The Great Divide: Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New


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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.

Editorial Reviews

An ingenious work about the course of human history. From the time ancient people came into America until Columbus landed, two entirely separate populations existed on Earth, one in each hemisphere. Journalist and cultural historian Watson (The German Genius, 2010, etc.) examines that epoch of over 16,000 years as they adapted, developing different survival strategies, customs, languages, religions and ultimately different civilizations. After leaving Africa, modern humans took about 50,000 years to reach eastern Siberia, arriving during the last ice age when sea levels were lower, exposing a land bridge to Alaska. Around 15,000 years ago, many crossed. They entered a violent hemisphere with destructive hurricanes, dramatic temperature and rainfall variations and 90 percent of the world's tornados, as well as far more seismic and volcanic activity than Old World mainland areas. Added to naturally occurring hallucinogenic and stimulant plants (rarer in the Old World), New World religions and ideology displayed a vivid, apocalyptic tone. Watson discusses what these migrants brought: specific flood and creation myths, genetic markers, language elements and dogs. Agriculture and cities eventually developed, but the New World made do without horses or other beasts of burden, except the llama, which never reached Mexico, as well as large, edible domestic animals, the plow and the wheel. The author seems to know everything about his subject and to hold an opinion on every issue, which he enthusiastically passes on. Watson makes a fascinating case that while there may be a single human nature, long exposure to dissimilar landscapes, food, animals and climate created two unique approaches to this nature. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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