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Friday, September 3, 2010

The Columbian Exchange by Alfred W. Crosby, Jr.~★★★★★

Author: Alfred W. Crosby, Jr.
Title: The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492
Publisher: Praeger, 30th Anniversary Edition,
Release Date: April 30th, 2003 (first release date was 1971).
Genre: Non-fiction, History

Book Cover: "Thirty years ago, Alfred Crosby published a small work that illuminated a simple point: the most important changes germinated by the voyages of Columbus were not social or political, but biological in nature. He told the story of how 1492 sparked the movement of organisms large and small is both directions across the Atlantic. This 'Columbian exchange' between the Old World and the New brought dramatic and irrevocable change to our entire planet's history.
The Columbian Exchange brought profound and lasting change to the field of history. It has become one of the foundational works in the burgeoning field of environmental history, and remains one of the canonical texts for the study of world history. This 30th anniversary edition of The Columbian Exchange includes a new preface from the author, reflecting on the books and its creation, and a new foreword by J.R. McNeill." 

Taryn's Review: This book was truly astounding in its breakthrough methods of combining numerous disciplines to come to conclusions that challenged the status quo. Crosby was a pioneer in bringing forth environmental history as a sub-field of history before it was accepted. Now Crosby's method is the norm in history and is the expected standard for historians. Historians can combine various disciplines and not just focus singular documents/disciplines to prove arguments.

Did you know the tomato was native to the Americas, not Europe? As Crosby pointed out, can you even fathom Italian cooking without tomatoes? Did you know potatoes were indigenous to the Americas as well? I think we've also all heard of Kentucky bluegrass, right? Well, until the Europeans brought it over, no such thing existed in the Americas. Many things that you may have considered "American" perhaps were not so until they became part of the Columbian exchange. Crosby had many examples of this, from flora to fauna that might revolutionize your views! In fact, Crosby himself was the one to coin the phrase, "The Columbian Exchange."

The biological aspect of two different peoples meeting for the first time were ultimately much more detrimental to the Indians than the Europeans. Smallpox epidemics raged, almost wiping out entire areas since the Indians had little-to-no immunities to the disease. This was also a primary reason the Europeans were able to gain control like they did, since the Indian populations were weakened by the biological warfare brought upon them, even if it not purposefully done so. An entire section of the book was also devoted to syphilis and its possible origins, as well as its horrendous impact on the Europeans (which in the new preface Crosby regrets spending so much time on). 

This book is incredibly readable and very interesting. If you have any type of interest in history at all, pick up Crosby and try it out. The book was broken down into 5 essays, so you can always select certain topics if one seems to suit you better. The next time you are out on a long drive, walk, or bicycle ride, this book might forever alter your view of the environment around you and make you realize the things you may have thought were American in origin perhaps are not!

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