Alfred Crosby's *The Columbian Exchange* is a classic. To give you an idea of the importance of this book, the concept of the Columbian Exchange is now part of the historical lexicon of college and high school history textbooks. It even made a stealthy appearance of sorts in the title of Jared Diamond's recent Pulitzer Prize winning book, *Guns, Germs, and Steel*. Indeed, no history of the "Spanish Conquest" is complete without reference to the exchange of flora and fauna - especially the role of European pathogens. It was hardly surprising that Crosby's book was required reading at the National Teacher Training Institute for AP World History in 2000.
Even readers who are familiar with the concept of the Columbian Exchange can benefit from reading the original work. Crosby traces the migration across Beringia, using blood types to illustrate the homogeneity of the population. Most importantly, this population remains isolated from the communicable disease pools that periodically decimate Afro-Eurasians following the development of agriculture and cities. When European conquistadors and missionaries arrived in the 15th century, epidemics of Eurasian diseases spread like wildfire through 'virgin' populations - often traveling faster than the Europeans themselves. This demographic collapse creates the world's greatest labor (energy) shortage, which set the stage for the slave trade.
The fate of Eurasian animals transplanted to the Americas was similar. Large domesticated mammals were virtually unknown in the Americas; Eurasian horses, pigs, and sheep found a world devoid of predators and competitors. They too were 'conquistadors' that transformed New World environments and cultures. The American image of a Plains Indian on horseback is perhaps the most familiar example of a 'biological and cultural consequence' of the Columbian Exchange.
With the possible exception of syphilis, the New World's contribution to this Columbian Exchange is almost entirely beneficial to the Old World. Maize, potatoes, tomatoes, cassava, peanuts, chilies, and cacao are perhaps the best-known examples of New World foods that travel back to Eurasian and fuel a demographic surge. For many people, the Columbian Exchange revealed that the foods and images we often take as symbols of national or cultural identity are actually syncretic blends of Old and New World ingredients. Take chocolate, for example. It is perhaps the best example of food created by the Columbian Exchange. Southeast Asian sugar, 'discovered' by Crusaders in the Holy Land, was grown on Caribbean plantations by African slave labor and combined with cacao from the Americas.
As I write this review, I note that only the $65 hardback edition is listed at Amazon. Be advised, there is a less expensive paperback edition. (Ask for it!) If that fails, I would recommend Crosby's *Ecological Imperialism*, which explores the theme of biological diffusion on an even broader global scale than *The Columbian Exchange*.