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

Alfred W. Crosby
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Jan 2004 0521546184 978-0521546188 2
People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world - North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain; in many cases they were a matter of firearms against spears. But, as Alfred Crosby maintains in this highly original and fascinating book, the Europeans' displacement and replacement of the native peoples in the temperate zones was more a matter of biology than of military conquest. European organisms had certain decisive advantages over their New World and Australian counterparts. The spread of European disease, flora, and fauna went hand in hand with the growth of populations. Consequently, these imperialists became proprietors of the world's most important agricultural lands. Now in a new edition with a new preface, Crosby revisits his now-classic work and again evaluates the global historical importance of European ecological expansion.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (12 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521546184
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521546188
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 83,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'In telling his very readable story, Mr Crosby combines a historian's taste for colorful detail with a scientist's hunger for unifying and testable generalization …[He] shows that there is more to history than kings and battles, and more to ecology than fruits and nuts.' The Wall Street Journal

'Crosby argues his case with vigour, authority, and panache, summoning up examples and illustrations that are often as startling in their character as in their implications. Ecological Imperialism could not ask for a more lucid and stylish exponent.' The Times Literary Supplement

'The biological bases of radically changing historical ecosystems must never be forgotten - and Crosby has made them intelligible as well as memorable.' Natural History

'The book is important, and required reading for politicians worldwide … Nuclear war may be spectacular and a valid focus for our exertions, but ecological insouciance is even more dangerous because it is unspectacular, and it merits efforts to combat it as strenuous and urgent.' The Guardian

'Crosby has unfolded with great power the wider biopolitics of our civilization.' Nature

Book Description

As Alfred Crosby explains in his highly original and fascinating book, the Europeans' displacement and replacement of the native peoples in the temperate zones was more a matter of biology than of military conquest. Now in a new edition, Crosby revisits his classic work evaluating the reasons for European expansion.

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First Sentence
EUROPEAN EMIGRANTS and their descendants are all over the place, which requires explanation. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommendable 8 Jun 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read this book for a a module of my MA. It was very accessible and helped me greatly in my understanding of the ecological dimensions of imperialism.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great stories, but an outdated question 17 Sep 2013
Format:Paperback
I like Crosby's bantering style and his loads of mini-stories. But the question he asks is not something I've worried about for several decades. How did European people get so dominant over the most productive corners of the planet? The answer is complex and entwined with the ecological factors of germs, weeds, livestock, or trade winds. It's interesting. But all my life I've been watching as all region's of the world expanded, and no people, organisms, or environments seem too relatively dominant any more. Crosby explains a 500-or-so year blip in world history, up to the time his book ends around 1900. But since then, we've had a revival of native people, plants, and animals in the regions most colonized by Europeans, and we're dealing with corporate rather than ethnic imperialism over the natural world. Crosby explains the rise of Euro-societies from Australia to the USA, and it's a fascinating look backward. But the book doesn't deal with the factors of integration making for a globalized environment that's evolving beyond ecological imperialism.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating and Worthwhile 7 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Europeans' displacement and replacement of native peoples in the temperate zones were more a result of "superior" biology than military conquest, according to Crosby in this book.
Europe held an unassailable biotic mix that some native peoples and ecosystems could not withstand. This biota fucntioned as a team wherever Europeans took it. European germs swept aside native peoples. Europe's cattle, pigs and horses filled native biotic niches. European weeds and agriculture squeezed out native plants. This biological expansion of Europe created "Neo-Europes" which still function today in North America, Australia, New Zealand and southern South America.
European imperialism often failed or was considerably delayed in areas where Europe's biota could not prevail. In China much the same biota was already present. Africa, the Amazon and southeast Asia were too hot, too fecund and too disease-ridden for Europe's animals, plants and humans. These areas were among the last to be dominated as a result, and then only briefly, when Europe's technology gave temporary edge to its armies.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biological winners and losers 7 Feb 2000
By Carlos R. Lugo-Ortiz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is an excellent book on how and why the Europeans were able to conquer North America, Australia, temperate South America (particularly Argentina), and New Zealand--the so-called Neo-Europes, in Crossby's terminology. Crossby's thesis is simple: the native biota of those places (including humans, of course) did not coevolve with the invaders, and were consequently naive (i.e, unequipped) to deal with them. Or, put another way, the invaders were preadapted to deal with the new conditions, and aggresively advanced, in a teamlike fashion, to encroach the native biota. Crossby also explains why Europeans were not able to conquer other places (such as Greenland, the Labrador region, and the New and Old Worlds tropics), adducing mainly climatic reasons and the lack of technological expertise.
To be sure, Crossby's arguments are not new. However, he does a great job at synthesizing an incredible wealth of historical data. His style, oftentimes humorous, also makes of his book an enjoyable read. I would recommend this book to anyone teaching a comprehensive course on the conquest of the places Crossby deals with. It is a much neglected fact that biology played a crucial role in expanding European culture.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A landmark (but dated) study on the ecological dimension of European expansion 16 July 2006
By T. P. Ang - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Alfred Crosby is widely credited for popularising the ecological dimension of the history of imperial expansion. For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone, his book is worth a read.

The book, first published in 1986, revolutionised the way we think about European imperial expansion into the New World. How a few hundred disoriented Europeans armed with spears and misfiring guns managed to overwhelm entire Inca and Aztec civilisations in the early sixteenth century, for example. Crosby convincingly casts aside traditional political or military explanations by attributing the astonishing Portuguese and Spanish victories to bacteriology: how diseases such as smallpox and measles that the Europeans unwittingly carried with them wiped out thousands of New World inhabitants, severely crippling their defences.

The larger point that Crosby drives across is a profound one. Historical events - in this case, European expansion and imperialism - can be explained predominantly by ecological factors. In the clash of `biotas' between the Old and the New World, the Old World won. Convincingly. Hence the presence not just of Europeans in the Americas, but also of pigs and dandelions. According to this thesis, ecology shaped European expansion; creating `Neo-Europes' in the New World that facilitated European migration, precipitating the `Caucasian wave' from the 1820s to the 1930s. Unlike in most other histories, in Crosby's ecological history, humans form the backdrop and inexorable ecological forces take centre-stage.

Refreshing as this perspective is, the way that Crosby has rendered it is problematic in on a number of accounts. By excluding humans from the picture; or at best relegating human developments to the sidelines, Crosby emerges with a dangerously reductive picture of historical development. Deterministic ecological explanations cannot alone account for European expansion - after all, we must not forget that the first European transoceanic voyages were motivated by curiosity rather than necessity. More problematic is the book's implicit assumption that ecological influence was unidirectional. In concentrating on explicating the Old World's ecological victory over the New, Crosby neglects to examine the influence that New World ecology had on the Old.

Nonetheless, Crosby's work remains a landmark study that deserves a read. Moreover, it packs a punch as a piece of writing - its lucid narratives and provocative assertions laid out with the bold and elegant strokes of a master-artist. Yet Crosby's work is also increasingly a dated study that has been qualified over and over by new works in the field, or in the related field of environmental history. Those interested in the subject should by no means stop at Crosby's book.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biological losers and winners 25 Jan 2000
By Carlos R. Lugo-Ortiz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
'Ecological imperialism: The biological expansion of Europe, 900-1900', by A. W. Crosby, is a cogently argued and well written book. The main thesis of the book is that the expansion by Europeans to the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and a few other enclaves (what Crosby calls the Neo-Europes) wouldn't have succeded if the biota the Europeans brought with them had not suceeded. This biota included not only humans, of course, but pathogens, weeds and grasses, and horses, cattle, goats, and pigs, among the most important. Crosby addresses the reasons why this biota was so succesful in the new territories, and concludes that, in general, the climatic regimes there were sufficiently similar to those of its European origins and the indigenous biota was so 'naive' that 'victory' was almost assured to the invaders. To be sure, this is not an original conclusion, but the wealth of data Crosby uses, along with his synthetic power and sense of humor, makes of this book an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. People interested in searching for the biological causes of the successes (and failures!) of Europeans in the world should read this engaging book.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Swarming across the seams of Pangaea 30 Sep 2004
By Bill Perez - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Always lively and perspicacious, this clever book seeks to solve a seemingly trivial puzzle: while historians have mustered a host of plausible explanations (weapons, diseases, horses, etc.) for why Europeans spread so thickly into North America, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina (the lands Crosby labels "Neo-Europes"), what could possibly explain why the dandelion did so as well? The question doesn't appear so innocuous when it is pointed out that not just the dandelion, but the European housefly, and feral pigs, and a horde of other weeds, pests, crops, diseases and livestock from Europe followed suit. Quite often these organisms, even the domesticated ones, raced ahead of European explorers themselves, rapidly proliferating into vast herds and stands that the settlers themselves could not fathom. Why was this so? Why didn't, say, Australian weeds, their seeds inadvertently shipped back to England, eventually carpet the meadows and fields of Europe? To answer this odd question, Professor Crosby begins his story with Pangaea--the great supercontinent that began to split apart about 200 million years ago into the continents we now have scattered about the globe. These "seams of Pangaea" then forced a radical divergence in the terrestrial flora and fauna of the planet, and set the stage for the equally radical convergence initiated when European mariners crossed these now mid-oceanic seams. Crosby details case after case in each category: weeds, pests, livestock, diseases and crops. He forcefully illustrates how sudden and overwhelming the ecosystem takeover was until the suspense is too much to bear. What is the answer? He drops clues every now and then, and the most explicit one is in the form of a quote that begins one of the final chapters: if weeds are to be defined as those organisms that thrive on the disturbances caused by humans, then humans themselves must be considered the primary weed of all. Here, then is the answer: all the opportunistic fellow-travelers of the European diaspora are exquisitely coadapted to the scale and pace of the continuous ecological disequilibrium characteristic of the Old World civilizations--and they, in turn, furthered and helped generate that very disequilibrium. Together--humans, horses, cattle, pigs, rats, clover, peaches, measles and, yes, dandelions--comprised a potent self-replicating system, dimly discerned by its contemporaries, that could not be stopped once it spilled across the seams of Pangaea.
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