By Charles C. Mann
Vintage Books, $16.95, 690 pages
Rarely does a book so thoroughly air out and reprogram a reader’s mind with such confounding new ideas and worldviews. Yet readers of Charles C. Mann’s 1493 will practically hear those very mental explosions – boom! In his newest book, Mann neatly lays out how the modern world came to be, tracing its historical trajectory to what is called the Columbian Exchange, launched by the arrival of Christopher Columbus’s first exploratory voyage to the Americas. Through the subsequent globe-traversing of European, African and Asian peoples, species such as plants, animals and diseases, were swapped and shared, setting up the events of the next few hundred years.
Mann’s writing is lucid and convincing, resting as it does on a colossal amount of research (delineated at the end). Despite the breadth and scope of the subject, Mann delivers it all clearly, astutely and with brilliant logic, grace and wit. 1493 is a scholarly work for scholars and laymen alike as it is neither stuffy nor prudish. This book puts the past 500 years into fascinating perspective, and it’s a read not to be missed.
Reviewed by Andrea Klein