Field of Science

Book Reports - Pre-Columbian Americas & the Spice Trade

Finished two books out of the tall stack of partially read ones, and both were pretty interesting. This in and of itself speaks well of them because the Phactor is easily bored and easily distracted, and that when combined with a long list of his own writing projects at various stages of incompletion means books are seldom finished.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by C. C. Mann (2006) presents a new synthesis of anthropology of the Americas prior to European contact and the emerging picture is one of much larger populations of native Americans, more complex cultures, larger cities, and very little pristine wilderness, but instead “sustainably managed nature”. Lots of interesting factoids like Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, was larger than any contemporary European city. What happened is complex, but the hypothesis is that old world human diseases decimated the populations causing cultures to collapse.
The Taste of Conquest: the Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice by M. Krondl (2007) is a nifty history of the spice trade as it moved from Venice to Lisbon to Amsterdam. The Phactor has always had an inordinate love of spice plants wherein he claims some minor botanical expertise. This book came to my attention shortly after a trip to Istanbul and other parts of Turkey, which included a visit to the famous spice market in operation there since the 1500s. Although any attempt to explain history from the perspective of a single variable is ridiculous, the importance and impact of the spice trade on economics and exploration cannot be lightly dismissed. As a student of New York State history, I already knew how New Amsterdam came to be New York; the Dutch traded Manhattan to the British in return for a much more valuable spice island, Palau Run (Treaty of Breda). Try finding that on a map. All good stuff for my economic botany lectures.

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