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This review is from: Seeds of Change: Five Plants That Transformed Mankind (Paperback)
In the 1980s, I wrote the first book to identify plants as an important cause of change in History. In 1985, this was published in London as Seeds of Change. (The title was thought up by my editors). The book, greeted as an unusual, readable and fresh approach to history, was in the end translated into a dozen languages. It was published in New York in 1986 and lent its theme and title to the Smithsonian Institution for the Quincentennial Exposition of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492. The Exposition, at the Natural History Museum in Washington (1992), turned into an icon for Political Correctness, being anachronistic, against the spirit of the conquistadors and alien to the message of the book, which tried to reflect the spirit of the contemporary post-Renaissance world, not the guilt of modern people living within the Washington Beltway.
The secondary title of Seeds of Change was Five Plants that Transformed Mankind and these were Quinine, that allowed Europeans to dominate the Tropics; Sugar, that changed the Caribbean population from Red Arawaks and Caribs to White Masters and Black Slaves; Tea, that inter alia, led to the destruction of classical China through the use by traders of opium in exchange for tea; cotton, that, like sugar in the Caribbean, led to a slave-economy in the Southern United States; and finally, the Potato, which produced huge increases in the Irish population and, when disease struck the potato, famine followed as did the greening of some of the United States.
The Seeds of Change Exposition in Washington in 1992 extended the story of transfer to the New World of Old World diseases and animals. There was also the Eastward move of some of the plants of the Americas to Europe, such as the tomato, without which it is hard to imagine modern Mediterranean cuisine. Despite efforts to be visitor-friendly, I thought the Exposition, that used, by agreement, my ideas and my title, lacked authority and integrity, largely because its guiding hands were not those of historians, but of anthropologists and of practitioners of other, even more modish disciplines, who had an agenda of their own, derived from the Washington of 1992, not that of Europe of 1492.
The Exposition spawned a large, illustrated book, also called Seeds of Change, with Herman J Viola as the author. All the other twenty-odd books with the same title stem from the Exposition.
My own, the original, Seeds of Change, went through many printings and has always remained available in London. A new edition has an extra chapter: Coca: how an Andean boon became a scourge on the streets, which tells the story of the Andean use of coca leaves and of the abuse of the modern concentrate, cocaine, which has harmed so many.
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