Aug 132012

Prior to Columbus’s blundering into the Caribbean, there was negligible interchange of plants, animals, or humans between continents.  Shortly thereafter the onset of large-scale globalization was underway.  Spain brought silver, Indians, new vegetables, and Spaniards from South America to the Philippines and China.  Potatoes, tobacco, and corn from the Americasbecame main staples in Europe and Africa.  The forced importation of Africans to the New World became one of the largest human transplantations in history.  At many times, and in most places, the number of Africans in the Americas outnumbered whites by more than four to one, making the real history of the Americas a story of the interplay of Africans and Indians, rather than just a story of developing European supremacy.  After reading 1493 and Mann’s first book, 1491, I’m more convinced than ever that the history I was taught — white, male, Eurocentric — overlooked 90 percent of what was important.

Aug 062012

This is a collection of Balkan folk tales loosely held together by the parallel lives of a young female doctor and her grandfather also a doctor.  There are fables, fantasies, legends, and abundant superstitions that span a war-torn part of the world for the better part of a century.  While the individual stories are compelling and ring true to the region, the whole book lacks a plot, making The Tiger’s Wife, a good read, full of ambient color and perspective, but lacking significant depth.