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Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900

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People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world--North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain because in many cases they were achieved by using firearms against spears. Alfred Crosby, however, explains that the Europeans' displacement and replacement of th People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world--North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain because in many cases they were achieved by using firearms against spears. Alfred Crosby, however, explains that the Europeans' displacement and replacement of the native peoples in the temperate zones was more a matter of biology than of military conquest. Now in a new edition with a new preface, Crosby revisits his classic work and again evaluates the ecological reasons for European expansion. Alfred W. Crosby is the author of the widely popular and ground-breaking books, The Measure of Reality (Cambridge, 1996), and America's Forgotten Pandemic (Cambridge, 1990). His books have received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, the Medical Writers Association Prize and been named by the Los Angeles Times as among the best books of the year. He taught at the University of Texas, Austin for over 20 years. First Edition Hb (1986): 0-521-32009-7 First Edition Pb (1987): 0-521-33613-


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People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world--North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain because in many cases they were achieved by using firearms against spears. Alfred Crosby, however, explains that the Europeans' displacement and replacement of th People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world--North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain because in many cases they were achieved by using firearms against spears. Alfred Crosby, however, explains that the Europeans' displacement and replacement of the native peoples in the temperate zones was more a matter of biology than of military conquest. Now in a new edition with a new preface, Crosby revisits his classic work and again evaluates the ecological reasons for European expansion. Alfred W. Crosby is the author of the widely popular and ground-breaking books, The Measure of Reality (Cambridge, 1996), and America's Forgotten Pandemic (Cambridge, 1990). His books have received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, the Medical Writers Association Prize and been named by the Los Angeles Times as among the best books of the year. He taught at the University of Texas, Austin for over 20 years. First Edition Hb (1986): 0-521-32009-7 First Edition Pb (1987): 0-521-33613-

30 review for Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ioana

    This book sounds/looks amazing, and I was so excited to finally get around to it (it's been sitting on my shelves for a few years). Alas, it turned out to be a non-critical, awfully confused hodge-podge of random strands from various disciplines (ecology, history, anthropology, geography) strung loosely together into a knotted mess that made it clear that Crosby does not have adequate knowledge in ANY field, certainly not enough to write such an important work. Crosby engages in such tactics as q This book sounds/looks amazing, and I was so excited to finally get around to it (it's been sitting on my shelves for a few years). Alas, it turned out to be a non-critical, awfully confused hodge-podge of random strands from various disciplines (ecology, history, anthropology, geography) strung loosely together into a knotted mess that made it clear that Crosby does not have adequate knowledge in ANY field, certainly not enough to write such an important work. Crosby engages in such tactics as quoting scripture to explicate historical events, making wild claims, i.e. nothing major happened between the domestication of horses ~5k years ago and the imperialism instigated by Europe in the 1000s,without offering any evidence or support for this claim (I wonder if Biblical, Greek, Sumerian, African, Chinese, etc etc historians would agree?), and frequently "guessing" or "approximating" major evolutionarily important dates. A glaring flaw of his work is that it is EXTREMELY NON-RIGOROUS (despite the citations, which, like I said, include biblical references). But, much worse, Crosby displays a complete lack of understanding of ALL social, psychological, critical perspectives on human behavior. He claims, for example, that "culture is a system of storing and altering patterns of behavior not in the molecules of the genetic code but in the brain". Now, Crosby might want to look up some cultural theorists, Foucault, Gramsci, Adorno, any feminist, whoever - I'm pretty sure he will find ZERO support for his definition of "culture" amongst this group. This sentence is thrown out there as the SOLE explication of "culture", while the concept is then summarily dismissed. Excluding cultural/critical perspectives, Crosby's work already cannot do what it sets out to: explain the ecological impact of imperialism, for imperialism is a "critical" concept. It is not a "given", but a pattern of human activity laden with significance, meaning, history, structures of thought, contradictions, violence, etc. etc. And you simply CANNOT write an supposedly-academic book about ecological imperialism while taking imperialism for granted. This tragically flawed foundation becomes apparent early on in the work, as it becomes abundantly clear that Crosby writes like a blindly privileged white man who takes Europe's "superiority" for granted (even as he claims to be writing about the awful impact of Europe's imperialism). For example, he asks himself "why the New World was so tardily civilized?" (of course, the meaning of civilization is left unexplored, it's just taken for granted that civilization is good, and that the "new" world was not civilized), "why the American Neolithic revolution was so inferior to that in the Old World", and the like. He also commits an endless stream of uncritical faux-pas, such as claiming animals are our "servant species" and writing that "superman arrived on earth about 3000 years ago" (wth has this guy not heard of Hitler's appropriations of Nietzsche?). Of course, there's just so much garbage here because Crosby has NO FOUNDATION on which to stand - he claims to be a scientist but quotes the Bible, he claims to be a historian but eschews critical perspectives, he claims to write about imperialism and culture but doesn't circumscribe either. DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alger Smythe-Hopkins

    A classic that is now more thought provoking than useful as a method of seeing history. I love this book, and its influence is wide ranging, but an uncritical reading can lead one straight to Jared Diamond style Ecologic Determinism or worse. So it is dated and needs to be read in context, but it is not useless. Post Script: After reading the reviews here, I think it needs to be emphasized that Crosby was a pioneer in Environmental Studies. This book was written at a time when European superiorit A classic that is now more thought provoking than useful as a method of seeing history. I love this book, and its influence is wide ranging, but an uncritical reading can lead one straight to Jared Diamond style Ecologic Determinism or worse. So it is dated and needs to be read in context, but it is not useless. Post Script: After reading the reviews here, I think it needs to be emphasized that Crosby was a pioneer in Environmental Studies. This book was written at a time when European superiority was an established fact that Crosby was questioning by moving the discussion from cultural superiority to ecologic; the effect was to move the agency off the innate awesomeness of the white skinned colonialists and onto their bacteria and crops. At the time this was a revelation that sparked research into directions that moved the accepted narrative of American History from displacement and conquest of the natives to infectious diseases opening the way for colonization. This book needs to be judged partly by the ideas it inspired, with the exception of the work of that idiot Diamond. This book is a seminal text of Environmental History.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    This classic of biogeography has been on my to-read list for a few years (I'm not sure where I got the rec from - possibly Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization?). I was under the impression it was a narrower and less fully formed iteration of Jared Diamond's ideas in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. There is a lot of overlap between the two, especially in the epidemiological arena (really an older idea than either of them, and Crosby goes so far as to This classic of biogeography has been on my to-read list for a few years (I'm not sure where I got the rec from - possibly Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization?). I was under the impression it was a narrower and less fully formed iteration of Jared Diamond's ideas in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. There is a lot of overlap between the two, especially in the epidemiological arena (really an older idea than either of them, and Crosby goes so far as to name it "William Hardy McNeill's Law"), but Crosby has a fresh authorial voice, a subtly different question, and compellingly different answers. While Diamond is interested in explaining a political and economic reality (disparity of "cargo" possession) using geographic factors, Crosby asks an ecological question: why did Europeans end up multiplying and displacing the native inhabitants in a few other continents and not others? The questions aren't that different, since the process of colonization was also the process of rapidly obtaining massive wealth. It is imaginable that one could occur without the other, however: siphoning resources out of productive colonies like India, Mexico, and the Congo without substantially replacing their populations. Asking the question with a different frame gave Crosby answers that felt new to me after taking Diamond's ideas for granted for ages. Crosby interestingly insists on describing the "Columbian Exchange" with his "seams of Pangaea" concept. These seams - the rifting lines which have by geologic definition not been crossed during the dispersal of Gondwana and Laurasia's bits - are the only new lines that European explorers traversed; the addition of India to the Asian continent and the land bridge between the Americas both united chunks of disparate Gondwana and Laurasia, with all the consequences that entailed for their biota. In spite of these mix-ups in geologic time, the evolutionary relevance of the concept remains: each separate continent had stabilized a unique set of ecosystems by the Pleistocene. In that vein, Crosby metaphorizes the indigenous colonization of Australiasia and the Americas as the "shock troops" of the later European invasion. This is an ecologically interesting argument because the Pleistocene extinction event eliminated many of the more fantastic organisms that differentiated the Neo-Europes from the Old World, and thus swept away a major source of competition (which proved problematic in, eg South Africa). Fortunately, he doesn't push it too far past its usefulness (after all, he still needs to explain why the main front did so much harm to these indigenous shock troops). I don't mean to spoil it for you, but Crosby's main thesis is that the European expansion to the "Neo-Europes" was successful and one-way because the early and widespread emergence of agriculture there created a whole codependent biota adapted to disturbance, from fire, grazing, and the plow. When this biota was introduced into the stable climax ecosystems of the New World, it succeeded because it created a leap-frogging wave of disturbance and weed colonization. Disease organisms caused catastrophic population crashes in the most prominent ecosystem engineer, humans, leaving an ecosystem in flux. Livestock destroyed herbs that hadn't seen a grazer since the Pliocene. Colonists lit fires and logged extensively, opening new pasture and farm land to support their weeds. Without European weeds, all this change could have resulted in catastrophic soil erosion; weeds covered the bare ground and did damage control for human mismanagement. All this happened in relative absence of the pests and diseases and competition that limited growth at home (while the disease load was disastrously high for natives, sparse populations and good nutrition made the colonies vastly more healthy for colonists then Europe). Crosby's ultimate answer is that civilization was aided in its conquest of the Neo-europes by a biota adapted to civilization's own rather severe mode of environmental modification. Few neo-european organisms went the other way because the environment in the Old World was simply too harsh for them. The disease issue is partially a consequence of the Old World's high population densities, poor sanitation, and contact with a broad array of livestock. It is also sort of a distinct issue, a consequence of separation, long exoduses and changes of climate that shook off the disease organisms and left Native Americans and the Maori living in a near-paradise where plague was nearly unknown. Unlike Diamond, Crosby never really addresses why Europe was the portion of the Old World that crossed the seams of Pangaea and not India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, or China. He also fails to explore the implications of his explanation even to the extent I portrayed it above (perhaps I'm reading too much into it?). In the first part of the book, Crosby's prose seems full of pithy and sharp phrases, like "The Crusader states died like bowls of cut flowers," which makes it fun to read. This kind of trails off into the later parts of the book, though, and the narratives become a bit dull. In general, a lot of the information presented seems a bit gratuitous, demonstrating the plausibility of his points rather than proving the validity of his arguments. This makes the book feel loose and superfluous in parts. The conclusion really peters out: just as he's getting to the interesting bits, he seems to lose focus and drive. The long-awaited revelation of Chapter 11 kind of dribbles out in a disorganized slew. Despite all those flaws, Crosby does raise a lot of interesting points, and he treats weeds, livestock, and disturbance as forces that shift ecosystem dynamics (which is interesting and seems crucial) more closely than any other author I've met. He seems a bit ahead of his time in that respect (a lot of the ideas from The Work of Nature: How The Diversity Of Life Sustains Us, a much more recent book, feel like they could be valuably applied to an update of Crosby's work), so perhaps he should be forgiven for the amount of hand-waving that comes in when he discusses what consequences the spread of weeds and bovids actually had.

  4. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    An idea that sounds neater than it actually plays out in the book, which one can only fault the author for. This largely comes down to what could be called a jittery approach to the subject. When Crosby firms up and sticks to the titular material, the book is fairly interesting: some sections that stand out is the whole chapter on weeds (an amorphous and amusing designation as he rightly points out) or the intrusion of Old World fauna on New World areas (rabbits, pigs). To me, this is the meat o An idea that sounds neater than it actually plays out in the book, which one can only fault the author for. This largely comes down to what could be called a jittery approach to the subject. When Crosby firms up and sticks to the titular material, the book is fairly interesting: some sections that stand out is the whole chapter on weeds (an amorphous and amusing designation as he rightly points out) or the intrusion of Old World fauna on New World areas (rabbits, pigs). To me, this is the meat of the book, but Crosby doesn't take it far enough. Instead, he interlopes on his own theme by having a whole chapter about winds and navigation which doesn't sit right on the subject's stomach. He also dwells, for my tastes, far too long on disease, which is perhaps the one obvious, over-studied facet of this entire topic. It detracts from the overall work, but only slightly. Some other reviews seem to disdain his use of clever Biblical scripture, but I think it should be made clear that he merely quotes those things in a churlish, chuckly sort of way, as cultural backdrop to the topic. He quotes Shakespeare, Lyell, and others openly, too. A cursory flip-through of the notes/bibliography shows a wide depth of scholarly invocation. Also absent, thankfully, is any kind of sultry, academic jargon. He makes clear the repugnance of what happened over the centuries, especially to the folks involved, without delving into the kind of seedy preaching that seems to dominate histories of the European irruption into the world.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    I like Crosby's bantering style and loads of mini-stories. The question he asks is how European people get so dominant over the most productive corners of the planet? The answer is complex and entwined with the ecological factors of germs, weeds, livestock, or trade winds. Crosby explains a 500-or-so year blip in world history, up to the time his book ends around 1900. Since then, we've had a revival of native people, plants, and animals in the regions most colonized by Europeans, and we're deal I like Crosby's bantering style and loads of mini-stories. The question he asks is how European people get so dominant over the most productive corners of the planet? The answer is complex and entwined with the ecological factors of germs, weeds, livestock, or trade winds. Crosby explains a 500-or-so year blip in world history, up to the time his book ends around 1900. Since then, we've had a revival of native people, plants, and animals in the regions most colonized by Europeans, and we're dealing with corporate rather than ethnic imperialism over the natural world.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ken-ichi

    Walking around with this book made me feel like yet another Berkleyan post-hippy fuming over my unresolved anger and guilt over yet another heinous crime perpetrated by my European cultural forebears: they didn't just enslave Africans, they didn't just exterminate all the Amerindians, but by Gaia, their very ecosystem took over the world! WTF, Columbus?! Where did it end? To clarify, I am not that guy (well, mostly), and this is not that book (ditto), despite the title. This book is another explo Walking around with this book made me feel like yet another Berkleyan post-hippy fuming over my unresolved anger and guilt over yet another heinous crime perpetrated by my European cultural forebears: they didn't just enslave Africans, they didn't just exterminate all the Amerindians, but by Gaia, their very ecosystem took over the world! WTF, Columbus?! Where did it end? To clarify, I am not that guy (well, mostly), and this is not that book (ditto), despite the title. This book is another exploration of the foundations of European success in the rest of the world, particularly in areas where European descendants (genetic and cultural) now dominate (US, Canada, Australia, NZ, Argentina). I believe what made Crosby's work novel in the 1980s was that he didn't confine his analysis to European humans, but also pointed out that European plants, animals, and disease organisms were equally successful in colonizing the temperate world. Aside from my usual qualms with history (not empirical, often based on scanty evidence, prone to digression, etc) I thought this was pretty good, but being somewhat familiar with some of those who followed in Crosby's footsteps (Diamond, Cronon, Mann), there wasn't too much novelty, and I thought his failure to address the importance of American food crops (maize, potatoes, chilies, tomatoes) to non-American culture and sustenance did some damage to his argument. Frankly the more I read these kinds of books the more I respect the wide scope of Charles Mann's work, despite its failings. I did enjoy Crosby's approach of analyzing failed European colonizations (Norse in North American, the Crusades, British Raj) and of their earliest successful efforts on Atlantic islands like Madeira and the Azores (where they also encountered Neolithic peoples that they had trouble subduing before their diseases took hold). If you believe historians like Crosby, it's remarkable how many large patterns in human migration seem to be predicated on disease. Some Notes The ancient Sumerians worshipped a god (or goddess) of pests named Ninkilim (p. 29). I want to believe Wikipedia's description of her/him as the "lord of teeming creatures" is accurate because it is beautiful and gross and reminds of Annie Dillard's chapter on fecundity in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Hafvilla is an Old Norse word meaning a complete loss of direction at sea (p. 55). Aside from being ripe with metaphoric potential, I find the idea of total geographic disorientation compelling, maybe because it reminds me of Hicksville. Also, new name for my future band and/or pub: Hafvillaphilia. Like a creeping thing, The land is moving; When gone, where shall man Find a dwelling? p. 262, apparently a Maori song, also reminiscent of Hicksville I wish the "Explanations" chapter had been longer. Why are Eurasian weeds so much more successful than American ones? I don't buy the whole adaptation to disturbance theory. American humans were disturbing things plenty before European plants arrived, so some American plants should (and are) adapted to disturbance just fine.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jerry

    Crosby is a great writer and he has intriguing things to say. However, he is incredibly Eurocentric and Christian biased. It can grow tiring hearing how great Europeans are compared to the ethnic groups they conquered (often brought up with belittling and/or unflattering terms). Shame, really, because it totally undermines what could have been a splendid little history of the European conquest of the rest of the world. I recommend at least perusing the book if you're interested in the subject, b Crosby is a great writer and he has intriguing things to say. However, he is incredibly Eurocentric and Christian biased. It can grow tiring hearing how great Europeans are compared to the ethnic groups they conquered (often brought up with belittling and/or unflattering terms). Shame, really, because it totally undermines what could have been a splendid little history of the European conquest of the rest of the world. I recommend at least perusing the book if you're interested in the subject, but be aware that this is a very ethnocentric view on the topic.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Adam Orford

    I read Charles C. Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005) and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (2011). I loved both books, and both pointed to Alfred Crosby's work as critical early work in the field. I was reminded of Crosby again recently and decided to pick up the classics - The Columbian Exchange (1972) and this one from 1986, and see what there was to see. The book is not dry. He tackles the sweep of history in great leaps and broad strokes, with co I read Charles C. Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005) and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (2011). I loved both books, and both pointed to Alfred Crosby's work as critical early work in the field. I was reminded of Crosby again recently and decided to pick up the classics - The Columbian Exchange (1972) and this one from 1986, and see what there was to see. The book is not dry. He tackles the sweep of history in great leaps and broad strokes, with color and wit and needlessly good writing. He manages to locate European expansion somewhere between the expansion of Pangaea and the blowing of the trade winds, and tell amazing stories of the Age of Discovery and the failure of settlements as a matter of introduction to the larger biological themes that concern him in the latter half. Those biological themes revolve around the remarkable expansion of European biota (including humans) into every nook and cranny of the world at all similar to Europe. Peach trees, Kentucky bluegrass, and clover march ahead of European North American settlement. Artichoke and thistle saturate the Pampas. And then came the pigs. And the cattle on the grasses. And the bees. And the rats. And the germs. The true conquistadors. And, the central mystery of the story: it was always, always one-directional. European forms boiled out upon the waters and the lands. And the lands did not, in return, boil back. Europe was not plagued by an invasion of bison, or their germs. Instead, the "new Europes," areas biogeographically similar to Europe and reached by settling forces, were simply saturated, inundated, and drowned. Why? The shorter version of Crosby's answer is that Europe was filthy. This gave European humans in particular an advantage as they brought their pox and lice into the new world. This was particularly effective at wiping out non-innoculated populations, i.e., non-Europeans. What is less clear is why, precisely, European animals and weeds, like clover, blew so freely into new spaces. Crosby is never entirely clear on this, theorizing that invasives thrived on "disruption" caused by other invasives, which does not give an entirely satisfactory answer to why the first invasives were able to disrupt anything in the first place. It might have something to do with indigenous populations having already wiped out large predators, but this is not clear. But there was something particularly virulent about Europe in all its forms, and much of the rest of the world was defeated not because Europeans were particularly worthy, but because disease destroyed the locals before they could wipe out the invaders. What impact must this have had on the Euros' own sense of self-righteous destiny, and how much of European history was simply a matter of dumb stupid biological luck? This is a seminal work of environmental history, and so I am going to forgive it its shortcomings and give it five stars for its importance. After this book, no complete explanation of European colonial history could ignore the human-biological interplay Crosby described.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marissa

    A landmark book, but now showing its age, both because knowledge in the disciplines on which it draws has advanced considerably in the past 25 years (which is inevitable) and because few scholars are now so comfortable invoking paradigms of progress, civilization, and the universality of the heteronormative family. This is certainly worth a read for Crosby's role in the development of environmental history, even if the question he seeks to answer ("Why Europe?") is now so evidently too prejudici A landmark book, but now showing its age, both because knowledge in the disciplines on which it draws has advanced considerably in the past 25 years (which is inevitable) and because few scholars are now so comfortable invoking paradigms of progress, civilization, and the universality of the heteronormative family. This is certainly worth a read for Crosby's role in the development of environmental history, even if the question he seeks to answer ("Why Europe?") is now so evidently too prejudicial and teleological.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ben Sulser

    Credit where credit is due: Crosby writes with humor and flourish, and the realization that "we're the baddies" on a horrifying scale must have been a tough pill to swallow in 1986. Thankfully, it still hits hard in this nightmare year, where the ecological disasters of colonialism and capitalism have never resounded louder. Does this lay the groundwork for ecological determinism? Could it stand to be more inclusive with language and treatment of indigenous peoples? Certainly! Reading this throu Credit where credit is due: Crosby writes with humor and flourish, and the realization that "we're the baddies" on a horrifying scale must have been a tough pill to swallow in 1986. Thankfully, it still hits hard in this nightmare year, where the ecological disasters of colonialism and capitalism have never resounded louder. Does this lay the groundwork for ecological determinism? Could it stand to be more inclusive with language and treatment of indigenous peoples? Certainly! Reading this through a historical lens, though, it's a surprisingly readable and necessary step in the post-colonial work that would follow.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This book gets sort of a low-four star rating, because it doesn't go much beyond what it sets out to do, but what it sets out to do is ambitious and impressively handled. Crosby begins by asking why human European emigrants and their descendants have come to live throughout the temperate zones of the world, then goes on to point out that they have brought their native biotas along with them, allowing for the transformation of local ecologies into what he refers to as “Neo-Europes.” The dandelion This book gets sort of a low-four star rating, because it doesn't go much beyond what it sets out to do, but what it sets out to do is ambitious and impressively handled. Crosby begins by asking why human European emigrants and their descendants have come to live throughout the temperate zones of the world, then goes on to point out that they have brought their native biotas along with them, allowing for the transformation of local ecologies into what he refers to as “Neo-Europes.” The dandelion, once a resident primarily of Europe, now spans the globe. Sheep and cows, wheat and other European foodstuffs are cultivated from Argentina to New Zealand, and throughout North America, having been brought from the small peninsula known as Europe and its nearby islands. Crosby explores this ecological transformation in some detail. It includes the introduction of new diseases that destroyed native human and non-human populations, technological advances, and the desire of Europeans to emigrate to “unspoiled” lands, while bringing familiar surroundings with them. For an older book, this has dated fairly well, and some of its theses have since been popularized (for example in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies). It seems to me that he somewhat downplays the importance of the European adoption and exploitation of New World flora and fauna such as turkeys, bananas, potatoes, and corn, which would perhaps add to his understanding of the biological implications of imperialism. Crosby is also sometimes careless about citing sources for his statistical information, for example of page 302 he discusses the population growth of Europe without clearly explaining where he found his numbers. The thing I best recall about reading this book was learning that humans have traditionally killed off or domesticated larger life forms (mammoths, predators, etc) as they have colonized new areas. This doesn’t just apply to obvious “imperialists” such as Europeans, the “indigenous” peoples did the same thing after they first landed in the Americas and Oceania. It also shifted my understanding of what imperialism is, from a largely political, to a more broadly biological, definition. In all, a worthwhile read if not a life-changing one.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

    Recommended by Michael Pollan (in The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World) and clearly an important influence on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, this is a good book for people who want to go deeper into current ideas about how the West got where it is (on top) and why (neither because of a superior intellect or a superior capacity for cruelty). The author, Alfred Crosby, doesn't waste the reader's time hyperventilating about the injustice of it all. He just lets a few anecdo Recommended by Michael Pollan (in The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World) and clearly an important influence on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, this is a good book for people who want to go deeper into current ideas about how the West got where it is (on top) and why (neither because of a superior intellect or a superior capacity for cruelty). The author, Alfred Crosby, doesn't waste the reader's time hyperventilating about the injustice of it all. He just lets a few anecdotes suffice – often moments when European colonial leaders expressed satisfaction at seeing indigenous people dying in large numbers from newly-introduced diseases. If you can't see the villany in that, then, well, probably further explanation will not change your mind. I don't have a copy of Guns, Germs, and Steel at hand, but I don't think that Diamond can be rightly accused of stealing his ideas from this book, assuming Diamond credited Crosby in his bibliography and footnotes. Using and expanding the best ideas of others is the essence of research. Clearly, Diamond used ideas from this book, but he also (rightly or wrongly) expanded them with additional examples (e.g., the discussion of the horse vs. the zebra as domestic laboring animal) and framed the debate in a more accessible fashion (e.g, Diamond's friend from Papua New Guinea asking “How did you Westerns end up with all the cargo?”). Compared to novels or popular non-fiction writers like Pollan or Diamond, this book is slow going, but compared to most histories written by academics, it's very readable.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ill D

    Supberb thematic overview. However, Crosby could seriously benefit from a remedial class in how to organize the content of your fucking chapters 101.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Introduction "Europeans, to borrow a term from agriculture, have swarmed again and again and have selected their new homes as if each swarm were physically repulsed by the other." (p.3) Until as late at 1800 white populations in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand were relatively small, then came the deluge of emigration. 1820-1930 over 50 million Europeans migrated to non-European lands. Crosby believes that technology and ideology only account for part of this movement. Instead, the more bas Introduction "Europeans, to borrow a term from agriculture, have swarmed again and again and have selected their new homes as if each swarm were physically repulsed by the other." (p.3) Until as late at 1800 white populations in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand were relatively small, then came the deluge of emigration. 1820-1930 over 50 million Europeans migrated to non-European lands. Crosby believes that technology and ideology only account for part of this movement. Instead, the more basic factors were "biogeographical." The Europeans were attracted to the world's temperate zones, where they could cultivate wheat and raise cattle. Paradoxicatly, the areas that now export the most foodstuffs 'of European origin are areas that 500 years ago had no European flora or fauna at all. This requires an explanation. "Perhaps European humans have triumphed because of their superiority in arms, organization and fanaticism, but what in heaven's name is the reason that the sun never sets on the kingdom of the dandelion? Perhaps the success of European imperialism has a biological, an ecological, component. (p. 7)" Chapter 6: Within Reach, Beyond Grasp Why did the Neo-Europeans not thrive in areas like Japan, China, Africa and the Middle East? Essentially Europeans tried to establish colonies in the torrid zone, but failed consistently to do so. The heat and tropical diseases made it impossible for the Europeans to establish successful permanent settlements there. Also, Crosby notes, few European women wanted to go to Asia. In Africa, the Europeans crops and animals did poorly. African diseases killed European plants, animals and people alike. African diseases killed Europeans in the same way that European diseases were to kill the Amerindians in the tropics. In the torrid zones it was climactic conditions that lead to racial mixing, producing Mestizo and Creole populations in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Southern United States. When the Pilgrims embarked to the new world they considered both North American and Guiana, choosing the former over the later for climatic reasons. Though many did die, those who survived were able to thrive in a temperate zone that offered little resistance and much to recommend it in terms of the cultivation of familiar plants and animals from the European continent. Chapter 7: Weeds What enabled the white Europeans to thrive where they did? First of all, they did so because the native populations were decimated by disease. To understand the demographic triumph of Europeans, it is necessary to narrow the scope of inquiry to the eastern third of the N. American continent which actually attracted the most Neo-Europeans. In this region it was the weeds that did the trick, transforming the environment to an hospitable habitation. Weeds are neither good nor bad, they are merely plants that spread quickly and opportunistically in disturbed soil. Old world plants grew up when old world animals and people destroyed the existing vegetation in the New World. A study of California reveals that it is through the presence of Europeans, largely Spanish motivated by the desire to protect Mexico against Russian incursions, that the weeds of Europe were introduced to the state. Other locales in the East saw the introduction of weeds by colonists, intentionally and unintentionally. Weeds that serve well as forage grasses for the cattle goats and sheep of the colonizers (such as white clover and Kentucky Bluegrass) thrived in the new environment. They were carried westward with settlers and explorers until the met with the resistance of the plains grasses (Buffalo grass and grama grass). Similar fates befell the Pampas in S. America where mallows and thistles grew up with European settlements. The same pattern repeated itself in southern Australia, where most of the population lives. And it was similar plants that took off in all three regions. Strangely enough, this exchange of Flora was amazingly one-sided. North American flora hardly migrated to Europe at all. Instead, the weeds of Europe thrived in the Americas because the Europeans disturbed the natural environment and thereby gave them a foothold. Indeed, by clearing the forests the Europeans cuts huge scars into the land that were healed by European weeds, which in turn provided fodder for European animals and fed the settlers. Chapter 8: Animals "The migrant Europeans could reach and even conquer, but not make colonies of settlement of these pieces of alien earth until they became a good deal more like Europe than they were when the marinhieros first saw them. Fortunate for the Europeans, their domesticated and lithely adaptable animals were very effective at initiating that change." (p. 172) Because of the rapidity with which they reproduced, and the alterations in the environment which they wrought, animals like horses, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, asses, chickens, cats, etc. had a profound effect on the continent. Omnivorous, fecund and adaptable, the European pig quickly swarmed the Caribbean Islands once brought there by Columbus. Other mariners who came in Columbus' wake actually seeded islands with pigs for the purpose of providing a ready meat supply for future visitors or themselves when they returned. Cattle, having gone feral in the Pampas of South America, reproduced and spread quickly. In North America a cattle frontier developed in the Carolinas and moved slowly westward with settlement. Likewise horses, when introduced by the Europeans in the Americas went feral and developed into vast herds making possible the rise of gaucho culture in S. America and the cowboy culture of the American West. Honeybees too thrived when brought to the New World. On the negative side, Europeans also imported rats which raided grain stores in towns like Buenos Aires, Sydney Australia and almost extinguished Jamestown in the early 17th Century. "Neo-Europeans did not purposely introduce rats, and they have spent millions and millions of pounds, dollars, pesos, and other currencies to halt their spread usually in vain ... This seems to indicate that the humans were seldom masters of the biological changes they triggered in the Neo-Europes. They benefited from the great majority of these changes, but benefit or not, their role was less a matter of judgment and choice than of being downstream of a bursting dam." (p. 192) Chapter 9: Ills Among the weediest of organisms, pathogens were the most powerful biogeographical force in the Neo-Europes. Indeed, "[i]t was their germs, not these imperialists themselves, for all of their brutality and callousness, that were chiefly responsible for sweeping aside the indigenes and opening the Neo-Europes to demographic takeover. II (p. 198) Some of the diseases with which the Amerindians had no previous contact with included: smallpox, measles, diphtheria, trachoma, whooping cough, chicken pox, bubonic plague, malaria, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, amebic dysentery and influenza. The impact of exposure was immediate upon contact. Columbus' attempts to bring Indian slaves back to Europe lead to the death from disease of the vast majority. Amongst the most virulent pathogens was smallpox, which cleared the way for the conquistadors much more effectively than gunpowder in both Mexico (Aztecs) and Peru (Incas). It had a 10-14 day incubation period, which allowed those infected to spread the disease far and wide before symptoms appeared. Smallpox visited the Algonquin in New England and the Huron in the Great Lakes Region of New York (destroying 50% of that population). The same happened on the Pampas and in Australia. To give a quick impression of the impact of this pathogen on the indigenes, he points to De Soto's account of heavily populated areas of the American South that he encountered in the mid-16th C. Later explorers and settlers would describe the same regions as lightly populated. In the interim, disease had cleared the way for settlement. Even at De Soto's time, the presence of European diseases had weakened the populations. This exchange of pathogens, as the exchange of flora and fauna, was remarkably one-sided. Venereal Syphilis being the only New World import to the Old.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Alfred Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism is an attempt to aggregate a variety of environmental history theories into one narrative. As a result, most of his sources are secondary, and on the rare occasion Crosby does choose a primary source for his narrative he often mocks it for the impersonality, truth-seeking manner of hard science or warps and summarizes the intentionally vague initial conclusion to best fit his chronicle. Crosby is incredibly Euro and Christocentric and ignores the agency of Alfred Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism is an attempt to aggregate a variety of environmental history theories into one narrative. As a result, most of his sources are secondary, and on the rare occasion Crosby does choose a primary source for his narrative he often mocks it for the impersonality, truth-seeking manner of hard science or warps and summarizes the intentionally vague initial conclusion to best fit his chronicle. Crosby is incredibly Euro and Christocentric and ignores the agency of humans in favor of likening them to invasive plant species. Crosby’s discussion of nonwhite indigenous people groups is patronizing at best, or, at worst, downright demeaning, further cementing the idea that colonization was inevitable as those colonized were somehow backward or less technologically advanced. Crosby uses the term “Neo-Europe” to claim that Europeans were successful where their native species were more successful than the native species of the region they are colonizing. This definition of “Neo-Europes” pushes that the only ‘successful’ European colonies are those in which the current population of the region is white, but never quantifies what he deems to be “white” seemingly to avoid the eugenics-adjacent arguments for racial profiling that would get him into. Crosby seems to be doing his best to avoid directly justifying environmental determinism but his general lack of understanding of the wide swath of topics he is attempting to cover and choice of sources consisting of largely Christian, European perspectives simply makes this another hodge-podge collection of the same white perspective that has dominated environmental history.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Harry

    Guns, Germs and Steel’s older, more coherent brother. Although it has its imperfections—as does Jared Diamond’s much criticised biogeographical successor—Crosby’s treatise on the central role of ecological change in European global domination is the most cogent and comprehensive overview of the subject I have encountered so far. Unsurprisingly, an entire field has grown up studying ecological imperialism in the wake of his book. Some readers have here raised that they didn’t like Crosby’s witty Guns, Germs and Steel’s older, more coherent brother. Although it has its imperfections—as does Jared Diamond’s much criticised biogeographical successor—Crosby’s treatise on the central role of ecological change in European global domination is the most cogent and comprehensive overview of the subject I have encountered so far. Unsurprisingly, an entire field has grown up studying ecological imperialism in the wake of his book. Some readers have here raised that they didn’t like Crosby’s witty uses of scripture (what a world we live in, that important works of history are expected to exist without reference to their cultural context), that they took issue with his observation that nothing significant to global ecological history happened between the domestication of the horse and Columbus’ crossing of the Atlantic (a criticism that emerged, perhaps, from forgetting what the book was about), and that they didn’t approve of his definition of culture, which should have had reference to Foucault, Gramsci, generalised feminists and others who are well-known to be the empirical custodians of the biological and neurological dimensions of culture (as opposed to, e.g., a band of semi-coherent posers scrabbling for intellectual status on profoundly shaky grounds). In that respect—in that it operates not to please holier-than-thou activist readers and just does its best to communicate clearly, cogently and concisely the empirical reality that the author has been able to uncover and piece together, without recourse to asinine “cultural criticism”, hedging to protect emotions and babbling relativism—Ecological Imperialism is a book from a different age. In the polluted information environment and global pandemic of wooly thinking that characterises the 2020s so far, it feels like a voice from a better time. Of course this book isn’t perfect. The pathogenic dimension of Europe’s biological success didn’t deserve as much space in this otherwise innovative book as it received: the role of disease in European triumphs has been much-studied and much-written-on elsewhere. That space could have better given to an overview of (for instance) how indigenous people adapted or failed to adapt to the ecologies changing under their feet. Native American cultivation of apple and peach orchards is a prominent and instructive example; it’s manifestly not the case that indigenous peoples simply fell down in the face of ecological change. In the case study of New Zealand Crosby touches on the political and military reaction of Māori to European encroachment, but devotes no time at all to Māori efforts to cultivate wheat and livestock and otherwise incorporate ecological changes into their ways of being. That oversight is the central flaw of Crosby’s work, because at the macro-level it elides first the deep connections between ecological change and other vectors of imperialism and second the systemic and evolving nature of ecologies and (that blasted word) environments. Although Crosby has done an admirable job of demonstrating how nature itself from the patterns of winds and tectonic shifts preordained European power, he falters at weaving his important insights and narratives into the broader tapestry of capitalism and imperialism. Without the vital forces of alienation from their land, mass forced migration and state-sponsored undermining of their language, culture and politics, for example, ecological change alone can’t explain the subordination of Māori throughout New Zealand history. In isolation, Ecological Imperialism is profoundly incomplete, not least because regardless of its mechanisms the meaning of imperialism throughout history is what matters to us. It is also, though, a critical element of any attempt to understand global history. Complementing works such as the McNeills’ Human Web or Harari’s Sapiens, Ecological Imperialism is an important and highly readable contribution to history.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    One of the key pieces in the recent movement towards a more materialist/scientific view of history, this book details the ways in which Old World people, plants, animals, and pathogens came to dominate the landscapes Crosby calls "Neo-Europes" -- the regions which were most fully remade by colonization in particular North America, Australia, New Zealand, the Azores, Canaries, and Madeira, and the pampas of South America. His basic argument is that these regions were the ones most dominated by Eu One of the key pieces in the recent movement towards a more materialist/scientific view of history, this book details the ways in which Old World people, plants, animals, and pathogens came to dominate the landscapes Crosby calls "Neo-Europes" -- the regions which were most fully remade by colonization in particular North America, Australia, New Zealand, the Azores, Canaries, and Madeira, and the pampas of South America. His basic argument is that these regions were the ones most dominated by European people because they were the most climactically comfortable for European flora and fauna, and not the other way around. The concept of "weediness" is applied to all forms of life in explaining how certain particularly hardy species took advantage of ecological instability in the wake of disease and shifting human movements to carve out a niche in which more and more newcomers could thrive. Oftentimes the general instability caused by disease and invasive species served as the vanguard of conquest, as indigenous peoples were weakened and disunited. The chapter on New Zealand is particularly fascinating, as a study of the slow changes worked by even small numbers of European visitors on an ecologically isolated area. The explosion from four species of mammals total to millions of heads of sheep and cattle (not to mention cats, rats, and rabbits) is just one particularly illustrative example of the total overhaul it sometimes seems was effected on these landscapes -- often to the despair of the people who had lived there before. I would have preferred a bit more in the chapter titled "Explanations" -- Crosby gestures at some reasons why European species were successful in the Neo-Europes but New World crops and diseases made less of an impact in Europe, with a basic summation being that the steady stream of new species into colonized regions caused enough instability to open up new niches for the more competitive (because from a larger landmass) species of Europe, but there's very little detail here. He can also be a tad ethnocentric at times. I can give him the benefit of the doubt in some respects -- it's a book about European species outcompeting New World ones, so there's no surprise that he mostly talks about movement in that direction -- but he can go a bit far in proclaiming the "superiority" of various cultures or lifestyles. A bit more focus on colonies which were not remade ecologically in the same way would also have been nice. But I suppose it's not such a bad sign when a book leaves you wanting more -- and judging from the growth of the field, there's plenty more to be found.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cyndi

    While in a few places, Ecological Imperialism is a difficult read it is nevertheless fascinating to delve deaper into World History and see how Europeans settled in different parts of the world. Many times we think of the conquest in terms of military might but there is so much more. Crosby shows that the effects of guns was significant but not nearly as much as the changes in flora, fauna and the effects of diseases ravaged in the New World. Crosby calls the areas where Europeans were able to s While in a few places, Ecological Imperialism is a difficult read it is nevertheless fascinating to delve deaper into World History and see how Europeans settled in different parts of the world. Many times we think of the conquest in terms of military might but there is so much more. Crosby shows that the effects of guns was significant but not nearly as much as the changes in flora, fauna and the effects of diseases ravaged in the New World. Crosby calls the areas where Europeans were able to successfully settle, Neo-Europes. These include N America, southern South America, Australia and New Zealand. These areas had similar latitudes and therefore similar climates. The areas has temperate climates, were able to produce commodities in demand in Europe and the native population too small to supply the demand. Interesting to me was why the settlers had such an influence on the new world and why the influence was not reciprocated. Why didn't the foreign seeds that travelled on the bottom of the settlers boots or on their belongings have an effect on Europe like the Europeans imported plants had on the New World? One reason was the amount of tilled ground available. Vast amounts of land were being tilled, giving a home for the stray seeds to plant themselves in and grow. The weeds that took over proved "crucially important" to the success of the settlers as they healed the burned land saving it from erosion and the "weeds" became feed for the imported livestock. Crosby defines a weed as a plant that, "..spreads rapidly and outcompetes others on distubed soil." There was plenty of disturbed soil where men attempted to settle. The analogies helped the reader to understand what Crosby meant and several times I enjoyed the writing style and the use of words to create a visual of how things must have been.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joeji

    This book seems to argue for a new understanding of world and colonial history but instead just ends up reinforcing old environmental determinist tropes about the superiority of Europe and the inferiority of the rest of the world. Even if Crosby never explicitly makes such arguments, his sloppy use of metaphor betrays an understanding of cultures as high or low, depending on their relationships to technology, nature, etc. further, he seems to define culture as a behaviorist-biological phenomenon This book seems to argue for a new understanding of world and colonial history but instead just ends up reinforcing old environmental determinist tropes about the superiority of Europe and the inferiority of the rest of the world. Even if Crosby never explicitly makes such arguments, his sloppy use of metaphor betrays an understanding of cultures as high or low, depending on their relationships to technology, nature, etc. further, he seems to define culture as a behaviorist-biological phenomenon (pgs. 13-14) mirroring eugenic arguments of the early 20th century. In all, this book does little to show us a new history; instead, it is another social science text that presents supposedly common sense arguments that are in actuality steeped in Eurocentric thought.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Burton-Rose

    This book opened up an important line of inquiry, but in Crosby's blithe hands the consideration of the role of micro-organisms and animals in "softening up" of indigenous populations before the arrival of European settlers too easily turns into an excuse for decimation and genocide. This book opened up an important line of inquiry, but in Crosby's blithe hands the consideration of the role of micro-organisms and animals in "softening up" of indigenous populations before the arrival of European settlers too easily turns into an excuse for decimation and genocide.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Austin Matthews

    The book is worth placing at the 5 star level for the explanation. However, it is very repetitive and some passages are repeated in multiple chapters. I felt like reading only the country-by-country case study could provide adequate information for someone only moderately interested.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Viola

    Author profile: Alfred W. Crosby Born: Boston, Massachusetts, January 15, 1931 Died: March 14, 2018 Genre, Geography, American Studies Alfred W. Crosby Jr. (January 15, 1931, Boston, Massachusetts – March 14, 2018, Nantucket Island) was Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Harvard University and University of Helsinki. Crosby studied at Harvard University and Boston University. He was an inter-disciplinary researcher who combined the fi Author profile: Alfred W. Crosby Born: Boston, Massachusetts, January 15, 1931 Died: March 14, 2018 Genre, Geography, American Studies Alfred W. Crosby Jr. (January 15, 1931, Boston, Massachusetts – March 14, 2018, Nantucket Island) was Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Harvard University and University of Helsinki. Crosby studied at Harvard University and Boston University. He was an inter-disciplinary researcher who combined the fields of history, geography, biology and medicine. Recognizing the majority of modern-day wealth is located in Europe and the Neo-Europes, Crosby set out to investigate what historical causes are behind the disparity, investigating the biological factors that contributed to the success of Europeans in their quest to conquer the world. One of the important themes of his work was how epidemics affected the history of mankind. As early as the 1970s, he was able to understand the impact of the 1918 flu pandemic on world history. According to Hal Rothman, a Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Crosby “added biology to the process of human exploration, coming up with explanations for events as diverse as Cortés’ conquest of Mexico and the fall of the Inca empire that made vital use of the physical essence of humanity. In 1972 he created the term "Columbian Exchange" in his book of the same name. The term has become popular among historians and journalists, such as Charles C. Mann, whose 2011 book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created expands and updates Crosby's original work. Crosby was also interested in the history of science and technology. He wrote several books on this subject, dealing with the history of quantification, of projectile technology, and the history of the use of energy. He said that the study of history also made him a researcher of the future. He was very much interested in how humankind could make the future a better one. He taught at Washington State University, Yale University, the Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand, and twice at the University of Helsinki as a Fulbright Bicentennial Professor in 1997–98. He was appointed an academician by Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. He retired from the chair of Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies of the University of Texas at Austin in 1999. Crosby’s hobbies included birdwatching and jazz, on which topic he could lecture with great expertise. He was married to linguist Frances Karttunen. ...... We trust ourselves, far more than our ancestors did… The root of our predicament lies in the simple fact that, though we remain a flawed and unstable species, plagued now as in the past by a thousand weaknesses, we have insisted on both unlimited freedom and unlimited power. It would now seem clear that, if we want to stop the devastation of the earth, the growing threats to our food, water, air, and fellow creatures, we must find some way to limit both.” ― Donald Worster, Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West tags: air, climate-change, conservation, ecological-limits, environment, environmental-change, environmental-history, environmental-protection, environmental-studies, food, freedom, history, limits, nature, power, water.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Francis Kilkenny

    Alfred Crosby’s ‘Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900’ is a fascinating though flawed work. As others have noted, there are many sweeping generalizations and non-critical presentations of controversial subjects. One could easily take exception to the remove with which Crosby deals with the horrors and messiness of imperialism; these horrors are fully acknowledged but presented primarily through statistics, which could leave readers cold. Crosby’s writing style mak Alfred Crosby’s ‘Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900’ is a fascinating though flawed work. As others have noted, there are many sweeping generalizations and non-critical presentations of controversial subjects. One could easily take exception to the remove with which Crosby deals with the horrors and messiness of imperialism; these horrors are fully acknowledged but presented primarily through statistics, which could leave readers cold. Crosby’s writing style makes for an easy read, but contains some irony and sarcasm embedded within more literal frames that doesn’t always land well and could be confusing if not read with an eye to this. This is especially apparent in Crosby’s use of Biblical passages, which are used in a mix of tongue-in-cheek jabs, metaphorically and as indications of actual historical events, sometimes all at once. Lastly, while immediate causes of European imperial success in the “Neo-Europes”, ultimate causes are given much less consideration. I could nit-pick endlessly, but the main point is that significant flaws exist. So, what makes this work fascinating and worth the read? The perspective that the reason for European imperial success is not due to any inherent superiority, but rather to biogeographical and ecological advantages that Europeans inherited, is important. This work precedes and in many ways anticipates Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’. There are many overlaps between the two, especially in regards to disease and agriculture. Crosby focuses less on cause and explanation, though that is touched, and much more on overall ecological and sociological consequences. One of the really interesting points that Crosby makes is in regards to the floral and faunal “weeds” that have accompanied the conversion of the temperate zones of the Americas and Australasia into “Neo-Europes”. Naturalized plants and animals often spread well ahead of the people, and even ahead of many diseases. This fostered an ecological conversion that smoothed European colonization and displaced or transformed indigenous ways of life. All in all, this book adds to our understanding of the ecological drivers of European imperialism. It is easy to read and provides a launching point into other scholarly work. Personally, I enjoyed it and gained insights despite its flaws. Those insights were substantial, and I would give four or five stars for them alone. However, while there is a lot to gain despite them, the flaws will turn some people off. Given the flaws, I would not recommend this book widely, rather I would only recommend it to those who are truly interested and will read other works alongside this one. Thus, the three stars.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bennett

    3/5* The significance of Ecological Imperialism to the emerging field of environmental history cannot be understated. Crosby was a pioneer. If I were to review Ecological Imperialism in historical context of the emerging field, without considering the scholarship published in the following decades, it would easily be a 5/5*. But in terms of present-day value, many historians have since offered more compelling, thorough, and nuanced narratives. Additionally, Crosby’s argument is framed around envir 3/5* The significance of Ecological Imperialism to the emerging field of environmental history cannot be understated. Crosby was a pioneer. If I were to review Ecological Imperialism in historical context of the emerging field, without considering the scholarship published in the following decades, it would easily be a 5/5*. But in terms of present-day value, many historians have since offered more compelling, thorough, and nuanced narratives. Additionally, Crosby’s argument is framed around environmental determinism. He asks: Why are Europeans are all over the world? To which he answers: it was a combination of climate, agriculture, disease, and other environmental elements that allowed northwestern Europeans to create “Neo Europes ” around the globe (specifically the United States, Australia, and New Zealand). But it is clear that the environment alone does not determine cultural trajectories. The environment absolutely matters and is crucial to understanding history. But Crosby undersells the agency of humans/animals/disease, presenting the “natural world” as the only driver of change. This has since been problematized by historians. I like to get a balance between the agency of people and nature. (yes, I know the claim that nature has agency is a controversial one). So, 3/5*.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stevolende

    I read this about 20 years ago I think so may need to reread it. IT has left a lasting impression on me though. I think i have referred back to it ever since. It looks into how man reformats the environment he moves into as he migrates around the world. He looks back as far as prehistory when Polynesians are reaching other parts of Australasia (I think he may have them settling Australia which I think might be problematic but would need to check back over). In that process as in other places where I read this about 20 years ago I think so may need to reread it. IT has left a lasting impression on me though. I think i have referred back to it ever since. It looks into how man reformats the environment he moves into as he migrates around the world. He looks back as far as prehistory when Polynesians are reaching other parts of Australasia (I think he may have them settling Australia which I think might be problematic but would need to check back over). In that process as in other places where man has arrived in an existing ecosystem he has had lasting effect on what was there before him but created something new in his wake. I think the balance of growth and dying out has been knocked out of balance more recently though . From what I can remember this spends a lot more time on more recent developments though, like the continent of North America being taken over by Europeans who brought plants and livestock from their home lands with them and had them take over from Native flora and fauna. He also looks into how migrants/colonists also inadvertently brought weeds and vermin with them as happened elsewhere before that. I remember him talking about things like nettles rebalancing nitrates in the soil as they spread. I remember it being a really good convincing book and i think I may need to reread it so i know the contents better.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    Alfred Crosby Jr. (1931-2018) will probably be best remembered for the phrase “Columbian exchange,” the title of his 1972 book, a landmark in environmental history. Ecological Imperialism is another big-idea book that argues European colonists were primarily successful in creating “Neo-Europes” in the temperate regions of the world because they brought with them “portmanteau biota,” microbes, weeds, and domesticated animals, that devastated local populations and transformed vulnerable ecologies. Alfred Crosby Jr. (1931-2018) will probably be best remembered for the phrase “Columbian exchange,” the title of his 1972 book, a landmark in environmental history. Ecological Imperialism is another big-idea book that argues European colonists were primarily successful in creating “Neo-Europes” in the temperate regions of the world because they brought with them “portmanteau biota,” microbes, weeds, and domesticated animals, that devastated local populations and transformed vulnerable ecologies. Thirty-five years ago, when I read this book for the first time, there were a few old fogies like myself who thought Crosby and his microbes undervalued the importance of such intellectual factors in European dominance as civilization and Protestant Christianity. Today it would be hard to even mention civilization or Christianity in a scholarly review without putting those words inside sneer quotes. By contrast, 21st-century critics attack Crosby because his microbes don’t provide sufficient agency for the sort of good, crunchy racism that furthers modern academic careers. Whatever qualms I have about endorsing the Crosby theory per se, Crosby’s book is a joy to read: clever and urbane with a puckish sense of humor.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Combined with "1491", this did a lot to complexify my understanding of European conquest and colonization of the New World and Oceania. Crosby's case study of the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands, in particular, demonstrates how invaders have a very steep hill to climb even with "guns, germs, and steel," and that only a combination of virgin-soil epidemics and continuous military pressure actually ensured the native people's defeat. (It was far from a sure thing otherwise: see, for example Combined with "1491", this did a lot to complexify my understanding of European conquest and colonization of the New World and Oceania. Crosby's case study of the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands, in particular, demonstrates how invaders have a very steep hill to climb even with "guns, germs, and steel," and that only a combination of virgin-soil epidemics and continuous military pressure actually ensured the native people's defeat. (It was far from a sure thing otherwise: see, for example, the Crusades.) It's a very provocative thesis; combined with the descriptions of what Native Americans were doing to change the New World environment to suit them, it paints a picture of humanity as masterful terraformers. It also highlights the catastrophe that befell the vanguard of human expansion - that is, the First Peoples - when they were re-united with elements of main body of humanity, along with all the familiar diseases. (The implications for human colonization of outer space are interesting.)

  28. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    A classic. Incredibly influential, started a very valuable discussion. It gets an extra star for that. Reading it in 2018: A solid description of the biological role (pathogens, weeds, animals) in the creation of Neo-Europes (US/Canada/Argentina/Uruguay/Australia/New Zealand). I would have liked more primary source citations and more in general about the motivations behind the creation of these settler colonies, and how certain plants and animals became so well established. There is some great e A classic. Incredibly influential, started a very valuable discussion. It gets an extra star for that. Reading it in 2018: A solid description of the biological role (pathogens, weeds, animals) in the creation of Neo-Europes (US/Canada/Argentina/Uruguay/Australia/New Zealand). I would have liked more primary source citations and more in general about the motivations behind the creation of these settler colonies, and how certain plants and animals became so well established. There is some great ecological speculation about European livestock taking the role of extinct megafauna which is fascinating but I also want to know the thought process of creating a Neo-Europe, seeding familiar trees and grasses, etc. There is a bit of environmental determinism at work here - Crosby is very interested in why European crops and weeds and animals succeeded in the New World and not vice versa, and I think there are social/political explanations that are ignored here. I wonder what this book would look like if it were written now.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cliff.Hanger.Books

    Ecological imperialism is an exhaustive account of the importance Weeds, animals, pests and pathogens had during the colonization process. The author focuses on New Zealand, Australia, the US and Argentina. Why this specificity? The temperate climates of this places allowed native European organisms to adapt and take over the natural landscapes with more ease than in more equatorial location. I think some of the language the author uses is somewhat dated, but his arguments were not. Sometimes wh Ecological imperialism is an exhaustive account of the importance Weeds, animals, pests and pathogens had during the colonization process. The author focuses on New Zealand, Australia, the US and Argentina. Why this specificity? The temperate climates of this places allowed native European organisms to adapt and take over the natural landscapes with more ease than in more equatorial location. I think some of the language the author uses is somewhat dated, but his arguments were not. Sometimes when we think of imperialism we only focus on military and economic power, it’s easy to neglect the effect it had on its the wildlife. I think his books might be more important today that when it came out in the 80’s. I would not suggest this book to someone that does not have a solid ground on colonial history and structures, this is heavy reading. Despite the obvious blind spots in the scope of work of this nature, I’m really happy I read it. This book gave me a new out look on what it means to re wild the planet.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    So broad in scope that it's hard to review. It's actually broader than the 900-1900 AD in the title; the first chapter goes all the way back to Pangaea. The book is a generalization of the author's earlier thesis about how the diseases, plants, and animals from Europe were very important in the conflict between Europeans and American Indians. Here, the author looks at all the "Neo-Europes" (starting with the islands around the Azores and ending with New Zealand). He compares European attempts at So broad in scope that it's hard to review. It's actually broader than the 900-1900 AD in the title; the first chapter goes all the way back to Pangaea. The book is a generalization of the author's earlier thesis about how the diseases, plants, and animals from Europe were very important in the conflict between Europeans and American Indians. Here, the author looks at all the "Neo-Europes" (starting with the islands around the Azores and ending with New Zealand). He compares European attempts at conquest in the "neo-Europes" to the earlier European failures (the Crusades, the Viking expeditions to America). It's a convincing thesis. And it interested me because I don't know those stories as well as I know the story of the conquest of the Americas. Because of the book's broad scope, it has a fantastic bibliography. I'm looking forward to reading details from some of the cited books.

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