food, diseases, people, trade, and how events four new jersey ago set a temp plat for events as the global network has become the subject of a furious intellectual battle. and i don't think anyone would disagree with that. charles mann good is great thinker and researcher. he uncovers the germ of today's fearest political disputes, all the things we're royleing and talking about and you see in the op-ed pages, immigration to culture wars, and he finds a great way to tell the story, and in his new book, you'll find hem an engaging guy. you may have read his other sweeping portrait of american history, the mind rocking of 1491. revelations of the americas
before columbus, which won the communication award for best book of the area. or you may have read him in half a dozen magazines like the atlantic, or wired, or seen the two episodes he wrote of law & order. in a conversation with charles mann we have got separate interdisciplinary thicker and writer, richard rodriguez. richard is the author of a book that is about race in america. his books are close at hand on my bookshelf. we missed him here. we're very lucking coax him down from san francisco, where he is finishing a book on the influence of the desert for the experience of god, for the jew, the christian, and the muslim. i'm so pleased and honored to present these two writers in conversation with each other. please join me in welcoming
charles mann and richard rodriguez to the los angeles public library. thank you. [applause] >> first of all, let me say how pleased i am to be here interviewing charles. i feel a little bit like a child interviewing a giant. so, if i seem a little star-struck, forgive me. i was reading your book over several days. i tend to do a lot of reading on weekends, but in separate rooms, and if i'm making a lot of noise after i slam a back down on the table, he'll ask me, what are you reading? and on occasion, the occasion of this book, 1493, i would come into his room and i would say,
what are you reading? i'd say, i'm reading this book about the tomato. the most extraordinary book about a tomato, how it made its way to south america, and mexico, and then ended unon a plate of pasta in italy. and had the impression as i grow older that the book was mad and the idea was mine. a few hours later he said what are you reading you? i said i'm reading about malaria, the relationship of malaria to slavery. i never heard such an idea. oh, he says, he's reading a book by on english novelist. the next day, jim asks, are you going to read that book about malaria? i'm not into malaria at all now.
i'm reading about manila. about chinatown in ma nil -- manila where you could get stir fried chicken. and jim says, oh. and then he said, as i finished this remarkable book, what's it about, finally? i said i think it's one i'll always take with me in the end is the story about an african, in florida, naked, whom the indians see and confuse or maybe truly see as a spiritual and blessed man, and they give him gifts appropriate to his station. i never heard of him before. to my surprise, reading this book, charles, this book is about five centuries, not one
year. 1493 seems a bit of a misnomer. >> it's a standin. >> tell us about the amibition of this book and what you referred to as the columbian exchange. >> the amibition of the book is really to find out why the tomatoes growing in my garden. >> that's how it starts. >> basically if you're a journalist, which is what i am, you get two kinds of stories. one is where the editor calls you up and asks you to do something. but my favorite is when i notice something and say, wait a minute. so we lived in new york city for a long time. and moved out to the country because we wanted to live a little more fast-paced. the thing about new york is you get on the subway and for an hour, if you're lucky, absolutely nothing happens.
whereas in this little town i'm in, you pass through and everything is there and then gone. so my son and i were trying to think of something to do with some local college students, had grown 100 variety of tomatoes. i like tomatoes a lot. this is in the early 90s. never heard of heirloom tomatoes and all of that stock that most of you have heard of. i thought, these are great. so they gave me this tomato pornography, this catalogue to ghetto mate to seeds. and i was thinking, these tomatoes aren't from around here at all. they're japanese or ukraine, and i had this picture of tomato nerds all over the world, breeding and tasting their
tomatoes. i thought, how weird this happened. because i had this idea that tomatoes came from mexico. actually that's not true. they came from the indies. and came to mexico. and they're toxic, and i started thinking, where do plants come from, which somehow my elementary school teacher neglected to tell me, and i looked at my garden, and absolutely everything i grew -- i'm in new england -- wasn't from around there, and i realized that my garden, which i was sort of puttering around in and felt homey and was actually this exotic cosmopolitan construct, and it was strange to think about moving around in there. i thought, how did that happen? and largely that -- >> it would have been -- if i were you, it would have been --
write a book about tomatoes, but this is only one chapter the this book, about earth worms and malaria. there is something in this book that's almost as though you credit the events of 1492 with opening a door in the imagination of the world, and the five centuries after that you -- i think the book ends in the 1990s -- the five centuries you stride through engage questions of politics, slavery, colonialism, botany, biology, chemistry, history. at what point do you stop -- i almost expected tiger woods to be at the end, but this golfer who calls -- is the end of the columbian exchange.
what is the columbian exchange in your imagination and how do you keep it all from falling off the page of the book. >> the columbian exchange is a starting point from the book. my family is from the northwest. even though i live in massachusetts. and one of our great treats as kids was to go to portland and -- powell book store? amazing place. >> still there. >> and so as a young adult i still like to go there whenever i possibly could, and my wife is a little less enthusiastic about this because i would emerge with this huge bog box of books we would have to schlep around. so i found this book, the title ecological imperialism. those are who words i never
imagined jammed together. so i picked it up and they have these awful rattling chairs you can sit in for ten minutes maximum there, and i sat in there for two hours, and thought this is amazing. he was talking about -- what the idea is that when columbus came, what he was doing was recreating the original -- 250 million years ago there's a single giant continent, geological force broke it up and there's completely different plants and animals over here than over there, and columbus in effect recreates it. and there's this convulsion that happens. >> the world meeting itself. >> and this is why you should observe columbus day. it's a big deal in human history. >> i've heard that. >> a opposed to celebrating. it's a enormous market, the beginning of the modern world.
>> i always celebrate it because it's my birthday. >> it's the birthday of everybody, real ly. here i am, i'm a descended largely from scottish people in the strange part of the world married to a japanese woman. couldn't have happened without columbus. >> i'm going to say this publicly because i've been waiting to say this since i read your other book, 1491, which was so -- for me so redemtive. i have never been able to accommodate my spanish half to my indian half. i could identify my spanish half because the spanish half spoke spanish, roman catholic, but what was my indian half since i didn't speak the non -- didn't
speak the language. what you have given me in 1491 is this idea that what the european discovered here was in fact that there was something here, that there were aqueducts, damages, there was a civilization here, and -- >> many. >> it was not as we always portrayed it to be a virgin land filled with people who were passive. >> who acted like people there, there was no one else there. it was wilderness. the implication is that these people lived here for thousands of years and didn't do anything. most boring people, and the only people -- it doesn't fit. people are interesting. these are really dullards in this picture, and people see, that can't possibly be the case, people just sat there, look at the trees, look at the beach. and so they built stuff. >> where did that idea come -- i
can think of any number of writers who speak of america, the united states, as having been virginland, for example. where does that idea come that the european came upon a place which was essentially empty? >> that's a really complicated question. >> is that the arrogance of discovery? >> well, part that, i think. one has to -- one has to -- every grouping thinks it's important and the people it's pushing aside are not important. >> the puritans required the assistance of the indians to survive. >> doesn't mean that people who aren't -- all the europeans required the indians to survive. doesn't mean they can't think they're not important, but the real thing i think that happens is this wave of disease, the exchange when these europeans accidentally import all these diseases that existed in europe and asia and africa, and didn't
exist over here. and so between 1500 and 1650 or so, somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters and maybe as much as 90% of the people in the americas died, and to me -- >> becomes a metaphor, whether the european becomes the actor and the indian becomes the victim of his action. >> in this one case, it's true. the actual actor, of course, the europeans don't understand. they don't have a germ theory. the indians don't. it's unbelievable. it happens and they don't understand why. something to do with some celestial events, miss fortune, been gad -- bad or good or what have you. so these extensively cleared areas in the americas, where there is lots and lots of people living, fill in with trees, and by the time my ancestors came in
the 19th century, the house are gone and there's a forest, and we always think the world has been exactly like what we saw the first time. and that's part of it. it's hard to credit when you're in the 19th century coming here and seeing this forest, that it was once completely different. >> one of the wonderful things about rivera, who was quite mad, but on the murals in mexico city there will be these splendid murals of the dreaded conquistador, but usually with syphilis, and so while he may have raped the indians, to quote, she brought him disease. what i take from this book, too, is that you counter between two human beings. it's going to change both of them. and that seems to be so profound that we don't even recognize the importance of that today, that we really do imagine that, for example, we can -- this is is
not a political statement. we can trek through iraq or afghanistan and that we will change them but we will not be changed. in some way this is the oldest expectation of the traveler, that they can look at the world and that the world will not in some way look back at them in such a way that they will be forever changed. >> i think this is actually maybe particularly for our culture, we have this, because one of the oddities of historiography is if you read mexico histories or histories in brazil or peru of the encounter, create this culture that is a joint creation, and here the assumption is they had no impact at all, which if you live in new york, as i did for a little while, how long did it take those korean immigrants in queens to start doing hip-hop moves. how long did it take young black kid encountering those korean kids to start doing kung fu.
people learn from each other incredibly quickly so the assumption in our -- here in north america is that this encounter wasn't two-way. but it just seems how -- doesn't seem how people really are. >> there is something in this book that is just so full of male energy. i think d. >> thank you, i think. >> i didn't want to put it too near my bed at night. but there's this testosterone in this book. it's filled with these -- that's male energy and the world just hacking through the forest, brave. >> brave in the exotic. >> yes. it's in the stories you tell. the astonishing -- i was in
alaska a few weeks ago and i was asking a group of young men why in so many colleges the girls are traveling upwards. i think in two out of three of the students who of traveling abroad. >> real in? >> they're girls, yes. we're in the age -- the boys are up stairs playing video games, and i said to these boys, i said, what do you want from the video games? and they said, it's the only place where they can feel mythic, and i think to myself, you know, these men that you are describing, are mythic. they were -- must have been aware of their importance, of their self-importance that way. don't you think? >> that's interesting. i think it's true. in one of the extraordinary things that happens after cortez is suddenly all these spaniards
think, whoa, i can do this. i can go out randomly and find gold, and they are able -- it's a little like the dot-com boom. netscape goes out, everybody is willing to fund the most idiotic ideas and random spaniards can say, give me a boat, and it's expensive. >> one critic praised your book, referring to your prose as being muscular. there's something that matches the audacity of the explorers in that there's some attempt to yoke the continents and not simply cross the atlantic but across the pacific as well. do you admire this habit in the male? >> i hadn't thought about it. this is part of what people do, of all cultures. i describe how the chinese are pushing out west, and
body-slamming into asian minorities, still doing this today. and so there's -- often when you read histories like this hairs a lot of hand-wringing, and to me that just isn't surprising that people do this. one of the most striking concepts i have -- that is in the last book i quote anthropologist who says, if you read the accounts of the people that cortez conquered, in the most brutal way possible, they don't want to be conquered. they bewail what happened but never blame the spaniards. this is what people do. and i think there's some truth in that. in fact if you want to top people doing this, the best way is to accept it. and not be assigned to one group or another. this is what people do. so we have to -- you can't just
get too worked up about it, and there is -- these stories are extraordinary. >> you come from -- i think your grandmother's great uncle ends up in brazil. >> a complete lunatic. >> reminds me of a character in a herzog movie, these people that you see in a jungle are building a railroad. >> a railroad to nowhere. >> with some admiration you regard this memory? >> yeah. it is tremendously brave. he wanted to encounter the world, but at the same time he was obtuse and horrible. you can't let -- you have to see the person as a whole. these people are -- i guess you have to think of them as you would want to be judged themselves. my own life isn't a perfect record of virtue. but i hope people would see me in the round and cut me a little
bit of slack, and -- >> in fact, there are relatively few women in this book. >> unfortunately that's the way it is. >> let me just ask -- >> named women. women are -- they don't -- >> the ones we expect, we find, pocohantis. and my great-great-grandmother. >> this is something i'm extremely proud of, that in the book i do a total representation of the family trees of -- one of cortez's many mistress and he had this convoluted family tree and he was actually also related pisaro and they both married into noblity in places they conquered. spaniards would -- they couldn't rule by force of arms, and so what they would do is marry into
the native noblity, and thus essentially hijack the top and then these empires would continue. >> except that you remark, their son, martin, goes back to spain and becomes a member of the court. >> right. >> so he hijacks them, too. >> well, people manipulate their status. >> that's right. what do you make of these stories of the women in the new world, like pocohantas, and lamanchi a who are able to talk to two societies linguistically and have anite -- an identity dithat one doesn't associate with the males of the try. >> it's a lot of people trying to make their way in the world and it's a world with cataclysmic change, and there's a single constant in it, no matter what societies you go to,
the women or second-class citizens. buries their degree in the way, but not usually prominent people in the society. not certainly as men. so, they are simply making their way, and occasionally you get to hear bat few of them. they sort of pop up momentarily in the archives. but men do this, too. men try to make their way, and you do have these people, like my uncle, looneys who go out -- but the great bulk of us are trying to do what they can. and one of the things that is exciting in spanish latin america is they have all these social castes, and i love that stuff, they way that people say,
oh, wait a minute, african slaves here. africans don't have to pay taxes. i'm a small business man. i'm african, and they claim the status, or indians get to do certain kinds of trade. i'd like to do that so i'm an indian. and then some spanish family, who they're related to, will not have a proper heir, and lose the estate. they're saying, no, you're spaniard now. so these incredibly fluid social categories. that's the same as what these people like laman which he who was a mayan woman -- she learned mayan but was originally from another area, and this is becoming part spanish, her third identity. >> that's some flexibility -- remember, there's an essay where they talk about difficulty
flying from new york to california, how long the six-hour flight seemed, and then she remembered that her ancestors trekked across the great plains and died or didn't by the time they reached the rockies, and she wonders whether she has the capacity of -- for that kind of physical bravery, but i would even argue for that kind of -- that flexibility of self-hood. most of us are wedded to concepts of self-that are really rather static than as fluid as you're suggesting. >> we're not in those situations. who knows what would have happened, how we would be if we were in a world that was changing as rapidly as the world right after columbus. these are people, especially for native people, their entire village would have vanished overnight from disease. these exchange pasty-faced foreigners would have come in.
and then they bring in african slaves, and then there's a chinatown there. might seem rational for you to suddenly say, i think i'm not going to be who i thought i was. >> the most aresponsiblishing part of this book for me, since i don't like tomatoes as much as you do, is that the business of the african -- i have -- i think in the mid-1980s, i gap to hear from the u.s. census bureau a prediction that african-americans were about to be replaced -- that's the word they used -- replaced as the country's largest minority by the hispanics. one notion is offensive, that african-americans would be replaced, and the notion that
hispanics are operable from africans. when africans were integral the history of the americas, that you have rescued this history is astonishing to me. did it surprise to you to come upon this history? >> we know there's a slave trade. >> but the stories you're telling is not only the flexibility of self but also the rebellion and the ability of slaves to survive as nonslaves. >> right. and that was a -- something we all know there was slavery and that was bad. i went to a terrible public school and they didn't convey this to me. but then again, what i learned was that slaves are passive victims, and they're dragged here and they could do nothing, and there's these abolitionists who are noble types. >> who freed them. >> who freed them. and again, if you think about it, these people had no ability
to do something for themselves. people do stuff for themselves. just doesn't make any sense. and in fact, africans are involved in all parts of the slave trade in all kinds of roles and slavery leaked like a seive, and many people left, and a large fraction of the slaves that came in were prisoners of war, they were soldiers, and various african nations would be at war with each other and they would sell the p.o.w.s, so it was slave army, and they're mel tear types. they escaped. especially in areas where they're kind of landscape was familiar to them. if you're from a tropical part of africa and you're spent to brazil, you understand this landscape, and it's highly possible for you to get out
there and establish independent communities that exist for hundreds of years. it's much more difficult here because in the east coast you have winter, which is much pore potent way of keeping you in than any kind of english guy. >> charles, you're an historian, and you must answer this question for me. >> uh-oh. >> even if it's not a good answer. >> then you've given me license. >> how is it we can lose hold of such a vast history? is this a wilful amnesia on the part of societies? how can we stand it when we see these charts of american demographic charts where who its are here and hispanics are here. these are separate times. how can we forget so much about the history of the americas? >> i thought a lot about that. i'm glad you allowed me to do a bad answer. it's a strange thing. you sort of know there are a lot of slaves that came over to the
americas, but it's a shocking thing to realize that they outnumbered europeans in terms of the number of people that came over, three or four to one, until 1840. and so that all this stuff that we see from the colonial period was built by africans, these wonderful buildings, colonial roads, canals, africans dug them. and then you think, wait a minute, too much population here were african and indian and europeans with an important but minor role in demographic terms, and you think, how could that have been forgotten in i think one -- a big part of that -- this is just a guess -- is that when there's a great wave of european immigration started by the irish in 1840s, and a big wave is then later in the 1880s and 1890s, big pulse of europeans that come over and they become really significant
demographic presence in the boats coming over, and they look around on these boats and who do they see? people like themselves and they land and go into communities, and the communities are people like themselves, and you get this idea that this must be what is there. >> it's almost -- our gramar drops us after a while. these word are not helpful. they separate us from reality. >> the reality is this place is a jumble. >> it is true in latin america, if i say indio, it's -- if i say negro, that's unseasonable. so the whole language of blackness and indianness becomes inadmissible in a polite way. >> even though at the same time they know that you have this proud recognition in the textbooks in places like mexico where the fusion culture, this hybrid culture was somehow --
something that was seen as so pain inflame the book, i had to put it down, where you say that you're -- the whitest dinner party in mexico city, and i said, we don't really have writers that look like you, and i know exactly what you're talking about because people don't say that to me but i hear when i'm over there, the most astonishing comments. >> at the dinner party in mexico city, with an executive. when a group of mexicans of that class gets together, they talk about friends, and he was talking to me about france, and i was listening to this and he says, who are you? and i said, i'm a writer. anytime mexico city for a conference. he said, munching on his salmon, he said in mexico, we don't have journalists who look like you. only mexican would say this to one of her children but it's true.
there's this vocabulary. it's just not sufficient the reality you're describing here. speaking of -- i think the african sections of this book are just dazzling, and that's what i remember most in the book. but the indian. there are these legends -- you don't repeat it, and i'm not sure it's true now. indian in 1492, seeing columbus on the horizon, these ships, che come to the edge of the water to wait for columbus. i've always thought in the indian there is this absorb yancy in the presence of a foreign, almost asian in that way, but it meets the aggression of the european activist with this capacity to take the european in. the most interesting character in literature, indian character, is calaban, who wants to swallow
this book. and wants to devour charles mann, and he will eat it. there's that sense of -- i come to los angeles, and i look around, and everyone says, this is the greatest hispanicin city of america, and i think to myself, is that true or are we in the great indian city? and do we not have a word for that? how do you see in light of what you have written, how do you see a city like los angeles? >> let me go back to the time. it isn't so much absorption, they see this strange object, these ships, and then these tired, dirty people come onshore. >> unprecedented people. >> people who smell bad, and everybody is ethnocentric, right? they're thinking, ick. just like -- and these spaniards, oblivious to how they
smell because they've been there for a long time, and they see these people dressed funny, and they think, ick. that's the human part. these guys have some interesting stuff. i'll hold my nose and i'll see if i can acquire some of this stuff. only a few of them. so, give them some bad land, let them stay over there, and then we'll drive them out and kill them. so, it's -- and what they consistently make the mistake, because how can they know -- is how many of those smelly people are over there and how willing they are to keep coming over, and that happened in jamestown. they let them survive. >> and yet erot simple exists in strangers. >> and then people get to know each other and see each other as human beings. >> you look different, you look
different from me. can i touch your hair? >> and they're always reporting that, that the indians -- you see this brisley beards and they want to touch them. >> this notion that the indians are pre historic and they belong on a reservation rather than in los angeles, that the person who comes from los angeles is their hispanic, a child of spain, not the indian. are we ever going to teach a generation of children to think of their indian self as the actor? are we caught in this impossible history? >> it's -- if you look at the historical records and just read what there, the mayans, i don't know how many million mans there are and they were never conquered. i'll give you an example.
i wasn't to chavez, and i want to see this incredibly beautiful place, and my son and i are driving back on this terrible road with the speed bumps everywhere, and -- they're not enough so you have to go 20-miles-an-hour because you're afraid to hit them, and suddenly out of nowhere comes a guy with a gun. and he says, who are you? and i said, book -- look at us. he gets a look of terrible disgust on his face. north americanos, and he says good, on. my son says, no, no, we want the mexicoans. and we're in mexico. they don't see it that way. >> i have to ask you about china because there's china in this book and there's manila, and the
china that you -- i was reading in the wall street journal recently, book review that connect by saying there are two things americans are afraid of, china and their children. but the china that you portray in the 17th and 18th century seems more like today's china than not. it is -- these are not people who are held by their own wall. these are people who are trespassing into the world, and who are engaged in the commerce of the world in the most astonishing way. do you see china as a continuous intervention within this columbian experiment? >> it's important to realize that the big event, the other event after the diseases i think should be taught in the schools -- is that the most important event from the european point of view and the world point of view, is in 1545
the spaniards discover a huge mountain of silver in bolivia, in this amazing town they created, the biggest town in the americas. >> one of the biggest towns in the world. >> right. this extraordinary crazy boomtown, which i had a lot of fun reading about. it's like dodge city with all these different crazy people, and a much larger scale, and lasts for a couple hundred years, and an incredible amount of silver comes out of the mines by countless indian and african slaves. rivers of silver pours out and goes across the world, and an extremely large fraction of it -- scholars argue how much -- half, two-thirds -- ended up in china and there's this connection around the world now where american silver, mined by africans, taken by europeans to china, in return for sill and can porcelain that is then
shipped across mexico to spain and the money from that is taken to buy africans. there's this pulse that is created by this wash of silver. >> i'm going to ask you, just on that sentence, the hardest question and the last question and that is, this reunion of the world, the world meeting itself after the fracture 12 million year ago, of this encounter when i see friends who are paying $500 to get their dna examined. what we really want to find out is what we don't know about the line, what our grandmothers didn't tell us. >> a lot of us. >> a lot of family secrets. do you feel -- this story comes -- you are such a wonderful storyteller, and the book is unending but there's a bit of calamity in this book.
deaths and disease. do you feel -- the question, i guess, is not -- we better not to have met each other, which is impossible, but are you optimistic about this thing that's going to continue? this 1493 is not over. it continues. and when i said tiger woods, i meant that jokingly, but in some way i was playing out the dramas of 1493 in the city, and the concerns with illegal immigration. >> the whole country. >> are you optimistic? >> i think the way i hear your question, you're saying, is the pains of this kind of calamitous explosive mixing -- >> too we as human beings manage to find some benefit in this
calamity? >> i guess the -- when i think about this and wrestle with it, is that -- the problem is the pains and the gains, the goods and the bads, are incommensurate. a potato comes to europe. the sweet potato comes to china. millions of people are kept from premature death. it's an extraordinary boom to humankind. europe is no longer wracked by famine. children nor longer dying, but the same tidal wave is sweeping away languages and cultures at an extraordinary rate, and you hear people you're part of the world and silicon valley and the explosion of information, but are we losing a language every ten days or whatever the guess is? so, there's this huge human
cost. >> do you fight it? >> hmm? >> as a human response does one try to fight? >> i don't think the door can close but you can -- on a human level mitigate -- i think people are torn. they want to embrace the world. you want to -- my kids are tremendous fans of japanese anime, and they have a little club in massachusetts, which is -- and so that's a fine thing. they're exposed to this. but at the same time, there's all kind of other reasons why they want to -- i and my wife want to college our new
englandy -- we're torn in this way and that's an essential -- >> the modern condition. >> yeah. i think that's home. >> we're going to ask you to read something from your book because i want the audience to have a since of the texture of your prose. a man this smart does not want -- he can write but, two, he can tell wonderful stories, and it's -- and the discovery of the book, that is, the story of discovery and exploration, becomes your story, too, and many times in the course of these chapters, you are in china or you are in bolivia, you're discovering things and asking questions of people, and it's really quite a wonderful -- i don't want to say parody but an imitation of the best of the traveler's tale. could i ask you to read something about maybe your
grandmother's uncle. >> true discovery. reading about the amazon, in the 19th century, there's a huge rubber boom where all kinds of people went out into the amazon, often with huge numbers of enslaved indians, and took rubber from the rubber trees, and rubber is an essential part of the industrial revolution. you need belts and o-rings and all this stuff and the best supply came from the amazon. so i'm reading these accounts, and people keep referring to this book by this guy, neville b. craig, which at it in my living room, a picture of an ancestor of mine, neville craig,
and i thought, what are the odds this is my ancestor? and it is. and i had this sort of genealogical kick, and i started researching -- i always thought i came from family of lunatics and here's another example. >> in my living room hangs a portrait of my grandmother's inning ken. both were named neville craig mitchell grandfather found the painting in a thrift shop thought the subject was the older craig, the founder of the first daily number in pittsburgh but the style of the painting suggest ited was the younger a craig. leaving for amazon. he was not planning to work directly with rubber but planned to help build a railroad to transport it. native of the amazon basis, the tree is on the border lands.
sending rubber to ports means carrying it across high mountains, after doing that, shipping the latex to england would involve dispatching ships around the tip of south america arkansas long and dangerous trip of 12,000 miles. the entire reduce was so difficult that they calculated in 1871 it would be four times faster to ship rubber to london by transporting it to the amazon and then the it theric. the problem was that waterfalls and violent rapids blocked 229-mile section of the lower madera. east of it was the white amazon and then the atlantic. the downstream end or the impassable stretch was a brazilian hamlet. my an zest you're went there to build a railroad around the rapids. craig got his undergreat degrees
engineering at yale. five years later, seeking excitement, he joined collins, philadelphia railway construction firm, which is team that contracted to build the madeira'd. two collins brothers seemed to believe their experience with the railroad trimmed their utter inexperience with the amazon. they set out with eager volunteers of engineers and laborers from philadelphia. craig went in the first vessel. as he later recounted, winter gales playinged the journey. more than 80 people drowned. company officials had trouble replacing the lost men. philadelphians lost their enthusiasm for the venture. eventually collins hired a new work force from the, quote, slums of several of our larger eastern cities, people, quote, exhibiting in i shape,
countenance and gesture, countenance. most were immigrants from southern italy, many pushed out of their homes for beliefs. antiitalian prejudice was widespread. the collins brothers took advantage of the desperation for work to sign them up for lower wagers than original. meanwhile, craig steamed up the am sewn and the madera to the proposed railroad term news. he learned of the fate of the men of the second shape when their replacements arrived. they found out they were being paid less. and they went on strike. craig constructed a cage and forced the strikers into it by gunpoint. i waited in vain for reading that the -- ultimately the
strikers went to work, hacking at the forest, few weeks later, quote, 75 or more took off for bow liva. none made it. perhaps craig speculated because they had, quote, served as food for the indians. the indians, a nearby native group, kept potential colonists at bay by cultivating the -- >> while the jamestown my anisesser to's party was starving in the midst of plenty. it's been argued the area was the development ground for peanuts and chile pepper but evidence that accumulated the area was also the dough met tick indicated site of chocolate and maniok. my ancestors nearly died of lack
of food in one of the world's biggest agricultural heartlands. >> i remember once talking to bill clinton and he told me he was 1/20th american indian, and that wouldn't it be wonderful if bill clinton could come upon the indian somewhere in the jungle who sounds like him and carries on the way he does, but to come upon your great-great-great uncle in the jungle is part of this american story, it seems to me, that we are wedded to this history and the shock is that we have forgotten so much of it and that so much of it has been withhell from our families. >> and so interesting what went down. unbelievably interesting. no wonder history seems boring. >> let me open this up to questions from the audience.
that's had too much of you for too long. >> that's actually could -- coue taken several ways, couldn't it. >> my name is mario, and i have a question. why isn't this history taught in our schools? >> do you know how textbooks are produced in this country? the way it's been explained to me, if you're a textbook company you want to produce a textbook that will be sold and read throughout the united states because they're expensive and you have to recoup your costs and have lots of students read them. a number of states have special agencies that have to approve the textbooks, so it's been explained to me, and the way one publisher put it to me from random house is that the three most important states in this are new york, texas, and
california. if you can't sell your textbook in new york, texas, and california, you can't -- you basically it's worthless. the problem is that the new york board is superliberal, the texas board is superconservative, and the california board is supercrazy, and -- [laughter] >> i don't actually have any personal experience with this. i'm just telling you. so once they thread the needle through this, they're really reluctant to change it because if they change the textbooks too much to do. recent knowledge, they have to go back through this, and almost all of this will offend somebody. >> there's something else, too, and you're being too generous. we're right now in hispanic history month, and you would think some of this africa story would be part of our history, and i always said if you want to
do a real hispanic history much you should have the irish coming through here, because the irish -- a story that is almost unknown in america, even to the american irish, of the affection of american irish immigrants to the mexican side of the border. an extraordinary border. well known in mexico, but nowhere told in -- we almost can't bear a history that gets -- that starts overlapping. what is the irishman doing in this story about mexico? >> you see hispanic history month, and everybody below out of this stuff -- there's 30 days and learn about -- and doesn't have anything to do with the -- black history month, and i guess the other ten months are for europeans. >> i mean, i wish. i wish we could -- but in fact the other ten months are vac united vacuous.
>> has writing this book ruin edgarening for you? , you still go out and garden? >> i still like to garden. it's very helpful i'm not a very good gardener. i have these friends who are really good gardeners and they sneer at my -- but i'm a writer so i'm not expected to be very good at very much. but the answer is, no, because the more you know about something for me, often the more you appreciate it, and when i look at these spindly tomatoes i have because i failed to water them, i just marvel at the journey they made to me, and when i do my incompetent seed saving and hope they grow in the next year, you realize your part of the crazy tradition, and when
i take them to my friends in seattle for their gardens you realize your part of a huge tradition, and i think it's easier to feel a little relaxed about what is going on in the world when you say, wait a minute, this has been going on for a long time. doesn't mean it's not superimportant and superserious, but it's not this sudden onslaught that's happening to us right now. it's part of a long process that maybe we can intervene in, in a way and change it for common good. at least that's how i feel. i might be totally delusional. >> do now know what actually did to the french monarchy because very few got statue in spain now, and he not honored as it is
honored in the rest of the world. >> he is an equivocal figure. didn't, after all, set out to discover -- didn't set out to do what he did. he never really copped to the fact he hadn't landed in asia, and the spanish monarchy gave him privileges who they later took away from him and he died a bitter guy who was widely reviled in that area. so it's not surprising to me that, after i had this ambivalent reaction to him, that feeling is more general than not. if you go to santa to domingo there's an enormous monument, this huge monument to him. it's like this cross thing, 600 feet long, and has all these
lights that shine. it's so intense when they shine it, it blacks out all the areas around it, and there are huge protests when they put it up. so i'm not sure he is so honored elsewhere in the world. he is a profoundly important guy, but not -- people feel unease about him. ... in my area and new england for
example. dutch elm disease came and wiped out the elms. these are exotics that come in and clearly caught tremendous damage so any rational person i think would be, want to protect their existence against this kind of invader, but the tomato is not exotic, right? the ones that my area we are very proud of our spirit is. we live in the asparagus valley, and believe it or not there are little signs. [laughter] it is an exotic species, noninvasive. it is an exotic species so it seems foolish enough for us to celebrate and consume and depend on these exotics in order to frown on them, but at the same time, we are building a house and kind of for fun we are trying to decorate our garden with the ones we aren't growing to eat and we are having a lot
of fun with it going out and picking these plants we don't know very much about and ordering them and so forth so i see no harm in it as long as you don't take it too seriously. >> so, when i found 1491 in an airport took store and picked it up and read it, it opened up my eyes to something i hadn't read before which i think when you made the comment about textbooks don't teach us that. as you were talking tonight, i am drawn to the writings of other offers -- authors that i've read, jared diamond for example, eduardo galliano. is there a community of writers that you feel a part of or other people you can mention who are writing about these things in ways that perhaps weren't revealed to us by other writers in the past? >> i mean my book, i say there
is a book called the colombian exchange published 30 years ago and they say -- it is a wonderful book still in print. i say i think in the analogy of my book is scribbled in the margins of his book. he also wrote this book is a logical imperialist so those are two tremendous books. if you are interested in you know the spanish conquest there is a whole series of books by john hemming about the portuguese conquest that are absolutely fabulous and there along with the people who have written great stuff about this. if you are interested in sort of ideas about how to think about these things there is rodriguez who is written some excellent stuff. [laughter] so, i tried in the book to sort of tip my hat to the stuff i think is really good and there is a little bibliographic type essay in the back where a wave
my stuff. >> charles, does seem to me also, history of often has examples of this exchange of identities, where you end up pegging your tomatoes when some indian tribe in upstate new york is opening a casino. there is this wonderful wisdom that passes. it is my turn to sort of ransacked the environment for a time. you can plant, you can plant the tomatoes. don't you think that sometimes you know, i think of the conversion of latin american christianity by the spaniards. it depleted europe in some way. the churches of europe are all empty. you go to latin america and the churches are all full. the evangelical protestants are spreading throughout brazil and central america. catholicism is still in mexico
and the villages of south america. the mormon church now in its world majority, world population is spanish-speaking. it may be that somehow i swallowed something and i have become the brutalist in nature while you have become me. do you think that is possible? >> sure but also common is important to remember that native societies again -- go you know they certainly have the kind of agriculture they practice of and there are certainly things we can learn from and they are studying them to this, but let me talk about the casinos and so forth. it is important to remember that this is actual federal policy. we passed the indian gaming act of 1973 with this idea. and so it is always amazing to me, i am in a state that doesn't have any of this so we have sort
of lofty perspective, right? and i think like wow, the whole purpose of this was to give the indians money and here in california all these indians have money. >> which is not taken as a success. >> that's right. >> i am curious what you think about 1421, about the chinese. they were there seven years before columbus. >> in the book you mean? this is a book i should probably explain a little bit. there is an amazing spanish, not spanish, chinese explorer, a a muslim munich who led these huge armadas. one of them may be the largest ever, 300 some ships from southeast china and across the indian ocean and just to throw china's weight around and scare the pants off of everybody he visited with this enormous hotel
and they know that they went all the way to the southern part of africa and this book which is by this retired submarine captain named gavin menzies that the fleets put up and they went to the united states and to the caribbean and europe and basically went around the world and is a big part of it they landed in the americas before columbus. and i should say that the great bulk -- i actually never encountered a historic -- so it is a distinctly minority viewpoint. and, i actually very much enjoyed the book that i have a terrible weakness for nautical stuff you know and he is a retired captain. there were decks and it. so i am just a total for this kind of stuff so i read with great pleasure.
at one point he says, to prove that they actually discharged a whole bunch of chinese in buzzards bay which is you know, right between rhode island and massachusetts is this day and bay and newport is near there, with the first european to go back there in the 1520s. he landed at lizard's bay and he noted that the women there are were much better looking than all the other women and so gavin menzies said c., chinese. [laughter] my wife who is japanese vines is completely convincing and of course i do as well. [laughter] buts, so, all i can say is that i wish it were true because they think the world would be much more interesting if it were, but i don't think he is really building up the case that really grabs me. but i would encourage you to read it. it is really fun to read.
>> hi. i am interested in this idea in countering difference. there are so many instances of of -- being fraught with violence, right? and i'm wondering how we can, how we can encounter different when things like our language, our worldviews and their frameworks don't allow for us to understand or approach the difference from a place of humility and i'm wondering if you could speak to that? >> well, actually, i think people are sort of overall getting a little better -- better with this. the encounters that were between the spaniards and native people who are between the chinese, the native people in the philippines or the west argue no sort of comically awful. you know, and you just don't
read about that kind of, you know, just absurd catastrophe, what you see again and again and again throughout the world, what persons encountered in the 15th or 16th centuries. i think we have a long ways to go but one of the weird comforts of researching this book was, for instance balboa comes to -- meets a group of people he is never has never encountered before in panama and apparently there is a bunch of guys there who are wearing skirt length close, and there seems to be some sort of power struggle going on between, in this group of native people and they see the spaniards there and they see say -- they are all. and so the spaniards six dogs on them and killed them all. i don't think this would happen
now. people just wouldn't be so naïve and immediately think oh i will go kill these people. and so, i guess i actually come to it from a different point of view. it was so bad then that we actually look a little bit better now. [laughter] >> i think that there is some duality of energies going on right now because of the at the same time i don't want to be a nativist because -- at the same time america wanting walls and so forth, this appetite for mexican food is happening at the same time. before people speak to each other they eat each other. and there is some energy right now even in the nation that we are arranging on our plates. this kind of tie, finnish food.
it suggests we have a literal appetite to devour the world and at the same time, over dinner, we carry on with these announcements of armageddon. >> don't you see that, to me, obviously there is a real problem of illegal immigration and much of it having to do with idiotic policies of the mexican government to do so vests, effectively dispossess people in the southern part of mexico and the u.s. function for decades is a safety for them so clearly there is an issue there. but at the same time, when you look at these efforts that have taken place in latin america were centuries one group of people trying to shut the door on another group of people. is almost always a sign that the battle is over. >> it is a my job to end the evening but to remind you that
we are living in this book and we forget that the waded once had had a special power that the kindle doesn't quite capture. [applause] having spent sometime in the middle east recently and watching jewish and muslims and christians hold their holy book and kiss it. i have never been to a bar mitzvah of where anybody walks in with a candle in their hands. [laughter] remember that and respect this building for these books and this man for having produced this magnificent book. thank you very much. [applause] >> i would like to add a special thanks for the library. both for bringing us here and for existing. this is a great place and you should use it.