Wednesday, June 04, 2014

1493 by Charles Mann

One advantage of being too sick to either go to work or focus well enough on it from home is that I have time to read.

Mann's model in 1493 is that Columbus and successors effectively put Pangea back together, with plants and animals and pests and people moving back and forth around the world again, with consequences wonderful and horrific.

AVI already reviewed it recently, so I won't retread the old ground.

Mann goes into detail about African/maroon pockets of rebellion with a lot of history that got marginalized along the way. A few points might need a little tweaking...

In Haiti after the successful revolution he suggests that an embargo caused the economy to collapse. Other narratives say that working in the sugar industry was never popular and efforts to goose the economy by compelling people to go back and work in the business hit serious resistance.

His description of the difference between African slavery and American plantation slavery leaves out a little detail: slaves in Africa were sometimes used for sacrifices.

In other curiosity, the importation of slaves into South America was larger than into the north, but seems not to have generated proportional african ancestry populations. From Roll Jordan Roll, p 5.

Of all the slave societies in the New World, that of the Old South alone maintained a slave force that reproduced itself. Less than 400,000 imported Africans had, by 1860, become an American black population of more than 4,000,000.

Part of this is accounted for by racial mixing which is much larger in (e.g.) Brazil than in the USA, but even so the modern proportions seem to match the importation proportions so poorly that I have to assume a large fraction of the slaves in the southern hemisphere died before having families, probably not long after arrival. Although West Africans have a relatively better tolerance for malaria, it still kills a lot of them.

(FWIW, other sources noticed that the vast number of African slaves imported into the Middle East seem to have left little impact. Those sent to the mines probably died, and the men kept for domestic servants were probably mostly eunuchs, but that leaves quite a few women who should have made some mark on the gene pool.)

The description of Chinese money policies has some horribly familiar parts (inflation by printing more paper money: and then doing it again, and again without learning a thing--yes, I'm thinking of you, Bernanke) and some novel (new emperor mints coins with his name and declares all old coins worthless), and then the reactions got weirder.

Go read it.

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thanks for the additions