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Thirty years ago, Alfred Crosby published a small work that illuminated a simple point, that the most important changes brought on by the voyages of Columbus were not social or political, but biological in nature. The book told the story of how 1492 sparked the movement of organisms, both large and small, in both directions across the Atlantic. This Columbian exchange, bet Thirty years ago, Alfred Crosby published a small work that illuminated a simple point, that the most important changes brought on by the voyages of Columbus were not social or political, but biological in nature. The book told the story of how 1492 sparked the movement of organisms, both large and small, in both directions across the Atlantic. This Columbian exchange, between the Old World and the New, changed the history of our planet drastically and forever. The book The Columbian Exchange changed the field of history drastically and forever as well. It has become one of the foundational works in the burgeoning field of environmental history, and it 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 book and its creation, and a new foreword by J. R. McNeill that demonstrates how Crosby established a brand new perspective for understanding ecological and social events. As the foreword indicates, The Columbian Exchange remains a vital book, a small work that contains within the inspiration for future examinations into what happens when two peoples, separated by time and space, finally meet.


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Thirty years ago, Alfred Crosby published a small work that illuminated a simple point, that the most important changes brought on by the voyages of Columbus were not social or political, but biological in nature. The book told the story of how 1492 sparked the movement of organisms, both large and small, in both directions across the Atlantic. This Columbian exchange, bet Thirty years ago, Alfred Crosby published a small work that illuminated a simple point, that the most important changes brought on by the voyages of Columbus were not social or political, but biological in nature. The book told the story of how 1492 sparked the movement of organisms, both large and small, in both directions across the Atlantic. This Columbian exchange, between the Old World and the New, changed the history of our planet drastically and forever. The book The Columbian Exchange changed the field of history drastically and forever as well. It has become one of the foundational works in the burgeoning field of environmental history, and it 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 book and its creation, and a new foreword by J. R. McNeill that demonstrates how Crosby established a brand new perspective for understanding ecological and social events. As the foreword indicates, The Columbian Exchange remains a vital book, a small work that contains within the inspiration for future examinations into what happens when two peoples, separated by time and space, finally meet.

30 review for The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492

  1. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is the classic study that has now become a key part of every American and World History class at both the high school and college levels. And he could only get the Greenwood Press in Westport, CT to publish it at first! I wonder how much money they have made off taking a chance on this book back in the 70s. This must have sold hundreds of thousands of copies to undergrads by now. Crazy as it seems, Crosby was really the first to lay out this argument that the most important thing about Colu This is the classic study that has now become a key part of every American and World History class at both the high school and college levels. And he could only get the Greenwood Press in Westport, CT to publish it at first! I wonder how much money they have made off taking a chance on this book back in the 70s. This must have sold hundreds of thousands of copies to undergrads by now. Crazy as it seems, Crosby was really the first to lay out this argument that the most important thing about Columbus was the biological revolution he touched off. All the New World plants that took the Old World by storm (potatoes, corn, manioc) and caused huge population booms, and Old World animals, plants and diseases that wreaked havoc on the New World. Crosby includes this whole section on blood type and genetics, arguing that because Native Americans were descended from a relatively small group of migrants from Asia, they were pretty homogeneous genetically. Like 90% of Native Americans were blood type O, for example. Which meant that virgin soil epidemics of Eurasian/African diseases would be particularly devastating. Crosby also points out positives though - Native Americans in central North America and parts of South America adopted the horse really fast, and this allowed them to resist Europeans for many generations. Crosby also starts getting into the argument that he would flesh out later in "Ecological Imperialism" - Europeans replicated their familiar biological regime in the New World, creating Neo-Europes, except it was even better than the Old World. Less people, TONS of domesticated pigs and cattle, which meant that people who came to the Neo-Europes ate more meat than anyone else in the world. So millions of people migrate to the New World, populations boom all over the place, and the West becomes super powerful. Steaks!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Vicky Hunt

    Our Daily Potato O Creator! Lord of the ends of the earth! Oh, most merciful! Thou who givest life to all things, and hast made men that they might live, and eat and multiply. Multiply also the fruits of the earth, the papas [potatoes], and other food that thou hast made that men may not suffer from hunger and misery. – A native Peruvian prayer The Columbian Exchange is a well written history that is readable and fascinating, and it has a unifying idea that ties the whole book together. The author Our Daily Potato O Creator! Lord of the ends of the earth! Oh, most merciful! Thou who givest life to all things, and hast made men that they might live, and eat and multiply. Multiply also the fruits of the earth, the papas [potatoes], and other food that thou hast made that men may not suffer from hunger and misery. – A native Peruvian prayer The Columbian Exchange is a well written history that is readable and fascinating, and it has a unifying idea that ties the whole book together. The author makes a key statement near the beginning of the book, which was taken by me to refer to one set of facts. It seems he intended it that way, though he was setting you up for the big reveal in the final chapter, where that factual statement is repeated. But, this time, with all the information you have been given, it is now obvious that it has a much deeper meaning. This unifying idea is really an expansion of the idea of the Columbian exchange that took place when the oceans became highways connecting the continents. So, you think you have the idea of the book all packaged up in that neat little title that not only sums the book up so well, but has become a buzzword itself to explain the whole process. But, it goes much deeper than the surface. And, I won’t spoil that for anyone who plans to read it himself. But, there are many more of the details to share from this book. "America is so truly “different from Europe, Asia and Africa in the living habits of its people, the forms of its animals, and, in general, in that which the earth produces, that it can well be called the new world." ”Migration of man and his maladies is the chief cause of epidemics. And when migration takes place, those creatures who have been longest in isolation suffer most, for their genetic material has been least tempered by the variety of world diseases… few of the first rank killers among the diseases are native to the Americas.” These immigrant diseases soon took a heavy toll, and the tribal leadership of the Americas was devastated. The survivors suffered a crisis in leadership when their leaders, such as Huayna Capac and his heirs, all died. Everyone above a certain age in many villages died. The surviving young had no one to lead them. The book travels from the Conquistadors and pestilence, to the transplanting of animals and crops to the New World. The author paints a vivid picture of the ‘biological explosion’ that took place. Horses brought by the Spanish, and arriving in the grasslands of the Llanos multiplied unbelievably fast, unlike ever before in history. They soon filled the new continent; swelling to great numbers on the temperate grasslands of the pampas in Argentina and Uruguay, and northwards into Mexico. By the time the North American settlers arrived to the Prairie grasslands that stretched from the heart of Mexico into Canada, the Native Americans had all but given up their feeble attempts to till the soil with stone tools and taken to hunting from horseback. Similar results were achieved with sheep, cattle, and pigs; none of which were native to the Americas. Though sheep didn’t as readily go wild, cattle, pigs, and even dogs and cats were soon in the wild spreading at a rapid rate in a land where they had no natural predators and food was readily available. The Europeans found the rich loam of the grasslands, which had been allowed to enrichen for centuries, a fertile resource under their plows. This technology, along with the herding power of the horse, soon transformed the landscape of the Northern and Southern Americas. Alfred Crosby then flips the tables on this Columbian exchange; recounting the evidence for and against the main three theories of the origin of Syphilis that were current at the time of writing of this book (30 years ago): The Columbian Theory, the Mutation theory, and the Unitarian theory. Syphilis was the only epidemic disease at that time that had a historically known origin point. Everything else had been with us from before recorded history, and just had re-occurrences. It hit Europe in 1493. The author points out all the evidence for the Columbian theory, such as the fact that there are no pre-Columbian Syphilitic corpses in Europe or the Old World. But, many have been found in the Americas from before Columbus. He then moves into the topic of food and shows how the population explosion began concurrently with the transplanting of New World Crops to the Old World. America had a number of crops that could grow easily in almost any soil. I enjoyed this section as much as I did the section on the biological explosion of the animals. It is fascinating to know that the foods we consider Southern home cooking are eaten here because they are native to the Americas. Maize (corn,) frijole (pinto) beans, and squash were part of the trade markets coming from Mexico and Central America into North America before Columbus. (This last fact I’d learned recently from other books that were founded on this remarkable work.) Aside from the nonfoods which the native Americans gave humanity, such as tobacco, rubber, and certain cottons; Maize, Pumpkin, Beans of many kinds, Papaya, Guava, Peanuts, Avocado, Potato, Pineapple, Sweet potato, Tomato, Manioc (also called cassava and tapioca,) Chile pepper, Squashes, and Cocoa all originated here in the ‘New World.’ Some countries, like Ireland, quickly took to potatoes to ease mass hunger. Other European countries were slower to accept this native diet. But, today Russia is the largest producer of potatoes in the world. And, manioc is a staple crop in the tropics all around the earth often in places where nothing else will grow. The lima, sieva, Rangoon, Madagascar, butter, Burma, pole, curry, kidney, French, navy, haricot, snap, string, common, and frijole bean are all American beans. American beans are especially rich in protein, as well as in oils and carbohydrates, and so they are called the ‘poor man's meat.’ No large group of the human race in the Old World was quicker to adopt American food plants than the Chinese. While men who stormed Tenochtitlán with Cortés still lived, peanuts were swelling in the sandy loams near Shanghai; maize was turning fields green in south China and the sweet potato was on its way to becoming the poor man's staple in Fukien. It seems more likely that the number of human beings on this planet today would be a good deal smaller but for the horticultural skills of the neolithic American. What made these transplanted crops such a boon for the rest of the world is that they did not compete with crops currently being grown and could be planted in fields that would otherwise have lain fallow. This created more food, since the potato produces several times as much food per unit of land as wheat or any other grain. Babies may not come from cabbage (or potato) patches, but fed people live to adulthood to reproduce. ”The importance of American foods in Africa is more obvious than in any other continent of the Old World, for in no other continent, except the Americas themselves, is so great a proportion of the population so dependent on American foods. Very few of man's cultivated plants originated in Africa. Practically none of the jungle food crops are native to Africa. Nigeria, for instance, raises more manioc than any other food.” One last fact I found surprising was that Moldavian peasants make white lightning or moonshine as it is known here in the South using corn mash. Romanians raised wheat and maize, the former to export, the latter to eat. Maize, which pairs so well with wheat in crop rotation, enabled Romania to become one of Europe's breadbaskets. Mamaliga, a maize porridge, became and remains the Moldavian peasant's staff of life, “the principle or sole item of every meal.” And when the same peasant celebrates, he drinks spirits made from maize, even as the Tennessee mountaineer. I read this book in the Kindle format for my Fall read, a time of the year when I especially enjoy reading about the discovery of the New World. I first read of some of Alfred Crosby’s ideas in other books on environmental history, since his book is a foundational study on the topic. As much as I enjoyed Guns, Germs, and Steel and The Viral Storm, They only gave the half of the story. It was so much more enjoyable reading the full work here in Crosby’s Columbian Exchange. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in history, and in the world today, although it may be a book you will prefer to borrow from the library since it is higher priced like many textbooks. It doesn’t read at all like a textbook though. It is very simple reading, and filled with information. More quotations from the book follow: The fact that Kentucky bluegrass, daisies, and dandelions, to name only three out of hundreds, are Old World in origin gives one a hint of the magnitude of the change that began in 1492 and continues in the twentieth century. Both the horses and diseases moved through the virgin lands of America faster than did the people who had brought them to the New World. ...the Spanish-American settlers were probably consuming more meat per man than any other large group of non-nomadic people in the world. In fact, the Europeans in America have only rarely experienced famine and, taking plant and animal foods together, have possibly been the best-fed people in the world, a fact that has motivated more people to migrate to the New World than all the religious and ideological forces combined. The importation of the horse, ass, and ox brought about a revolution in the quantity of power available to man in the New World similar to that which Watt's steam engine brought to late eighteenth-century Europe. The ox and plow combination enabled a few men to cultivate very large areas of land—extensive cultivation—which became more and more important as the Indian population declined and with it the quantities of foodstuffs produced by the techniques of intensive cultivation. It is quite likely that soil erosion in the New World accelerated after the arrival of the Europeans. ...when the hoarded riches of the grasslands were gone, the increase of the herds halted or proceeded at a pace now more arithmetical than geometrical. This wild oscillation of the balance of nature happens again whenever an area previously isolated is opened to the rest of the world. But possibly it will never be repeated in as spectacular a fashion as in the Americas in the first post-Columbian century, not unless there is, one day, an exchange of life forms between planets.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    Smallpox, Syphilis, Swine, and Spuds This is a short but highly original book whose title became a term used all over the world in referring to the biological and cultural exchange of products, microbes, and people after Columbus’ “discovery” in 1492. Written in a casual, sometimes humorous style, Crosby deals with big issues. What was the impact of European animals, plants, and microbes on the New World after Columbus accidently arrived in the Bahamas? Globalization really began at that point, t Smallpox, Syphilis, Swine, and Spuds This is a short but highly original book whose title became a term used all over the world in referring to the biological and cultural exchange of products, microbes, and people after Columbus’ “discovery” in 1492. Written in a casual, sometimes humorous style, Crosby deals with big issues. What was the impact of European animals, plants, and microbes on the New World after Columbus accidently arrived in the Bahamas? Globalization really began at that point, though we speak about it as if it were a recent trend. What about the impact of new products and microbes on the Old World in return? Environment and human impact on it is all over the Internet, in the daily news, and sometimes staring us in the face. Back in 1972, people had not thought so much about it. Disease conquered the Americas, not the handful of Europeans who brought it. Syphilis spread to every corner of the world until the advent of penicillin. Cows, horses, and to a lesser degree pigs and donkeys, enabled the wealth of the two invaded continents to be developed, increased, and brought out. Wild cattle and horses multiplied incredibly in a short period. People who could turn them into meat, hides, and transportation changed their lives completely, whether they were Indian or European. Corn and potatoes meant greater populations in Europe. Corn became the staple food of places as widespread as Albania, Malawi, and parts of China. Overall, though we the individuals alive today might be enjoying mangoes, tapioca, chocolate, or corn, peanuts or pork chops, the Columbian Exchange signaled the beginning of our present Era of Extinction. So many plants and animals have been driven off the face of the earth to make way for their “more desirable” replacements. It continues: the Indonesian jungle is burned to make way for oil palms, the Amazon jungle is burned so that cows can graze or soybeans can make their way to China. The bulldozer is King. As Crosby concludes, “The Columbian Exchange has left us with not a richer but a more impoverished genetic pool. We, all the life on this planet, are the less for Columbus, and the impoverishment will increase.” A very far-sighted comment from 47 years ago.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mark Bowles

    A. Summary: This book examines the way that the world has changed since the Columbus voyage. The approach is “anthropomedical” emphasizing the biological and social consequences. The thesis is that the most important consequence was biological (decimation of a people, introduction of new plant and animal life (including Africans and Europeans) to America). His conclusion is that this Columbian exchange has left us with not a richer but a more impoverished genetic pool B. Disease consequences 1. Th A. Summary: This book examines the way that the world has changed since the Columbus voyage. The approach is “anthropomedical” emphasizing the biological and social consequences. The thesis is that the most important consequence was biological (decimation of a people, introduction of new plant and animal life (including Africans and Europeans) to America). His conclusion is that this Columbian exchange has left us with not a richer but a more impoverished genetic pool B. Disease consequences 1. The isolation of America from the rest of the world (after the fall of the Bering Strait) placed it in a vulnerable position for infectious diseases. 2. Conquistadors brought smallpox with them that decimated Mexico. 3. Syphilis: 2 theories of introduction a) Columbian theory: Columbus brought it back to Europe from a Caribbean Island b) Unitarian theory: Syphilis always existed but manifested in different cultural forms. c) There is no resolution between these theories but there were devastating social consequences d) People became wary of strangers, public baths died out, as did the common drinking cup and the kiss in greeting. Relations between men and women suffered as suspicion became a component of sex. C. Demographic consequences (New World influences Old World) 1. The most single impressive biological development in this millennium is the post-Columbian population growth 2. Human population doubled from 1650 to 1850 3. The American food sources contributed to this with the introduction of maize, potato, tomato, peanuts, and beans 4. This contributed to population growth in all parts of the world D. The introduction of old world plants and animals (Old World influences New World) 1. This introduction was one of the greatest biological revolutions of all time 2. Food: included banana, sugar, wheat, and wine 3. Plants: Kentucky blue grass, daises, dandelions 4. Animals: Horse, pigs, cattle, sheep, and unintentionally rats 5. The plants and food did not influence the Indians diet but he did make great use of the new livestock 6. Today it is impossible to find a field with all indigenous North American plants growing

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dan Allosso

    For environmental historians, Alfred Crosby's The Columbian Exchange is one of those books that must be read. Although the book is now 43 years old and contains some outdated information (for example, Crosby based much of his argument on blood types because DNA analysis wasn’t yet available), the basic idea has stood the test of time. Crosby’s thesis is summed up in the title, which has entered the language as a short-hand descriptor for the idea that “the most important changes brought about by For environmental historians, Alfred Crosby's The Columbian Exchange is one of those books that must be read. Although the book is now 43 years old and contains some outdated information (for example, Crosby based much of his argument on blood types because DNA analysis wasn’t yet available), the basic idea has stood the test of time. Crosby’s thesis is summed up in the title, which has entered the language as a short-hand descriptor for the idea that “the most important changes brought about by the Columbian voyages were biological in nature.” There’s pretty widespread agreement on the significance of biological change after European contact with the Americas, although not all the people who use Crosby’s term agree with him that the interaction of the old world and the new “has left us with not a richer but a more impoverished genetic pool” (xiv, 219). I've been using a reading from this book in my EnvHist class the past couple of years. I may be changing to a passage from 1491 next time, but I still think The Columbian Exchange is a founding text of Environmental History. More: http://danallosso.me/2015/09/07/the-c...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    This is thoroughly soaked in patriarchy. It was written in 1972, so that isn't a shock. The writing style isn't bad and the research is not terrible, if a little lacking in specialty. (Crosby acknowledges this at the start, though I am not sure he fully grasps the pitfalls.) However, there are so many authors who have dealt with related topics better - Walter Rodney, Jared Diamond, Charles Mann - and knowing that makes Crosby very frustrating. To be fair, all of those better writers have probabl This is thoroughly soaked in patriarchy. It was written in 1972, so that isn't a shock. The writing style isn't bad and the research is not terrible, if a little lacking in specialty. (Crosby acknowledges this at the start, though I am not sure he fully grasps the pitfalls.) However, there are so many authors who have dealt with related topics better - Walter Rodney, Jared Diamond, Charles Mann - and knowing that makes Crosby very frustrating. To be fair, all of those better writers have probably read Crosby, but that may be a reason that I didn't need to.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sean Chick

    This book changed my perspective on history, moving me away from the personal and popular as dominant and keeping in mind the bigger picture. Still one of the all time best.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marla McMackin

    Crosby’s goal is to illuminate the point that the most important changes brought on by the Columbian voyages were biological in nature. He uses historical, cultural and medical resources to prove that the world was irrevocably changed, in general to the detriment of the New World and benefit of the Old. In the first of six essays, Crosby describes how these two worlds developed in isolation, and then focuses on the profound impact they had on each other through the exchange of plants, animals an Crosby’s goal is to illuminate the point that the most important changes brought on by the Columbian voyages were biological in nature. He uses historical, cultural and medical resources to prove that the world was irrevocably changed, in general to the detriment of the New World and benefit of the Old. In the first of six essays, Crosby describes how these two worlds developed in isolation, and then focuses on the profound impact they had on each other through the exchange of plants, animals and diseases. The concept of biological warfare in this context shouldn’t be new to anyone who reads this book today. Therefore, Crosby doesn’t have to convince the reader of much in terms of the catastrophic impact of smallpox and other diseases on the native population, or how it cleared the way for European settlement. Crosby’s use of a quote from Francisco de Aguilar best sums up how the phenomena was viewed by Europeans: “When the Christians were exhausted from war, God saw fit to send the Indians smallpox” (p. 48). Crosby goes on illustrate a plague that crossed the New World, shaping it to the wants and needs of the Europeans, with the importation of Old World plants and animals. This not only wiped out entire ecosystems, but also changed the culture of the native populations that survived the epidemics. Crosby then turns his view to the Old World, outlining the syphilis epidemics that began at end of the fifteenth century. He explores the origin of this disease and seemingly wants the reader to believe it was a cosmic reprisal for European misdeeds in the New World, but doesn’t prove that it originated in there. I’m not convinced it was anything but an accident of justice. Crosby himself admits the “field is still wide open for those who wish to theorize about the origin of syphilis” (p. 147). Next, Crosby focuses on the benefits the connection of these two worlds had on the New, specifically how the adoption of Old World staples allowed for population growth. From region to region across the Old World, he makes clear connection between the introduction of Old World staple crops and population growth. He also credits Old World horticulturists for producing some of the most important of all food plants and asserts that, without them, the number of humans on the planet would be a good deal smaller. Crosby then concludes the work with a short examination of how the Columbian exchange continues, with more disease, invasive species, immigration and profits for Europe. He ends on what he calls a note of pessimism, stating that overall the connection of these two worlds was bad for humanity. “The Columbian exchange has left us with not a richer but a more impoverished genetic pool. We, all of the life on this plant, are the less for Columbus, and the impoverishment will increase” (p. 219). At least six reviews of this work’s first edition were positive. Philip D. Curtin of the University of Wisconsin called it a synthesis in depth, likely to add to any specialist’s knowledge over the whole range of historical human ecology. Donald B. Cooper of Ohio State University failed to discover a single historical or scientific error of any consequence. In a 2003 review of a later edition, Frederick H. Kiers of the University of California credits Crosby with putting ecological history on the map, adding that the pioneering text not only awakened, inspired and challenged a generation of readers, but should also prove more relevant as the pace of global exchange continues to increase. While it would have been impossible for Europeans to grasp the cruel impact they were about to have on the New World, Crosby makes one thing very clear: No living thing was safe once Columbus stepped ashore on October 12, 1492. As to whether or not the benefits of this exchange on the Old World outweigh the possible long-term damage humanities genetic potential, no one will probably ever know. Maybe at some point we will prove to be another life form’s New World, and Crosby’s point will be moot.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Adam Orford

    Reviewing Barnard’s The Functions of the Executive, William Cooper called it “seminal rather than definitive.” The same can be said for Crosby’s amazing and deeply incomplete Columbian Exchange. As a seminal work of environmental history, and for identifying the contribution that knowledge of ecology could make to the study - and indeed completion - of world history, Crosby has to be celebrated. But in every other regard the book has been superseded. Even Crosby himself did better with his next Reviewing Barnard’s The Functions of the Executive, William Cooper called it “seminal rather than definitive.” The same can be said for Crosby’s amazing and deeply incomplete Columbian Exchange. As a seminal work of environmental history, and for identifying the contribution that knowledge of ecology could make to the study - and indeed completion - of world history, Crosby has to be celebrated. But in every other regard the book has been superseded. Even Crosby himself did better with his next book, and the explosion of scholarship and data available to inform the narrative require ignoring this work’s details in order to appreciate it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bill Greer

    Read 25th anniversary edition and its still relevant

  11. 4 out of 5

    Madison

    Gave me a profound understanding of history and of the colonization of the Americas. I believe every highschool student in the USA should read this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    For all its many strengths, Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange was, for me, a read that was occasionally as subtly vexing as it was for his contemporaries at the time of its initial publication in the 1960s. This is not at all to suggest that the work was in any way indicative of a faulty scholarship on the part of its author, or that the material was methodologically problematic. The material presented was utterly enthralling, and I found myself quite engaged by the author’s garrulous tone For all its many strengths, Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange was, for me, a read that was occasionally as subtly vexing as it was for his contemporaries at the time of its initial publication in the 1960s. This is not at all to suggest that the work was in any way indicative of a faulty scholarship on the part of its author, or that the material was methodologically problematic. The material presented was utterly enthralling, and I found myself quite engaged by the author’s garrulous tone (his “verve” to crib from McNeill’s foreword to the thirtieth anniversary edition [xiii]). Indeed, with each new revelation regarding some hitherto unexplored aspect of the moment of colonial contact between “Old” and “New” Worlds, I was ever more enticed to see how he might develop its significance. Yet, as engaging as it was, as provocative as it was, I would inevitably catch myself wondering, “is this really a history text?” This makes for what I consider to be a rather strong point of intellectual ingress with the project: how do we define a history as such? Does Crosby's preoccupation with incubation periods of smallpox (46), or the proliferation of genetic dispersal patterns of populations of type-O blood (23) disqualify the work here from reaching the rarified landscape of "history" as such? Still, the question is not necessarily a groundbreaking one, for again, it was one that Crosby was subject to before. We might also note that, in as far as overall usefulness is concerned, whether or not a monograph conforms to the strictures of a given discipline is much less important now than it might have been in decades past. Interdisciplinarity is something to be looked at now with favour, rather than the disdain of bygone days. The times and the vicissitudes of the field, it seems, have served to vindicate Crosby. McNiell's foreword highlights the ubiquity of the very phrase, "Columbian exchange" within the common parlance of the contemporary historical discourse of imperialism in the so-called "New World" (xii). What we see here is, very literally, an exemplar of the very sort of history that John Gaddis identified in his The Landscape of History, in that the work clearly demonstrates the historical nature of science (to say nothing of the "scientific" nature of history). Contextualising the presence of microscopic and vertebrate fauna, to say nothing of the biological impact of importation of various and sundry types of flora, does much to provide a fuller picture of what was going on at the time of imperial contact than simply conquistadors overpowering the indigenes. The struggle was never simply a military contest, and Crosby sets the precedent (whilst building upon the work of earlier scholars) of providing this much-needed historical addition to the grand narrative of subjugation by force of arms. Indeed, The Columbian Exchange presents a supplementary narrative that tells the story of a much more comprehensive subjugation of the New World by the Old. Rather than simply a tale of social and cultural systems of indigenous peoples being dominated by invading Europeans, herein we see the partial subjugation of ecosystems by foreign agents. The introduction of Old World foodstuffs, nuisance creatures, and even grasses--to say nothing of pathogens--literally set the stage for the incoming waves of colonists that would fundamentally change the continents of North and South America. Crosby's narrative is not completely bleak, though; the contact between worlds here is one of exchange after all. Thus, his discussion of syphilis in the chapter, "The Early History of Syphilis: A Reappraisal," in particular stood out as a fascinating contradiction of the total submission of the New World to the Old. The exchange of this disease stands in marked contrast to the smallpox pandemic that dominates a considerable portion of the earlier chapter entitled “Conquistador y Pestilencia” in terms of the implied impact of pathogen on the affected population. The fact that the discussion of a disease of the Western hemisphere afflicted the East at all, though, is an element of the history that frequently goes without commented. This treatment of syphilis was actually one of the book's most salient features, not only because of this comparatively under-discussed reversal of Trans-Atlantic trade in pathogenic microbes, but also because it engages directly with the most “uniquely ‘historical’” of mankind’s maladies (123). The author dissects and backtracks the disease’s possible origins, critiquing the then prominent theories of a European genesis. Following the disease eastward across the Old World by virtue of how it was named--the "French Disease" in Germany, the "German Disease" in Poland, the "Polish Disease" in Russia, and so on (124-5)--was an exceptionally clever bit of historical detective work that we might backtrack to points of disembarkation from ships in from the colonies. But Crosby is never one to simply settle on the circumstantial, and so, goes further. He positions his "reappraisal" of the genealogy of syphilis between a discourse of Euro-genesis and one of American-genesis. He challenges the notion of European origins, but presents the evidence that proponents of this theory utilise in their scholarship. The result is a comprehensive historicisation of the disease that straddles epidemiology and close readings of various documents. We can laud Crosby for the strength of his foreword thinking interdisciplinary approach, but as he himself admits, the work was a product of its times. Bleeding-edge though parts of it are, it still antedates some of the more significant upheavals in academia in terms of area studies and identity politics. He acknowledges the limits of his access to information regarding Africa and its role in the exchange (though he does speak to this in the conclusion), but more than that, we might ask questions regarding his work's accessibility to gendered readings of history (213). Also, the correction of "men/mankind" to a less gendered expression, "humanity" is well and good (xvii), but I might have liked to see how issues of gender might have factored into the discussions of syphilis. For a social disease of that nature, I was intrigued by how utterly sterile he was able to render his analysis of it; identifying the disease's neurological and physiological components in the normative male victim is one thing, but to present evidence on how the women of Europe dealt with it, and how this might or might not have influenced sexual behaviours in the "Old World" might have presented a much more comprehensive view (though the discussion of epidemics of syphilis during wartime and the social rationale for such was certainly a good start [149-50]). Overall, though, the work stands as a thoroughly solid text that has weathered well the slings and arrows of those who might seek to force it to conform to a more "orthodox" approach to history (whatever that might look like). As stated above, I was well and truly engaged in the reading, and gained considerable insight into the various aspects of the biology of the moment of imperial contact between Europe and America. It might not have necessarily fit to my conception of a history monograph, with its frequent forays into evolutionary biology and epidemiology; however, to have my experience with the field thus broadened, and to see actual evidence of Gaddis' claims about the similarities between history and these other fields was unequivocally a beneficial step in my growth as an historian.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    This book is very well written, and a great resource on the New World and Old World. It was fairly easy to read, and covered most of the main topics to be discussed in these areas. And despite its pessimistic tone, I felt it dealt with the subjects neutrally as a whole. However, I did have a few problems with it. One thing I found was that the author seems to be overly biased when it comes to the areas of religion, which I felt was rather unneeded when it came to the subject matter in this speci This book is very well written, and a great resource on the New World and Old World. It was fairly easy to read, and covered most of the main topics to be discussed in these areas. And despite its pessimistic tone, I felt it dealt with the subjects neutrally as a whole. However, I did have a few problems with it. One thing I found was that the author seems to be overly biased when it comes to the areas of religion, which I felt was rather unneeded when it came to the subject matter in this specific book. There were at least 5 pages of him ranting about how useless religion was, instead of actually examining the facts at hand, and focusing on the actual exchanges taking place. It honestly seemed like something you might find in a book about why one should be an Atheist, not a book on historical research. It was very out of place. I would have rather read about what cultural exchanges took place, instead of the author's personal feelings on god. Things such as, what Spanish tradition linger on in the New World, or what traditions (if any) did the Spaniards bring back with them to the Old World? That would have been much more interesting and helpful. Another thing was that it often dragged on with unimportant information. For instance, the entire chapter dedicated to syphilis (which is chapter 4, by the way), which focused more on it's affect in Europe, than it's effect in the New World. I found it very much unneeded information, and something that would have been better placed in a book about diseases, and not in this book itself. It also spent quite a large amount of time hypothesizing where syphilis might have originated, but then didn't really tie that in and state why it's important. Overall, the book was good. It's a good overview of the exact consequences of 1492, and the discovery. I just wish it would have been more narrow in it's execution, and contained less irrelevant thoughts and feelings, less rambling sources, and more focused analysis of what specifically was important, and how it affected not only the New World and Old World then, but also today.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Crosby foregrounds the Columbian exchange not as a series of political or economic actions, but as a series of biological exchanges--of disease, animals, plants, and human materials--that transformed global ecology. As such, he puts a surprising emphasis on the power of biology as facilitating conquest—shaping the parameters of how Europeans dominated and controlled both the landscape and the peoples they encountered. The volume is, as the critics note, full of generalizations about the power of Crosby foregrounds the Columbian exchange not as a series of political or economic actions, but as a series of biological exchanges--of disease, animals, plants, and human materials--that transformed global ecology. As such, he puts a surprising emphasis on the power of biology as facilitating conquest—shaping the parameters of how Europeans dominated and controlled both the landscape and the peoples they encountered. The volume is, as the critics note, full of generalizations about the power of biology, and many of the details thinking about bodily vulnerability to disease and contamination may be dated when read against contemporary research. Yet Crosby is pointing us to look in the right direction in foregrounding the vulnerability of biological encounters, and how those encounters facilitated the transformation of power and the control over the continent. One critique I do have is why, in a chapter about syphilis, he gives so little attention to the sexual relations between sailors, animals, and indigenous peoples as facilitating the exchange of the disease. In his new foreword 30 years after the original publication, he does critique his own shortcomings in this chapter, but he pays surprisingly little attention to the act of sex itself. Whether this is because the archives acknowledging these exchanges are so scarce, or because his own sensibilities are so squeamish, is hard to tell. His confidence in asserting the power of biology, as a result, sometimes tends to neglect the significance of human actions, a particularly important detail in this chapter. Yet as an intervention that would put ecology as the center of the history of conquest, it is nevertheless a groundbreaking book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    YHC

    A very informative thin book about the exchange from Columbian expeditions, this book was first published 45 years ago, at that time we might not have the sophisticated devices to prove the origins of certain diseases or crops. Considering the age of this book, I still think it offered some basic important information. Horses, pigs, chickens, sheep, cows, ducks..are brought to America from old continent, Europe, so did smallpox, which kill aboriginal Indian massively. In exchange, the seemingly b A very informative thin book about the exchange from Columbian expeditions, this book was first published 45 years ago, at that time we might not have the sophisticated devices to prove the origins of certain diseases or crops. Considering the age of this book, I still think it offered some basic important information. Horses, pigs, chickens, sheep, cows, ducks..are brought to America from old continent, Europe, so did smallpox, which kill aboriginal Indian massively. In exchange, the seemingly brought back to Europe by Columbia groups was Syphilis. however, Crosby argues that could be same kind of virus existing among Asia, Europe, Africa before 1492, but showed different symptoms through intercourse. Besides diseases, Corn, pumpkin, beans, peanuts, pineapple, potato, tomato, sweet potato, pepper, cacao are the gifts from America. We all benefit from these lovely food. Cassava was also from america to Africa, even though African claimed it's original from Africa. This book reminds me of a book i read long time ago. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, it has a very thorough researches on the same period of time. My next plan is to read another similar book named: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created with much bigger volume that i think it will be a more detailed info.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pedro Woodson Ramirez

    This is one of my favorite books of history! It really helps to understand the tremendous impact that the "disvovery" of America by Europe had on both continents. Crosby highlights the importance of the biological changes associated with the discovery and conquest of America by Europe. The collapse of the big indigenous empires (Aztecs and Incas) that fought against the Spaniards was greatly facilitated by the germs that the Europeans brought to America. And the natural products which moved from This is one of my favorite books of history! It really helps to understand the tremendous impact that the "disvovery" of America by Europe had on both continents. Crosby highlights the importance of the biological changes associated with the discovery and conquest of America by Europe. The collapse of the big indigenous empires (Aztecs and Incas) that fought against the Spaniards was greatly facilitated by the germs that the Europeans brought to America. And the natural products which moved from America to Europe completely transformed life in that continent. It was a tremendous biological shock!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Garret Shields

    While there are several things in this book that have not aged well, and some glaring weaknesses, The greatest of which is it’s Eurocentrism that ignores the contributions of Africa, this is still an absolutely seminal work. It redefined scholarly approaches to this influential phenomenon. In fact, we now refer to this trans-Atlantic exchange as “the Columbian exchange.” That’s a pretty influential book!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bill Chelmowski

    It is a great read, you will learn a lot about the early history of America and the results of contact with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the new edition has been modified for the sake of political correctness to condemn the "Evil" white men who have ruined the whole world. It is a great read, you will learn a lot about the early history of America and the results of contact with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the new edition has been modified for the sake of political correctness to condemn the "Evil" white men who have ruined the whole world.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adam Gutschenritter

    Not often you read a book that is the source of an idea that you have always been taught/teach. This was that for me. I am glad I read his 2003 criticisms before I dove into the book. And I am interested in where the research has gone from here, but I loved reading it and couldn't put it down. Not often you read a book that is the source of an idea that you have always been taught/teach. This was that for me. I am glad I read his 2003 criticisms before I dove into the book. And I am interested in where the research has gone from here, but I loved reading it and couldn't put it down.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cristiano

    This book was OK, the poor rating is due to the fact that it is dated, there are many up-to-date books on this argument out there (and I've read a lot of them before reading this one), books like McNeill's "Plagues and People", Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel", Mann's "1491" and "1493". This book was OK, the poor rating is due to the fact that it is dated, there are many up-to-date books on this argument out there (and I've read a lot of them before reading this one), books like McNeill's "Plagues and People", Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel", Mann's "1491" and "1493".

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dami

    Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange, was an interesting read, I enjoyed reading this book during my history class " The Renaissance". Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange, was an interesting read, I enjoyed reading this book during my history class " The Renaissance".

  22. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Very eye-opening information on the power of the European colonizers of the New World. Some information is a little outdated, but overall very good.

  23. 4 out of 5

    RC

    Fascinating but likely dated survey of the effects of one of the most consequential instances of cultural and biological first contact in history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Patti

    Very enlightning

  25. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Stanley

    Excellent. Should be required reading for every college student. Insightful overview of the biological implications of Columbus' expeditions to the New World beginning in 1492. Excellent. Should be required reading for every college student. Insightful overview of the biological implications of Columbus' expeditions to the New World beginning in 1492.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Briana

    This has interesting information, but I couldn't get into the writing style (read like a textbook). This has interesting information, but I couldn't get into the writing style (read like a textbook).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Loved this unique take on the ecological, theological, and gastronomical implications of Columbus' fateful 1492 voyage west. Crosby's ability to personify everything from pigs to soil matter made for a surprisingly insightful and vibrant read. Loved this unique take on the ecological, theological, and gastronomical implications of Columbus' fateful 1492 voyage west. Crosby's ability to personify everything from pigs to soil matter made for a surprisingly insightful and vibrant read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ill D

    Elucidating and fascinating read concerning the movement of flora, fauna, and people between the Old and the New Worlds and the enormous changes it created for the future of the world. Too bad it ends on such an abrupt and decidedly anti-anthropic/anti-European note that Crosby smugly makes after explaining to us that the current population could only exist because if the Columbian Exchange, which he himself has no doubt benefited from, as we all indubitably have. The note it ends on seems reall Elucidating and fascinating read concerning the movement of flora, fauna, and people between the Old and the New Worlds and the enormous changes it created for the future of the world. Too bad it ends on such an abrupt and decidedly anti-anthropic/anti-European note that Crosby smugly makes after explaining to us that the current population could only exist because if the Columbian Exchange, which he himself has no doubt benefited from, as we all indubitably have. The note it ends on seems really out of place because throughout the book Crosby writes from a rather moderate perspective dealing only the facts and making, the much needed point, that this event was a two-way street; as vast swathes of indigenous Native Americans fell victim to the genocidal diseases of the Europeans, so too did the Europeans become infected with syphilis, which spread its own destructive endemic throughout the Old World, and even too the Middle East and China. Craziness notwithstanding Crosby is a skilled writer and his writing is punctuated with the occasional dry joke that I find highly amusing. While a great read in of itself, it's value is largely historical in nature. Like Mcneil's, The Rise of the West, which was the landmark work of World History, Crosby's, The Columbian Exchange, is the first work of it's kind detailing what is now know as the, eponymous, Columbian Exchange. However, like Mcneil's book, Crosby's too is dated and could definitely use an updated/revised edition. Either way its a worthy read and its influence within the anthropological and historical academies is undeniablely far reaching. If you enjoyed this, you should definitely pick up Mann's 1493 which is largely based upon, The Columbian Exchange, and goes into even greater detail on how this occurrence affected and continues to affect various countries.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    I have never read a book with so much "if, must have, probably, one must question, guesswork" phraseology. Those words are red flags for something that may be a useful conversation starter, but should not be taken as gospel. Crosby's main point is inconsistent with the facts in the book itself. For example, he argues that the "Indians" died before they could be oppressed by the Europeans, but then tells how the Spaniards were enslaving natives right away and that the big epidemics didn't come ti I have never read a book with so much "if, must have, probably, one must question, guesswork" phraseology. Those words are red flags for something that may be a useful conversation starter, but should not be taken as gospel. Crosby's main point is inconsistent with the facts in the book itself. For example, he argues that the "Indians" died before they could be oppressed by the Europeans, but then tells how the Spaniards were enslaving natives right away and that the big epidemics didn't come till a generation later. One doesn't need to hypothesize mysterious genetic susceptibility of the Indians. Starvation and having your entire way of life crushed are enough to explain decreased resistance to infectious diseases. Crosby details multiple episodes of the Europeans doing destructive things like releasing pigs, goats and cattle to ravage the landscape, but doesn't systematically connect the dots between the man-made changes in the environment and the resulting increased risk of epidemics. The general concept that, after thousands of years of natural selection, Old Worlders were genetically immune "carriers" of awful diseases is just plain silly on the face of it, since small pox, measles and all the other plagues mentioned were killing people left and right in the Old World both before and after 1492. This is a 30th anniversary edition, so Crosby himself corrects some of his most outlandish claims about hyper-virulent germs, yet he sticks to the general thesis. This is an important topic. We know a lot about what causes deadly epidemics, and missing that information makes it harder to prevent future epidemics.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    Ecological history of 1492. I haven't read Gun, Germs, and Steel or 1493. I imagine they both owe a lot to this book. The book explains what happened with plant / animal / disease exchanges when the Old World met the New World. It was a catastrophe for the New World of course, and ultimately, in the author's view, a catastrophe for the planet since the number of plant and animal species we have surely dropped dramatically. The book is divided into a few chapters, each with either a thesis to prove Ecological history of 1492. I haven't read Gun, Germs, and Steel or 1493. I imagine they both owe a lot to this book. The book explains what happened with plant / animal / disease exchanges when the Old World met the New World. It was a catastrophe for the New World of course, and ultimately, in the author's view, a catastrophe for the planet since the number of plant and animal species we have surely dropped dramatically. The book is divided into a few chapters, each with either a thesis to prove or general background on what was going on. There is a long chapter about how syphilis may have been the New World's revenge for smallpox (from what I can tell from other reviews on this site, this theory about syphilis may have since been debunked). My favorite chapter explained how some of the staples of the New World diet were transported across the world. Maize is the obvious one, but also potatoes, sweet potatoes, and manioc (tapioca) remain extremely important to the diet of people across the world. Beyond those extremely important plants, there are others like cayenne, tomatoes, and others that enrich our lives. This isn't a supereasy read, but it's also not as challenging as other ecological histories. I might recommend one of the more popular books (1493, Guns Germs and Steel) before this one if you don't think you've got the patience for a deep dive. But if you're okay with a deeper academic text, I'd recommend this one.

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