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THE GREAT DIVIDE by Peter Watson Kirkus Star


Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New

by Peter Watson

Pub Date: July 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-167245-3
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

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.