Synopses & Reviews
Exploring the development of humankindbetween the Old World and the New—from15,000 BC to AD 1500—the acclaimed authorof Ideas
and The German Genius
offers agroundbreaking new understandingof human history.
Why did Asia and Europe develop far earlierthan the Americas? What were thefactors that accelerated—or impeded—development? How did the experiences of OldWorld inhabitants differ from their New Worldcounterparts—and what factors influenced thosedifferences?
In this fascinating and erudite history, PeterWatson ponders these questions central to thehuman story. By 15,000 BC, humans had migratedfrom northeastern Asia across the frozen Beringland bridge to the Americas. When the worldwarmed up and the last Ice Age came to an end,the Bering Strait refilled with water, dividingAmerica from Eurasia. This division—with twogreat populations on Earth, each unaware of theother—continued until Christopher Columbusvoyaged to the New World in the fifteenth century.
The Great Divide compares the developmentof humankind in the Old World and the Newbetween 15,000 BC and AD 1500. Watson identifiesthree major differences between the twoworlds—climate, domesticable mammals, andhallucinogenic plants—that combined to producevery different trajectories of civilization in thetwo hemispheres. Combining the most up-to-dateknowledge in archaeology, anthropology, geology,meteorology, cosmology, and mythology, thisunprecedented, masterful study offers uniquelyrevealing insight into what it means to be human.
"Watson, a former senior editor at the London Sunday Times, explores the radically different cultures and fates of the Eastern and Western hemispheres in this sweeping comparative history from the last Ice Age to the Columbian contact. His analysis spotlights gross environmental disparities: compared to the Old World, the Americas had a smaller land mass and population, a geographical layout that impeded cultural and technological exchange, a dearth of domesticable plants and animals and an unstable climate and terrain wracked by hurricanes, droughts, volcanoes, and earthquakes. But Watson reaches further sometimes implausibly far in linking physical and ecological conditions to ideology and religion; he contends that the New World's frequent geoclimatic disasters provoked rites of human sacrifice to propitiate angry gods, and that the Old World's experience with animal husbandry helped engender both the Judeo-Christian tradition and rationalism. Watson (The Caravaggio Conspiracy) integrates reams of multidisciplinary scholarship into an ambitious and stimulating unifying framework. Inevitably, some of his speculations feel forced, especially on the meanings of the New World's bloodthirsty rituals and shamanistic jaguar deities, which feel like exotic enigmas beside the more familiar narrative of Old World progress. Still, like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, his grand-scale history contains fascinating insights at every turn. B&w illus.; maps. Agent: Robin Straus Agency. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Peter Watson, the acclaimed author of Ideas
and The German Genius
, offers a groundbreaking new exploration of the progress of human history. Watsons The Great Divide
compares and contrasts the development of humankind between the “Old World” and the “New”—between 15,000 B.C. and 1,500 A.D—and, like Jarod Diamonds Guns, Germs, and Steel
, Watsons remarkable book offers a fascinating, all-encompassing, highly readable overview of how human civilization has grown and expanded. Combining the most up-to-date findings in archaeology, anthropology, geology, meteorology, cosmology and mythology, this unprecedented, masterful study offers uniquely revealing insights into what it means to be human.
This appendix, which explores the similarities between the civilizations of the Old World and the New, is available here.
About the Author
Peter Watson has been a senioreditor at the London Sunday Times, a New York correspondentof the London Times, a columnist for theLondon Observer, and a contributor to the New YorkTimes. He has published three exposés on the world ofart and antiquities, and is the author of several booksof cultural and intellectual history. From 1997 to 2007he was a research associate at the McDonald Institutefor Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.He lives in London.