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Book Review

‘1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created’


Courtesy of Beaverdale Books 
Review by Harriet Leitch 
Vintage Books 
July 24, 2012
720 pp. 

From the best-selling author of 1491, Charles Mann’s latest work studies the impact of the arrival of Europeans in the New World. Known as the Columbian Exchange, the reader (or in this case, the listener of the 14 CDs) is led through a fascinating history of the changes to flora and fauna as well as their environments in both the New and Old Worlds. The transport of the lowly sweet potato had lasting effects on diet in China. The discovery of rubber and subsequent development of vulcanization led to the overplanting of the rubber plant with its accompanying ecologic damage and human distress. The mining of precious metals, in this case silver, had unexpected negative impacts on economies in many countries, and the use of mercury in its refinement had devastating effects on the local miners.                 

Mann relates the causes of many of the world’s major events. The tale of the source of the potato famine is a case in point. In trying to fertilize the soils of Europe, guano from an island off the west coast of South America was transported to Europe. It contained the spores of the fungus that causes potato blight. Thus the crop that originated in South America found its destruction from the same part of the world.            

Mann’s style makes the history lessons come alive in a way that will fascinate even the most bored student. The arrival of the Europeans to the New World created vast changes to the indigenous people and land, but it also changed the history of many other areas of the world. The interconnectedness that we feel today — so new to the world — has in fact been going on for hundreds of years. CV

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