Charles C. Mann – 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
An excellent, highly readable sequel to 1491, which was Mann’s history of pre-Columbian North and South America. This book looks at the aftermath. Mann dives deep into disease, biology, trade, culture, and more. I learned that earthworms, or at least the species most Americans are familiar with from their gardens, were brought over to the Americas from Europe. Also, nearly all European and Asian potatoes are essentially clones from one of many candidate New World species. Mann’s surprisingly lengthy and surprisingly light-hearted discussion of the guano archipelago off of South America and the economic and geopolitical consequences of its discovery was also something new.
I also learned that an attempt to popularize escargot in Taiwan led to the imported snails escaping and becoming an invasive species. Meanwhile, the dish failed to catch on. The spontaneous orders that emerged in managing this common resource would be of interest to students of Garrett Hardin’s famous 1968 article “Tragedy of the Commons,” as well as Elinor Ostrom’s empirical studies on polycentric governance. Mann himself is also economically literate, accurately using insights from Douglass North, Joseph Schumpeter, and other economists.