1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Charles C. Mann

Charles C. Mann’s new book depicts not just America, but the whole world as a vast melting pot of natural resources, culture and life. Mann offers countless examples of the costs and benefits of globalization in a timeline stretching from the Age of Exploration through the present, doing so in a concise and fairly chronological manner. The work is similar in its broad scope to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, and both Mann and Diamond profess to be influenced by Alfred W. Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism. It was Crosby who coined the term “Colombian Exchange”—the widespread exchange of flora, fauna, culture, people, diseases, etc., between the Old and New Worlds—on which Mann elaborates: “[The Columbian Exchange] was neither fully controlled nor understood by its participants, but allowed Europeans to transform much of the Americas, Asia and, to a lesser extent, Africa into ecological versions of Europe, landscapes the foreigners could use more comfortably than could their original inhabitants.” Interestingly, Mann dispels the notion of the overall passivity of subjugated Africans and Indians with numerous accounts of slaves who rose beyond their station to become cogs in the machinery of colonialism.