices, and diseases between continents. Mann has a fresh perspective on the blending of peoples and cultures. His coverage of the enslavement of black Africans and subjugation and slaughter of Native Americans by the colonials goes beyond the portrayal of these peoples as passive victims without "agency". He highlights how Indians fought back successfully many times before successful colonies were established, and diseases such as smallpox and influenza and the colonist's exploitation of intertribal competition often sealed their fate. Africans accompanied Europeans from the earliest expeditions, and in most colonies they outnumbered them.

Examples from Santo Domingo, Brazil, Panama, and Florida highlight how from the beginning escape and establishment of guerilla bases with renegade Indians sowed the seeds of their eventual independence. The key role of malaria and yellow fever in the growth of black slavery is a major source of speculative exploration by Mann. The delusion of early explorers to America that China could be readily reached was a pervasive theme that in some senses was soon realized.

Mann balances the story and impact of the transfer of tobacco, corn, and potatoes from the Americas to Europe and Asia with that of the introduction of wheat, sugar, coffee, and domestic animals to the colonies. The new agricultural bounty is associated with population explosions in Europe and China, but at the same time the changes are linked to famines and floods wrought by transferred pests and negative ecological consequences of deforestation and the dependence of industrial agriculture on a few vulnerable crops. The boom-and-bust history of rubber is nicely told, as is the economic bonanza of guano as the first industrial fertilizer.

Overall, this lengthy, but readable, book is a great accomplishment as a synthesis of trends that make the modern world what it is today.
Profile Image for Richard.
1,131 reviews1,007 followers
February 15, 2016
How do you feel about history books that subvert your prior beliefs? Because there are a few very good ones out there. 1493, by Charles Mann, is one of them. His earlier best-selling 1491 probably is as well, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.

Briefly, 1493 examines how the world changed due to, and very soon after, the initial contact between the Americas and the rest of the world in 1492. The term “Columbian Exchange” reminds us that the change was bidirectional. We are all familiar with the devastation the Old World’s diseases caused in the Americas, but there is so, so much more. Mann starts in his New England garden, pointing out that nothing in it originated within 1000 miles. Near the end, he points out that the same is true of the gardens in the Philippines, despite their cherished evocations of homely tradition.

The role China plays in the book will probably startle many. Even more dramatic is how far the interaction and mixing of the “Red” and “Black” got, long before “White” Europeans arrived in sufficient numbers to become culturally dominant. Long before the Pilgrims even got to New England, there were entire cities composed of those resisting European subjugation. The scope of the Columbian Exchange is staggering. It affected the collapse of Chinese empires and the timing of the Protestant Reformation, neither of which are explored, as far as I remember, in college history classes, much less in grade school.

Most of the United States was settled later, and by different cultural forces, and so I wonder if those south of the Rio Grande (or perhaps in the eastern subtropical portion of the United States) would find this even more revelatory.

If you want more arguments on why you might want to read this big, fat book, check out any or all of these reviews:
• New York Times, Seeds, Germs and Slaves
• Washington Post, “1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created”
• The Wall Street Journal, The Herald of A New Creation
• The San Francisco Chronicle, ‘1493,’ by Charles C. Mann
• The GuardianUK, 1493 by Charles C Mann – review
• The IndependentUK, 1493, By Charles C Mann

P.S. A complimentary book I would recommend is Colin Woodard’s American Nations , which dissects the United States into largely discrete and somewhat divergent regions, based on their culture of their “effective” founders. Woodard’s book has more flaws than Mann’s — the author’s personal allegiance to New England gets in the way of an unbiased analysis — but is in many ways a more important book, at least to North Americans, with a significant bearing on the caustic partisan contemporary environment in the United States. Mann’s book highlights a few of the biases implicit in Woodard’s telling, but the real goal of the pair is to force the reader to reexamine old beliefs about the history of the Americas.
Profile Image for Max.
337 reviews288 followers
June 1, 2016
Mann documents the Columbian Exchange, the beginning of globalization. Fifteenth century Europe, desirous of Chinese silk and porcelain, was blocked to the east by hostile Muslim countries. Columbus embarked to find a western route. Within 100 years global trade with China and the Americas was underway and the Columbian Exchange was firmly established. Silver mined in Bolivia by slaves brought in from Africa was shipped to China for silk and porcelain shipped to Spain via Mexico and Panama. Another example is the shipment of Virginia tobacco and Caribbean sugar to every corner of the globe in return for finished goods, farm animals and slaves.

Riding along with the silk, porcelain, tobacco leaf, sugar, silver, farm animals and slaves were wild animals, plants and microbes dramatically changing the ecosystems of their new homes where they often faced no natural enemies. The native population of Hispaniola, where Columbus established his first permanent settlement, was decimated by disease as invasive insects and pathogens ran amok. Likewise native populations of North America were reduced to a fraction of their original numbers. Mann speculates that this depopulation led to the little ice age in the sixteenth century. The Indians had been clearing extensive areas through burning. With far fewer Indians the North American forests regenerated. As the forests grew back they sucked carbon dioxide out of the air. Global cooling was the result.

The Columbian Exchange transformed cultures. For example North American Plains Indians became nomads as they mastered Spanish horses creating the image we have today of the Apache and Comanche. Lifestyles of people around the world were radically altered. New food plants spread everywhere and people half a world apart began farming the same genetically similar crops which were vulnerable to the same pests and diseases. Diversity declined. This post 1492 world Mann calls the Homogenocine.

Mann selectively explores consequences of the Columbian Exchange. He ties everything from famine in Ireland to the fall of the Ming dynasty to the Exchange. The settlements in Hispaniola and Jamestown, the spread of malaria and yellow fever, the development of tobacco and sugar farming in the new world, and even a brief history of the Ming dynasty’s wars with pirates get special coverage. Changes in China were dramatic. Diets for many Chinese shifted from rice and beans to sweet potatoes and corn which grew where traditional crops would not. This led to rapid population growth, over farming, deforestation, flooding and civil unrest. Reliance on the silver trade, a key component of the Columbian exchange furthered political instability hastening the demise of the Ming dynasty in 1644. Using silver as the official medium of exchange meant control of the money supply was impossible. Much of China’s wealth was squandered purchasing silver.

Europe also was destabilized by the Columbian Exchange. Potatoes became a staple crop extending the Malthusian trap which finally caught up with Ireland in the 1840’s with dire consequences. The potato fueled rapid population growth becoming the only solid food 40% of Irishmen consumed. When another Columbian exchange import, the potato blight, hit the genetically similar potatoes, they all quickly succumbed. The ensuing famine led to mass migration changing the course of US history as well as Ireland’s. Mann also traces the guano trade from South America which initiated large scale fertilizer use greatly increasing European crop yields and population. He even shows how the Colorado potato beetle led to the development of pesticides, first arsenic then DDT.

Mann explores the exploitation of the Amazon and its residents beginning with tapping rubber trees in the forest which eventually gave way to the development of the rubber plantation industry. Henry Ford established a huge plantation in the Amazon, which after a bad start was finished off by the South American leaf blight. India and Indonesia established plantations that got off to better starts but they too got hit by the leaf blight. They had selected high yielding trees that turned out to have little resistance. Recently China has deforested huge areas of its own land for rubber plantations. China is expanding its rubber plantation operations to Laos and Thailand where it exploits locals with one sided contracts. These new plantations are already sucking the water out of the native forest forcing people out of their traditional way of life. In the end the South American leaf blight will find its way there. The story just goes on as short term profit trumps all.

The Columbian Exchange included people as well as plants, animals and microbes creating the first global urban center, Mexico City. It mixed together Europeans, Africans, Asians, and of course Native Americans. Intermarriage between the different races was widespread. The Spanish established elaborate categories to try to distinguish those of mixed heritage based on the particular mix. Mestizo (Indo European), mulatto (Afro European) and zambo (Afro Indian) were just the beginning. When these groups mixed with each other, the Spanish even had labels for the further mixed offspring. For example, the child of a Spaniard and a mestizo was a called a castizo. It wasn’t long before those with a single heritage were few and far between.

Something often not fully appreciated is that more Africans than Europeans initially came to the Americas even though it wasn’t their choice. Slavery was driven by the tobacco farms in the US and even more significantly the huge Caribbean and South American sugar plantations and mining operations. Many slaves escaped throughout the Americas and mixed with exploited Indian tribes. Mann contends that very likely escaped African slaves saw the Pacific from Panama before Balboa. The Indians and former slaves formed new communities and developed new cultures throughout the Americas. One example was Palmares in Brazil which defied constant Portuguese attacks for 90 years in the seventeenth century before succumbing. In other cases these new groups would overwhelm their European exploiters as in the 1804 revolution in Haiti. The slaves were typically prisoners of war captured in fighting between African tribes who sold them to Europeans. They were fighting men who would escape and seek retribution against their exploiters. They intermarried with Native Americans creating formidable new groups with their combined skill sets.

The Columbian Exchange changed the concept of slavery. Prior to 1493, slave-owners typically had contact with their slaves. Africans practiced slavery as well as Europeans and there were established roles for owner and slave. The slave was a human in the lowest category, but still a person like everyone else. Slavery was not considered wrong and did not have to be justified by labelling the slave sub-human. Race was not a concept, as we know it, back then. For Europeans any heathen could be made a slave. Christians could not. Thus Jews, heretics, Indians, Muslims and most Africans were all equal candidates for slavery. The Columbian Exchange changed the practice of slavery. As large plantations were built in the New World with their owners living in Europe the traditional relationship between slave and owner was broken. This was particularly true in the sugar plantations and mines. Slaves were managed by taskmasters who treated slaves like cattle in their drive to meet profit expectations and quotas set by owners far away who didn’t have to see the human consequences. The slave trade in Africa developed to supply the huge numbers needed. African slaves were particularly valuable because they were more resistant to malaria and yellow fever that was ravaging the New World.

Mann’s history is wide ranging, a potpourri of the fallout from Columbus’ discovery of the New World. It is a fascinating read although not tightly crafted and not as well done in my opinion as his earlier 1491. Still he makes his case. Today as we struggle with the effects of 21st century globalization, it is worthwhile to look back at how it all started.
Profile Image for Susan (aka Just My Op).
1,126 reviews57 followers
August 7, 2011
Absolutely fascinating. Worms and parasites, slaves and masters, greed and commerce, tobacco and guano – all have radically shaped today's world, and continue to do so. The Columbian Exchange united, both for better and for worse, this earth in ways that Columbus could never have dreamed.

The author's writing is well organized, researched, illustrated, and annotated. Given that, it still could have been boring but it wasn't. Charles Mann kept me entertained and interested through every word, remarkable considering how much information he was able to impart in the roughly 400 pages of text. I knew bits and pieces of this story, but never the bigger picture as he was able to show me. He did this without becoming pedantic, condescending, or proselytizing. I highly recommend this book to anyone at all interested in the history and future of this planet.

I received a free uncorrected proof of this book for purposes of review.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,281 followers
June 14, 2017
Maybe not quite as good as 1491? But probably just because I was more interested in the subject matter there. Once again, Mann has written a kickass book. I really dig this guy.
Profile Image for Andres.
279 reviews29 followers
July 5, 2011
In 1491 Mann explored the newest findings about what the Americas were actually like before the "Old World" set foot on it (as opposed to the dated perceptions that we can't seem to easily shake loose). Now Mann explores how the world reacted, and was affected, by this meeting.

I can't even begin to summarize what information is covered here, but here is a list of things that are discussed: potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco, sugar, rubber, gum, rum, Madeira, mosquitoes, malaria, yellow fever, smallpox, silver, guano, Africans, Indians, the Chinese, Spaniards, Basque miners, slavery, pirates, and a lot more. We may know a little about each of these subjects but here their connections are explained and, even better, the consequences and results of those connections are fully explored.

To say this is exceptionally interesting would be an understatement. A lot of the information presented here is new to me, or at least new in the sense that what I learned as separate histories is shown here to have connections that were never explicitly pointed out (and I never would have guessed at). (Case in point, everyone is taught that the Spanish mined South America for its silver, but who ever pointed out that half of that silver ended up in China? And the reasons why it ended up there? And the impact it had there? Etc.) The author does reference this book, but I'm pretty sure he expands on the original idea rather than simply rehashing it(and if I ever read that book, I'll insert an update about that here).

I consider this a far more historically dense book than 1491 since the cultural and biological exchanges between the Old and New Worlds, as can be guessed, was (and continues to be) very complicated. This is just as much a worthy sequel to 1491 as 1491 is a worthy 'prequel' to this book.
Profile Image for Dan Walker.
244 reviews12 followers
November 1, 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. So why did I give it only one star??!! Well, I'll tell you.

First the good: this is a wide-sweeping review of what Mr. Mann calls the homogenocene - the result of Colombus discovering America and the worldwide mixing of plants, animals, microbes, and humans that has resulted. I learned a lot of historical facts that Mr. Mann spices up with stories that give you a real feel for the boomtowns that sprang up around silver mines and rubber plantations in South America, trading villages in the Philippines, etc. etc., clear around the globe. For example, I never realized what a big event it was when East truly met West in the Philippines - when Spanish sailers met Chinese traders. A whole range of middlemen was cut out, and global trade began to flourish.

Mr. Mann does an acceptable job keeping the book balanced. Despite his near-constant snuffling about environmental destruction, he at least recognizes how the homogenocene has lifted millions of people from abject poverty and starvation. And it turns out that anti-global trade rioters race to the barricades, oh, three centuries or so late. I'm afraid fellow-rioters like the king of Spain were staunchly against free trade long, long ago. After all, every ounce of silver that went to China was one less ounce the king could use in his European wars. Turns out its damn hard to control a silver mine on another continent.

And it turns out that China has been a source of cheap labor for centuries. Traders were transporting clothing and porcelain across two oceans and the Isthmus in the age of sail and MAKING PROFITS??!! See how late the anti-free trade protestors are?

So here's why I gave the book only 1 star. Mr. Mann's strength is also his weakness: he is a correspondent. He's great at putting together a sweeping view of history that real professionals would never tackle because they know they don't have the expertise. But that's his greatest weakness: UNDERSTANDING the facts he lays before readers sometimes requires expert opinion. No problem for a correspondent. Just call up the best-known expert he can find in the Yellow Pages and viola! an explanation appears. The problem is that what he has is just an expert OPINION. Cause and effect is still being debated centuries later. There are other opinions out there. And some of the opinions he publishes are pure stupidity on the face of them.

Try this one: "the Spanish and Chinese economies were ruined by, um, too much silver."

See what I mean about stupidity?

Probably realizing that publishing that opinion could get him laughed at, he tries to explain that since the Spanish king didn't index his tax rates, he was driven to bankruptcy by inflation. Well that would be the proper conclusion if one believes in the divine right of kings and their humanist successors, the all-powerful State. The idea that the Spanish king wasted a lot of silver in riotous living and interminable wars couldn't be the reason. No, governments the world over are marked by thrift and prudence in financial matters. It's always someone else's fault when they go broke.

Uh huh.

So let's get a real explanation of what happened. The king claimed (for reasons that Mr. Mann does not explain) a large chunk of the silver coming out of South America. He was now extremely wealthy - IN SILVER. The problem was that Europe was still only able to produce so many goods and services. Once that load of silver got dropped on the European economy, the result was as predictable as the rising of the sun: the value of silver fell. Or, as Mr. Mann puts it, inflation occurred. Suddenly all the king's silver couldn't buy as many armies and palaces as it could before. He failed to adjust his standard of living downward, and suffered the natural consequences: bankruptcy. Something similar happened in China.

So that's why I gave the book only 1 star. On at least this one point Mr. Mann's chosen experts were foolish to the point of imbecility. That and the fact that the book might just be a tax write-off vehicle so that Mr. Mann can deduct his travel expenses. He apparently travelled the globe to "experience" the places he wrote about first hand. In only a couple of instances did it seem to add any value to the book. But it's a great idea and more of us should use that method to finance our travels.

So read the book. Expand your knowledge of history and how the discovery of the New World forever changed the Old. Listen respectfully to the conclusions but be prepared to challenge them.
Profile Image for Nick Wisseman.
Author 28 books80 followers
November 18, 2016
“Columbus’s voyage did not mark the discovery of a new world, but its creation.” So claims Charles Mann in his impressive 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. After reading the book, I can’t help but agree.

Mann builds on the work of scholars like Alfred Crosby, who posited that “[a]fter Columbus, ecosystems that had been separate for eons suddenly met and mixed in a process” he called “the Columbian Exchange.” While being “neither fully controlled nor understood by its participants,” the exchange “took corn (maize) to Africa and sweet potatoes to East Asia, horses and apples to the Americas, and rhubarb and eucalyptus to Europe—and also swapped about a host of less-familiar organisms like insects, grasses, bacteria, and viruses.” It also moved people all around the globe.

Sound like something you’ve heard before? The core argument may not be new, but the examples Mann uses to bolster his take on it are fascinating.

For instance, when revisiting the effects of European diseases on Native Americans (which he examined at length in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus), Mann makes the case that the Columbian Exchange may have temporarily helped cause “today’s climate change in reverse.” Specifically, the Little Ice Age of 1550-1750 (or so), which brought hard winters, late springs, and bad harvests to the Northern Hemisphere, might have been a secondary consequence of the mass death of Native Americans: prior to Europeans’ arrival, Native Americans used fire to shape their surroundings, regularly burning forests on such a scale that for “weeks on end, smoke from Indian bonfires shrouded Florida, California, and the Great Plains.” But after smallpox and other plagues took their devastating toll, the fires diminished, resulting in less CO2 in the atmosphere, more trees to reduce the CO2 that remained, and a colder climate.

Then there’s the role malaria (and to a lesser degree, yellow fever) likely played in the rise of the Atlantic slave trade. This other “Old World” disease was no friendlier to Native Americans, but it flourished in the warmer areas of the Americas so virulently that European colonists died there in droves. But Africans’ inherited and acquired resistances to the illness meant that, “biologically speaking, they were fitter, which is another way of saying that in these places they were—loaded words!—genetically superior.” Sadly, Africans’ immunity “became a wellspring for their enslavement,” since for (unscrupulous) Europeans “the economic logic was hard to ignore. If they wanted to grow tobacco, rice, or sugar, they were better off using African slaves than European indentured servants or Indian slaves.” Not coincidentally, the “Mason-Dixon line roughly split the East Coast into two zones, one in which falciparum malaria was an endemic threat, and one in which it was not.”

And that’s just for starters: 1493 goes on to delve into the Galleon Trade and chart how Spanish silver from the brutal mining town of Potosí, Bolivia knit the world together like never before, financing wars in Europe and fueling a debilitating currency crisis in China, long the world’s largest economy. Next, Mann tracks the impact of crop migrations (like the introduction of Andean potatoes into Europe), the birth of the “agro-industrial complex,” the race for Amazonian rubber, and finally the “extraordinary cultural mix that slavery inadvertently promoted.”

Mann’s writing is excellent, and the book is stuffed with devastating details, such as the tidbit that, when officials at the Peruvian mine of Huancavelica dug up the graves of their conscripted Native American workers in 1605, they found that the miners’ corpses left behind puddles of inhaled mercury. But while Mann claims in his prologue that “globalization brought both enormous economic gains and ecological and social tumult that threatened to offset those gains,” and later that “the huge benefits of moving species outweigh the huge harms,” his emphasis is decidedly on the negative aspects. In short, 1493 isn’t—and doesn’t pretend to be—a comprehensive account of the roots of the modern world.

It’s just a damn good one.

(For more reviews like this one, see www.nickwisseman.com)
Profile Image for Lis Carey.
2,135 reviews92 followers
November 19, 2018
This is the follow-up to Mann's excellent 1491, and it's every bit as excellent. In this book, Mann creates a rich and detailed picture of the world after Columbus, from the first few years of Spanish-Indian interaction through the complex effects of globalization in the contemporary world.

He starts, for reasons that soon become clear, with his own garden, and his introduction to heritage tomatoes. Tomato varieties, differing widely in size, appearance, and color, now come from all over the world--but they began as barely edible fruits of the nightshade family in Meso-America. Why are there now wonderful tomatoes from Bulgaria? That's what this book is about in a microcosm: how Columbus's discovery of the Americas led to the dispersal of people, plants, and animals from both hemispheres all over the world.
This is a really fascinating exploration of the post-Columbian world, a world of complexity, unexpectedness, and unpredictable mixtures of good and bad effects that are completely lost in any standard telling of the European colonization and conquest of the Americas. It wasn't just European culture and disease impinging on the New World; in fact, Mann makes the point that Eurasia and the Americas in 1492 were both very old worlds, each filled with cultures, history, flora and fauna the other had not suspected.

The Europeans, at the beginning of this process, did not think of themselves as Europeans. They were Spanish and English and Portuguese and French and Dutch. The peoples of the Americas didn't think of themselves as Americans, Indians, or any other collective noun; they were Incas and Maya and Sioux and Cherokee and dozens of other names that most of us have never heard. Many of those cultures were virtually destroyed by the arrival of Europeans, not because of European weapons or superior European cultural development (the Triple Alliance, better known to us as the Aztec Empire, and the Inca Empire, were more developed and civilized in most respects than the Spanish who conquered them), but by disease--often before they'd had more than casual contact with Spaniards or any other Europeans. Some of the Indian cultures we think of as ancient, such as the nomadic, horse-riding, buffalo-hunting cultures of the plains Indians, were in fact responses to two effects of the Columbian discovery of the Americas: depopulation due to disease, and the arrival of the horse.

But the effects weren't all, or even mostly, one way. American gold and silver had enormous economic consequences in both Spain and China. The potato, the sweet potato, and the tomato had culinary, cultural, and environmental effects all over the world. The Americas had mosquitoes well designed to be vectors for malaria and yellow fever, which didn't exist in this hemisphere; Europeans and Africans brought malaria and yellow fever; the middle-term effect of this was to increase the Atlantic slave trade. This in turn led, eventually and among many other effects, to Toussaint's revolution in Haiti, which led to the sale of France's North American possessions to the US in the Louisiana Purchase...

But Mann looks most closely at the effects on smaller scales, all over the world, the impact on how ordinary people live their everyday lives, the good and bad effects of the globalization created by the connecting of the two hemispheres, and what people think of as "normal" and "traditional" that goes back a few hundred years at most--having been impossible before the hemispheres began to share their plants, animals, and diseases, and to trade with people on the other side of the globe.

Mann makes a fascinating, complex, and compelling story of something that could have been either tedious or depressing. Highly recommended.

I borrowed this book from a friend.
Profile Image for Stuart.
701 reviews260 followers
November 15, 2020
Overflowing with new perspectives on colonization, attempts to Christianize indigenous American populations, slavery & new world economies, all tied to the Columbian exchange of goods, people, and diseases
There is so much worth discussing about this very fascinating book, but lately I don't have the time or energy to do it any justice as I would have in my reviews from years past. So suffice to say that is an excellent companion piece to his book 1491 on the pre-Columbia native peoples and cultures of the Americas. If more Europeans knew the very problematic behavior of their ancestors in the New World, they would be far less quick to assume cultural or moral superiority. History is a messy and bloody business, but nobody is innocent of past wrongs. The best thing is to be aware of those transgressions, acknowledge them, and vow not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Profile Image for Ryan.
962 reviews
August 28, 2020
Charles C. Mann's 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created interprets contact as creating a new period in history, the Homogenocene. Combining ecology, epidemiology, economics, and geographic history, Mann shows what people did and what they suffered after encountering people, plants, and pests from other continents.

The Columbian Exchange offered many benefits, such as increasing trade to allow silver into currency strapped China and silk into Europe. But it also offered catastrophes, such as transmitting diseases that decimated the indigenous populations in the Americas. For every potato that arrives in Ireland to nourish the downtrodden peasants, there is a blight that creates a famine.

I often test a work of history by its ability to remind me that the past is stranger than I realize, and Mann passes the test in 1493. I'd never heard of Casta paintings before, which offer visual taxonomies of breeding between populations (e.g. if a Spaniard and a black person have a child, what should it be classified as? See the answer in a Casta painting...). At another point, Mann argues that European settlers in the American South relied on slave labor in part because Africans and their descendants were more likely to have a gene that protected them against malaria. Otherwise, the white settlers were dying too quickly of disease to do the work.

In Better Angels of Our Nature Steven Pinker argues that international trade incentivizes peace, but Mann's presentation of the Columbian Exchange is typically a mixed bag of unintended consequences, coincidental benefits, and unexpected catastrophes. In addition to his ability to dig out strange details, Mann has an admirable knack for admitting when theories are controversial and further of citing very specifically the historians whose analysis he relies on. Although I learned a lot from 1493, it rarely inspired in me a desire to visit the past.

Profile Image for Mary.
199 reviews3 followers
February 23, 2012
Loved this book! For every sentence I read in it, author Charles C. Mann read hundreds, and he has the bibliography to prove it.

I loved it for two reasons: I love the sweeping overview of human *everything* that Mann provides: foods, migration, slavery, the global trade that preceded--in fact, led to--Columbus's discovery of the New World. And I loved it because it told me so much I didn't know: how the discovery of the potato, in the New World, saved the population of Europe from, if not exactly starvation, then chronic malnutrition. And while I suppose that any assertion like that is open to debate, Mann cites a statue the Nazis destroyed. The statue,in Germany, depicted English pirate/adventurer Sir Francis Drake, holding a potato.

Mann insists that Columbus was trying to find China, not India. I'm a little baffled by that - if that's the case, then why didn't they call the people they found Chinese, not Indians? - but he makes a case for China as the supplier of the world's goods even before Columbus set sail.

This book upended an assumption I held, unknown to me, that Europe was a dominant world power in the 1400s. It also gave me a much more vivid understanding of the cultures that existed in South America before the Spanish conquest of that continent.

There is one section--the Spanish trading with the Chinese in the Philippines--that vividly describes the chaos and bustle of international trade. I could picture the boats and the enclave.

There was also a lot of eye-opening information about the native Americans the immigrants to North America found. The native people had a lot of diverse cultures, but what struck me was the news, to me, that one group routinely burned forest undergrowth to make the woods clear for hunting, travel, and agriculture.

An author undertaking a book like this, it seems to me, has to decide which authorities he finds most persuasive, and assert their findings. I imagine scholars in the hundreds of specialties that Mann touches upon are itching to correct or refine what he says. But never mind; he has given me a whole scaffolding upon which to base new knowledge.
Profile Image for Maitrey.
148 reviews20 followers
October 23, 2016
This was great engaging writing from an author I really admire. 1493 gives a fantastic overview of the kind of changes the globe has seen after Columbus landed in the New World and started what would be called the Columbian Exchange.

Boy can Mann can weave a narrative, like how his grandfather's decision to buy a Philippine mahogany dining table might have led to ecological catastrophe by introducing invasive earthworms into the Philippines that destroyed the rice field terraces. Or how Potosi in 16th Century Bolivia was probably the first boom town in the wild west. Maybe you wanted to learn about Ford's madcap rubber town in the middle of nowhere Amazonia. Every one of these tales deals with extraordinary humans, and how effects such as globalization and disease, slavery and colonialism, played a much a larger role in actually shaping all our lives.

This is an extraordinary book. Read it.
344 reviews3 followers
May 5, 2013
Mann purports 1493 to be an update, using new scientific evidence and access, of Alfred W. Crosby's ECOLOGICAL IMPERIALISM. This book is not nearly as informative as Crosby's books, but contains lots of narrative and background on people, rather than the "exchange". The reader would be much better off reading ECOLOGICAL IMPERIALISM itself as well as Crosby's other book: THE COLUMBIAN EXCHANGE.
Profile Image for Maria Kramer.
681 reviews21 followers
March 15, 2017
What a fascinating follow-up to "1491"! This book deals with some of the changes that the "discovery" of the Americas wrought on the world stage - not just in Europe, but also in Asia and Africa. Different chapters focus on different topics, such as malaria, the potato, or silver. Very interesting, and an under-explored area of history!
Profile Image for Xavier.
150 reviews57 followers
February 23, 2022
Heritage Studies

Author Charles C. Mann does a fantastic job at covering the effects of the Columbian Exchange, which was the biological homogeneity which sprung forth from Christopher Columbus's voyage to the Americas.

There was a lot of information packed into this book. It definitely deserves a second reading for one to fully inhale all of its contents. Different fruits and vegetables being moved from their native soils to foreign lands; insects and other pests traveling aboard ships and becoming intrusive species; microbial stowaways that killed or severely sickened millions of people -- all topics covered that I found fascinating.

The book really shines in the later chapters, where Mann covers the stories of the African and indigenous slaves. I loved the fact that he covers the enslaved that refused to stay enchained. There were many revolts; some were successful and many weren't. Countless men and women would flee into the surrounding jungles and forests and create free communities. Indigenous and Africans worked together to raid plantations, destroying crops, sabotaging equipment and murdering Europeans. They refused to go gently into the night.

I gave the book 5 stars because I believe this work can change how you view the world. Now a days we cannot fathom the Italian dish without tomatoes or the Irish without potatoes, but neither of these crops are native to those lands. The tomato is native to Central and South America and the potato to the Peruvian-Bolivian Andes region. The story of the Columbian Exchange is the story of us all.
Profile Image for Dey Martin.
39 reviews11 followers
July 8, 2017
A friend gave me this to read after finding 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus on my book shelf that I just read. She said I would be one of only a few to read them back to back.

It is about how the want of silver, sugar and potatoes resulted in today's homogenocene. I oversimplify. I figure this has been going on since prehistoric times. Man throughout his multi-millennial migratory trek took seeds, cuttings and microbes and probably even fire (technology) along to change and often devastate whatever whomever he encountered on that path in search of food and better climes. The author Charles C. Mann explains how it happened since man set sail in search of new lands.

Climate and environmental activists should know what Mann makes clear in these two sequential books 1491 and 1493. Our climate and environment is changed forever by those that began traveling the globe in the 15th century and took something from home and something back along for the ride. It is of course still going on today on a mega scale and it is out of control. We are all still blindly doing it.

A bloody and indelible mark on the human race: The African slave trade is a major part of the story - this insanely cruel practice that so many profiteers were complicit in. West African chiefs bought and sold captives from tribal wars in much the same way and for the same reasons that Europeans bought and sold land. Some of my English/American ancestors as far back as colonial times who were farmers kept slaves. American Indians traded slaves. The Chinese too. It was ubiquitous.

One of the bizarre reasons West Africans were preferred was simply that they were immune to malaria so they could work in steamy equatorial environments and not quickly die in infested regions like Europeans did by the ship-full from one measly mosquito bite. A genetic advantage dealt out randomly that turned out to be a very bad hand indeed.

The impact that the European quest for silver and sugar had on indigenous cultures and the environment wherever it touched down was significant and mostly traumatic. Unique and vibrant cultures combined and evolved and thrived as a result. Hispaniola, Brazil, The Philippines, China and Central America are some places affected that are covered in the book.

Mann's deep research over three plus years into the written records left by Columbus, the Catholic Church, Spanish, English, Chinese, and many others and with archeological evidence, and his own visits to see for himself, puts our amazing history all together in a way that is only barely known outside scholarly research circles. For me it was a revelation. Highly recommended reading. Non-fiction that reads like historical fiction.
Profile Image for Marley.
129 reviews108 followers
September 6, 2011
I'm sure this is less than a perfect picture of all the nuanced history involved -- it wouldn't be pop history if it weren't. But in that Jared Diamond kind of mold, this is quite a book.

The argument runs: Columbus may not have had any idea what he was doing, but he's still the genesis of an entirely changed world -- a world connected all the way round, economically and (and here's the kicker) therefore biologically. You make a world market, you remake Pangaea, extremely messily.

Each chapter just takes a thread and runs with it, peppering you with hundreds of fascinating shards of history, so you're not getting a summary. Instead, big themes are:
proto-globalization, and the first world consumer crazes;
tracking Andean silver as it hyperinflates one currency after another (Spain, of course, but CHINA far worse);
The Philippines as the place the West finally pulled off Columbus' gambit and found the East from behind;
the invention of the Chinatown from Manila to Mexico City;
potatoes as they travel out of the Inka homeland (one tiny clone fragment of an intensely biodiverse cloud of species) and give the Irish vastly better nutrition (and famine);
sweet potatoes as they make huge portions of western China suddenly farmable, then cause their OWN famine;
The way the Triangular Trade/chattel slavery and the silver/silk trade with the East were intimately linked;
Malaria, also known as the reason New World jungles were a great place to live until we showed up;
Malaria, also known as one of the things that shaped the creation plantation economies filled with slaves from West Africa;
Slavery, a violent forced immigration which DWARFED any such movements to the new-found continents by white Europeans until the Victorian Era.

In all, a pretty fascinating book. A bit too globalization-is-just-a-force-of-nature/Thomas Friedman, and a bit too cute with its modern-day correspondences, but intense food for thought.

Also, worth noting that Chinese emissaries from a Ming Dynasty emperor showed up in Manila demanding the truth of rumors of a magical mountain of gold and silver where precious metals were free for the asking. The Spanish posted there were so taken aback that they massacred the entire trade settlement. This happened a lot, apparently.

It's an unfathomable world, folks. We just live here.
Profile Image for Christina Dudley.
Author 15 books103 followers
September 30, 2012
A fabulous, unique read. Mann follows the manifold, global consequences of Columbus touching down in Hispaniola. One of those books where you learn SO much! Just to name one example, the whole discussion of American slavery was revelatory--how the native African resistance to malaria and yellow fever played in, how traditions of slavery in Africa differed from how the Europeans used slaves, and how race as we now think of it was not the huge factor we deem it, with our contemporary mindset.

Also fascinating were the ecological consequences of "reuniting Pangaea," as Mann puts it. New World crops made their way to Europe and Asia, allowing population booms that put pressure on the environment. Old World critters and plants made their way to the New World. Who knew there were no earthworms in Virginia?

Crazy what-ifs fill the book. What if Scotland hadn't emptied its coffers trying to establish a bastion in Panama, a venture that ended in total failure when just about everyone died of mosquito-borne disease? Financially desperate, Scotland accepted its incorporation into the United Kingdom. What if Europe had imported more than one kind of potato (of the thousands of varieties), leaving itself less vulnerable to total crop loss from potato blight? Would America have experienced the waves of famine-driven immigration?

The only dull bits were the somewhat disjointed accounts of maroon settlements (escaped African slaves) mostly in South America, but the first 9/10 of the book were so awesome that I couldn't justify deducting a star!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,591 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.