Genre = History
Cristóbal Colón had germinated in the establishment of sustained network between different ecosystems. The Columbian Exchange is the blending of different ecosystems. It is about how people from distant lands shape the landscape, making it more suitable to their needs. This is a story of how the network shaped the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Africa. A network in which everyone shaped and were themselves shaped by diseases, food, monetary, trade, products, and slavery. The world is homogenizing as distant ecosystems become more alike.
Animals from the new world, cattle and sheep, prevented regrowth of native flora due to flat teeth. The introduction of the honeybee was even more ecologically impactful as it facilitated the spread of European flora which would have had hard time growing without the bees. Malaria traveled from Europe to the Americas and killed most of the native population of Americas, and most of those who came to the Americas. The settlements were having a hard time obtaining labor for their tobacco fields due the disease and cheap land. Indentured servants left for their own cheaply bought land. Slavery was an inefficient system but it was a way to keep the labor force on the land. American Indians sold slaves for guns. People brought from Africa were immune to malaria which created demand of slaves from Africa. Although tobacco was seen as a harmful substance, England did not want to ban it because it could be taxed. Those in Jamestown who grew tobacco paid off their debts and made incredible profits. The problem is that tobacco requires a lot of nutrients. Ruinous to the soil. Animals and plants brought from Europe made it easier for Europeans to remain in the Americas, but it made it far harder for every other American inhabitant.
Spain wanted to trade with China but did not have anything that China wanted nor did Spain want to negotiate with Islamic government who were their war adversaries. The Americas provided an opportunity to remove both obstacles as silver was in abundant supply which China sought, and a different route to get to China. The silver mines of Potosi were to supply Spain and China for a while. Spain used the local Andean people as a labor force, who were efficient because of their tradition of communal work. The mining process was hazardous to health. China and Spain both were unable to utilize the increased supply for the same reason, they collected the same amount of silver in tax as before the increased supply. The increased supply reduced the value of silver, generating reduced revenue. The silver for silk and porcelain fueled the continuous trade network.
Populations are limited by their ability to produce food. Much of Europe had hunger most of the time, until the introduction of the potato. The potato increased the amount of calories that people ate which reduced hunger and increased the population. Lack of hunger also produced political stability. Mann observes that it was that potato that facilitated the rise of the West. The rise of the potato also increased the supply of fertilizer which was bird guano collected by Andean Indians. The potato was a cheap food to produce but the potato taken to the West was of a very limited variety, mostly composed of a single species. The problem is that it made the food supply vulnerable to fungus which destroy the potato. Whipping out much of Ireland's food supply, which was not able to purchase foreign food. In an attempt to fight the blight, chemicals were used to destroy the fungus. Chemicals which had many harmful effects.
Before the Columbian Exchange, sugar was a rarity only found in few kitchens of nobles. To grow sugar required a massive labor force which lead to the need of slaves. Slavery was common in the world. Islamic and Christian societies accepted slavery as long as the slaves did not come from their own communities. Initially, Indians could not be legitimately enslaved because they did not reject Christianity as they did not know of Christianity. Conquest was permitted for the purpose of bringing salvation. The problem is that those who went to the Americas had more interest in obtaining labor than in evangelization. The Spanish monarchy recognized the cruelty done to Indians and created laws to protect them from the conquistadors, but the laws were easily subverted. Slaves themselves were not as easily controlled as the authorities thought they would be, but some people accepted slavery rather than extermination. Slaves were than taken from Africa to supply the increased sugar production.
This book has a lot of depth to the topics under observation. The details can at times be too much, making reading the topic a bit tedious. Mann does not simply events as the complexity of the situation is provided from various aspects. There is a theme that the world has become more homogeneous, but that may be extreme as cities and states from Europe and Asia were vastly different from others even though they have been in contact for a while before the introduction of trade with the Americas. As the book shows, life in many places changed drastically from the introduction of new foods or diseases or cultural oddities. The blending of world diversity has changed the world.
Pages to read: 529
1st Edition: 2011
Ratings out of 5: