Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Review: Ecological Imperialism


Crosby, Alfred W. Ecological Imperialism: the Biological Expansion of Europe 900-1900. 2nd ed. New York; Cambridge University Press, 2004.

All I really have to say about this book is that Jarrod Diamond ripped Crosby's 1986 first edition wholesale in Guns, Germs, and Steel. There were few ideas in Diamond's work that wasn't at least presaged by Crosby. In fact, Diamond's use of Crosby's work loses a lot in the transition. Diamond's greatest weakness was his misunderstanding of the nature of oceanic travel, which is one of Crosby's strengths.

The general theme of this work is that Afro-Eurasian plants, animals, and diseases have adapted to constant human impact on their environment, and thus thrived in disturbed environments. The biota of ares colonized in the age of sail had not adapted to this disruption, and the combined onslaught of the invasive species (includes plants, animals, insects, micro-organisms, and humans) was profoundly disruptive, thus creating a self-reinforcing cycle of invasion. That is, one invasive species creates a niche for another, which allows a third, which brings in a fourth, which enlarges the niches of the first three.

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