New World dissonance

Ah, America. Love it or hate it, you can't ignore it. Looking from the outside it's a continent of contrasts and mysteries. Both north and south were colonized by great powers of their day, yet their histories could not be more different. I can hardly think of an American I've met who wasn't an affable, helpful, kind person - and yet American institutions have been responsible for so many unconscionable actions. Perhaps most of all, this is the continent that was once the New World but has now to face up with being the Middle Aged World as the New label moves to China and India.

Given the significance of the Americas, we could all do with a better understanding of where this continent's present state all came from, which is where Charles C. Mann's book 1493 comes in. As the tag line goes it's about 'how Europe's discovery of the Americas revolutionized trade, ecology and life on Earth.' That's a big claim, but on the whole it delivers. I'm no historian, so I can't give any comment on how accurately Mann covers the past, but I can say this is the kind of history book that draws you in. It's not dull, it's good historical story telling.

The only real complain I have about this book is the size. I can't stand big fat books - and this is, without doubt, a wristbuster. It's the best argument for the Kindle I've seen in a long time. It's getting on for 5 centimetres thick and weighs in at around a kilo with 535 pages including back material. I would have enjoyed it even more if it had been half the size. Still, undoubtedly interesting. Read more about it and (if you have delicate wrists it's also on Kindle at