1493: Uncovering The New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann

1493 book cover

Recommended by Doug Braudaway


I am a fan of big history, and 1493 is a great example of big history.

For me, big history is larger than American history and Texas history. Big history is the history of civilization and why the world is put together the way it is.

The main point of this work is the Columbian Exchange and its modern consequences. The Columbian Exchange is the transfer of people, plants and animals, and knowledge (and more) from one hemisphere to the other and back again. Before Columbus did his thing, North and South America were one world while Africa, Asia, and Europe were a separate world. The two sides of the planet might as well have been separate planets.

Not anymore.

We live in a global world in which something that originated in the Andes Mountains of South America are now called Irish potatoes and that staple of Italian cuisine, the tomato, is actually a native of Mesoamerica.

The journey of the potato from South America to Europe is part of Charles C. Mann's narrative. Other global journeys explained in the text are

  -sugar from Asia to the Americas,
  -rubber trees from South America to Asia (money doesn't grow on trees unless the trees are rubber trees),
  -wheat from Europe to North America,
  -silver from South America to the rest of the world,
  -slaves and malarial mosquito species from Africa to the Americas, and
  -guano from Pacific islands to North America (the US annexed over sixty islands to gain control of bird poo) and Europe transforming agriculture in the modern world.

Actually, all of these transfers have transformed the world in some way or several ways, literally creating life as we know it. And that is what big history is about. 1493 is well written, full of smaller stories embedded within the larger story, and is well worth reading.