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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars

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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 September 2013
If you want an entirely alternative way of looking at history, read this book. You will probably learn, for the first time, many fundamentally important causes of familiar events. Causes which are not normally discussed in history lessons.

Perhaps we don't discuss these things because a potato or a malaria virus doesn't seem as exciting as the French Revolution or Abraham Lincoln. But Charles Mann can make a gripping tale out of the potato.

There are also many intriguing chapters of history that I had never come across before, and I am sure many readers will be in the same position.

The book is well very written and is constantly entertaining.

I felt it was a little too long and that some of the material (while always interesting) was a little far away from the theme. The author could perhaps have been more disciplined about what to include and what to leave out.

The final chapter struck me as a little odd too, as Mann suddenly becomes quite critical of globalisation but then seems unsure of himself. The style here does not quite fit the rest of the book. In reality globalisation (like most things - the printed page, or the internet for example) has good and bad aspects, being a reflection of the humans behind it.

Overall highly recommended, for a world view which is not available elsewhere.
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on 19 February 2014
It's hard to praise this book too much. The writing is just as good as anything by Jared Diamond or Alfred Crosby. And rather than presenting his research like a lecture, Mann follows questions wherever they lead like a detective. And the trail leads everywhere -- the pirate coast of China, the trader bays of the Philippines, the rubber plantations of the upper Amazon, the mines of Peru. or the ruins of Christopher Columbus's house on the coast of Dominica. Why, Mann asks, did certain planters go toward a slave economy, and how was that shaped by the spread of malaria from the Old World? Mann follows the path of invasive species and crops as they spread through the world, causing booms or busts of economies and human populations. It's the story of the Homogenocene, the planet's new age of biological interpenetration of every environment, which for better or worse is our evolving reality since "contact" between the hemispheres.
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on 6 August 2012
Review of the paperback edition:

While the title appears to be nothing more than a marketing ploy to tie in with the author's earlier work, this is a remarkable easy to read narrative of the rise of global empires starting with the "discovery" of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. Focusing on the movement of people, ecology, and resources, the book looks at how Columbus' journey sparked off a process of globalisation, detailing how this happened - focusing on several examples such as the slave trade, potatoes, malaria, and rubber to name a few - and how its effects can still be felt in the present day.

The book has clearly been extensively researched - as see by the nearly 70 page bibliography (It is quite surprising, however, to see the works of David Day, and John Darwin missing from this list even though the author quite clearly engages with some of their arguments and covers overlapping areas) - and is supplemented throughout by personal testimonies (from local people, scientists, and historians) collected by the author. However, the work is poorly footnoted (even if it does contain nearly 70 pages of endnotes), and in numerous places one cannot determine the source of information that Mann has used. In addition, Mann relies extensively on quoting various historians and scientists whom he has had verbal or e-mail conversations with, considering this is a serious work one would have expected published works to be consulted and sourced for at least verifiability sake. In incorporating these discussions, Mann continually breaks up the flow of text to state "Historian/Scientist X told me ...", rather than better integrating their thoughts into the text and fully crediting them, quite rightly, in an endnote. In several sections Mann notes how pages of text rely mainly on one particular secondary source, and with few primary sources consulted throughout the work it feels, on the whole, that Mann is just reiterating other people's thoughts and arguments rather than presenting his own position.

It is, however, a result of this extensive research, and of the discussions the author has had with various authorities, that make this book so enlightening. The extensive information presented on the transfer of disease, people, resources, and plants and animals across continents is illuminating and extremely interesting. While each chapter deals with its own theme, they all share a similar design: various historical figures and events are linked together to tell the story, which is the theme of the chapter, stretching from the age of discovery to the present day. This approach provides fascinating and varied reading and highlights how events hundreds of years ago can still be impacting the world today. However, if one has read about the rise of global empires then entire sections of the book can feel like no new information is being presented.

There are a number of minor issues with this work. Due to Mann's writing style, containing a lot of first person narrative and slang usage (both of which have no place in a historical work), entire sections of the book feel like they could have been condensed as they are over-explained or contain detail that is just not needed. In places Mann displays a habit of including hyperbole claims to further his arguments, such as taking the War of Bavarian Succession out of context, and shows a nasty habit of referring to the 'United States' prior to its existence. While Mann acknowledges that 'Aztec' is a modern invention and should not be used (although Mann never refers to the then indigenous population as the Mexica), he ironically uses the modern politically correct spelling of 'Inka' throughout his work over the historically accepted 'Inca'. Additionally, during his chapter on the slave trade celebrating the various success slaves had at escaping and forming their own communities up and down the Americas, Mann does not balance out the issue and highlight that most - it would seem - never did escape, and those that did (outside of these more organised communities that he describes) when recaptured could and did receive extreme punishment, bordering on torture, in some plantations (See Trevor Burnard's work on the slave trade, another source that is not within Mann's bibliography). Finally, the photographs and maps are of very poor quality.

On the whole this is an excellent 'popular history', which brings some obscure historical theories, sources, and information to widespread viewing. The work feels like it lacks an overall argument, as well as Mann's point of view on the subjects he writes about. For those who have read anything on the rise of global empires - in part the story of the transport of people, resources, and disease - there may not be anything new for you in entire sections of the book; for those who are new to the subject then this work appears to be an excellent starting point. The work is not perfect, but provides a well-researched informative, entertaining, and educating read.
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on 10 June 2015
Columbus' discovery of the New World in 1492 was the catalyst for change across the world. Suddenly navigation made trade easier and conquest became a priority, with the European 'superpowers' of the time all wanting a piece of the action. This globalisation had other effects though, the transmission of disease, the development of alien crops and the bitter struggles against slavery.

This book is a fabulous read. Extensively researched and making widespread links it shows how man, mammon and nature were all affected by the Columbian Exchange. Travelling from Europe to the Americas to Asia, Mann tells the story of silver and malaria, and why African slaves were preferred to cheaper 'indentured' white workers. It explains how China changed as much as the Americas and why the seeds of current discord were sown many centuries before. A thrilling mix of history and economics, 1493 is clever and addictive.
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on 30 December 2015
This book represents volume 2 of Charles C. Mann's review of the Americas before and after Columbus's "discovery" of the western hemisphere.

In '1493' Mann takes the story on from the point of discovery to demonstrate how life in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas was alter as a result of the global trade which resulted between these continents. His central thesis, which is not an original one as he acknowledges, is that since Columbus set foot in the Caribbean, the world has lost its regional distinctiveness. This has led to progressive homogenisation across the planet throughout the last 500 years, a period of time he calls the Homogenocene.

The book covers a variety of wide ranging topics such as the Virginia colony, the effects of disease, cultivation of crops, China's obsession with silver, mosquito's and rubber. The book is structured by looking at the effect on different geographic areas such as Europe, the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The book however is too long. It lacks some of the focus and brevity of 1491. I found some of the stories he recounts are not as interesting as the author might think and I found myself flicking ahead to see how much of the chapter a particular topic covers.

Some of the maps are reproduced with font which makes them illegible.

Overall the book reads like a collection of magazine articles which have been elaborated which the statement inside the front cover that "portions of this book appeared in different form in The Atlantic, National Geographic et al" confirms. I tired of Mann repeatedly inserting comments where he introduced the name of researcher in a field who's account he drawing on. I know that you are a writer and not a specialist in the field. Just include a good bibliography.

If you have read 1491, then read this book to complete the story. If you don't mind reading a collection of magazine articles on a variety of subjects with the common theme of the effect on the world after Columbus, this book is for you. It is not a scholarly account though.
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on 13 January 2013
Mann gets off to a blistering start in this entertainingly written popular history but unfortunately is not able to sustain the quality in the second half.

The first few chapters describe what Mann calls the "Tobacco Coast" - the Jamestown settlement and its relationship with the American Indians. Mann is at his best here, explaining the details of malaria and the mosquitos who carried it, the politics of the Indian tribes and of the English emigrants. The next few chapters are equally good - there is a wonderful explanation of the Chinese monetary system and why for the first time the Chinese needed something from Europeans - silver. Equally interesting is his narrative on the spread of American crops such as sweet potato and potato in China and Ireland and their role in ecological disaster and in famine.

Thereafter, Mann gets a bit repetitive and moves away from the central thesis of the book. His chapter "Black Gold" on the spread of rubber trees to Indo-China, while interesting in its own right means a repetition of the points already made in relation to the potato. Respite is at hand with a good, balanced chapter on the causes and effects of the slave trade. But as the author runs out of things to say we lose the synthesis and analysis of theories on the Columbian exchanges and get bogged down in travelogue and unconnected, rather repetitive stories of (e.g.) maroon communities.

Throughout, Mann is balanced in explaining different points of view on globalisation - both its benefits and its costs. He writes more in the style of a journalist than a historian. Whether you find this attractive or not is a matter of taste. On the whole, I liked it but thought there was an avoidable tendency towards hyperbole on occasions.

The illustrations are well-chosen but come out badly in the paperback and in black and white. They may be better on the kindle.

All in all a decent and interesting read which would have been better at 400 pages than at 500. 3.5 stars which I'll round down because I'm mean.
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"We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." -- 1 John 5:19 (NKJV)

Don't miss this book! It's a tour de force!

In 1493, author Charles C. Mann accomplishes that most difficult of all nonfiction tasks: changing our perception of the world as it is . . . and how it got to be that way. Bravo!

To make the points easier to appreciate, he focuses on a few economic, biological, and physical aspects of how Columbus's voyages fundamentally changed the world. You'll learn about trading silver for silks in the Philippines, the influence of malaria and yellow fever on slavery, how crops and agricultural practices create other problems and opportunities, a sovereign debt crisis in Spain, hidden "kingdoms" of escaped slaves, miracle crops you think of as being part of "home" that you didn't realize came from another continent, and many stupid things that greedy people and governments do. You'll come away with a sense of wonder about how small things can become huge influences.

The book, no doubt, will also encourage you to want to read more about the topics raised in it. In some cases, you'll want to visit places you've never thought about before. The excellent footnotes will make either activity easy to pursue.

In my case, I realized what a close thing it was that I'm alive today. If my Scottish indentured servant ancestors had been sent to North Carolina rather than Delaware, you probably wouldn't be reading this review.
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on 19 February 2014
I have enjoyed this book tremendously. It is apparently an amplification of an earlier book on the same subject. Much of the information is mind blowing.
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on 18 May 2014
This is The single best book that I have ever read about the impact of the first voyages of the Spanish, on the New Work and on Asia and the related repercussions for Africa and Europe. It tells the tale of the first ever "globalisation" phenomenon. Brilliant indeed.
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on 17 October 2013
Amazing, enlightening and enthralling. Only trouble is I now have to read more! What an eye opening historically accurate factually based journey. I am about to purchase his earlier books to continue the journey.
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