Review: "1493" by Charles C. Mann

  • Posted on: 7 November 2016
  • By: TedG

Seven of us met at that the Rivers to discuss Charles Mann’s 1493, his sequel to the well-received 1491. Mann is ambitious; he takes on nothing less than the roots and consequences of globalization and does so from the perspectives of historian, economist, and sociologist.

Mann traces the roots of globalization from the time of Columbus’ first journey to the new world to the present “Homogenocene” in which cultures, economies, and indeed, families are mixes of many cultural influences. Mann shows that the Columbian Exchange––what the new world brought to the old and the old to the new––brought major economic, ecological, and biological consequences throughout the world.

Some of the key products (along with their unanticipated consequences) were: tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, silver, sugar, rubber, and guano. Some of the consequences included: the massive exchange of food crops (particularly potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn), which allowed European populations to grow at an exponential rate and ultimately led to Europe’s world dominance and the industrial revolution; the rise of slavery, particularly slavery of African populations in the new world, taking the place of indentured servitude until the late 19th century; the exchange of insects, microorganisms, and animals including malaria, yellow fever, honey bees and horses, the first of which made the tropical interiors virtually uninhabitable by white populations (who then depended on black slaves to do the vast bulk of the agricultural, construction and mining work); and access to rubber, minerals, and other natural resources that led to the industrial revolution and it’s concomitant ecological degradation.

In the end, readers were, on average, tepid about the book, finding his first book, 1491, much more to their liking. The general feeling was that Mann packed way too much information and detail into the book to make it an enjoyable read. It was variously described as a “chore” or “like being back in school studying for a test.” Interestingly however, the “interest” scores were invariably higher than the “readability” scores. Again, readability suffered from too much detail, excessive length, and tangents that seemed at best marginally related to the points being made.

Average scores (1–5 scale) were 2.75 for readability and 3.3 for interest. Four said they would read another book by Mann, one said no, and 3 said maybe.