in the park, you can be in that part devotee like you are in nature so that's my sort of -- >> i'm going to add to that argument actually because a fair person. [laughter] that he also got to keep coming back to it over and over again so he goes away for a purpose of time, comes back. he keeps being brought in before a few questions and in the sort of sent away so they take some did not all. i think that from his perspective he would probably have said if he had to pick the bill was still his beebee his firstborn, his everything by do the did prospect park the word from their mistakes. so, they found somebody willing to throw the whole thing did not ask the basic goal question. and they were able to use a lot of the team that did put together and that is the other
figure out olmsted it is interesting is his ability to manage as you pointed that out in many parts of it, but managing by picking a really good people who could handle the job. .. >> i'm going to actually let him tell you the story himself, but his story in the book will make you think in a new way about so
many things, about food, diseases, people, trade, and how events four centuries ago set a template for events we're living through today as the global network has become a furious intellectual battle. i don't think anyone here would disagree with that. he's a great thinker, scholar, and questioner. he sympathizes the recent research by ecologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians to uncover today's fiercist political disputes, everything we're talking about and you see in the op-ed pages from immigration to trade policy to culture wars, and he always finds a great way to tell the story. in his book, he's an engaging guide from page one to 410. you may have already read charles mann's other books, the mind rocking "1491", and others
that won awards for best book of the year. you may have read him in half a dozen magazines like "wired" or seen the two episodes he wrote of "law and order." we have another great interdisciplinary thinker and writer, richard rodriguez. he's the author of a trilogy that studies class, ethnicity, and race in america. richard's books are close at hand on my shelf. they are right above my desk. we missed him here. the last few years, we were lucky to get him down from san fransisco where he's finishing a book on psychology of moo no theism. i'm so pleased and honored to present these two writers in conversation with each other.
join me in welcoming charles c. mann and richard roughing rei goes to the -- rodriguez to the library. [applause] [cheers and 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. my partner, jim, and i tend to do a lot of reading on the weekends, but in separate rooms, and if i'm making noise or if i slam a book down on the table, he'll ask, what are you reading? on occasion, the occasion of this book, "1493", i would come
into his room, and he said what are you reading? i said i'm reading this book about the tomato. [laughter] this book about a tomato that made its way from south america, to mexico, and ended on a plate of pasta in italy, and then i went back to the room. jim is under the impression as i grow older, i'm going completely mad, but the book was mad, and not i that was mad. a few hours later, he said, what are you reading now? still on that book? i said i'm reading a book about malaria, the relationship of malaria to slavery. i never read this before. i never heard such an idea. oh, he says. he's reading a book by an english novelist. the next day, jim asks, are you going to read that book about malaria. i said i'm not in that section
at all now. i'm reading about many -- manilla where you can get stir fried chicken. jim says, oh. then he said as i finished this book, this remarkable book, what's it about finally? i said i think the thing i take always with me in the end is this 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 stage. i never heard of him before. through -- to my surprise reading this book, charles, this
book is about five centuries, not one year, "1493" seems to be a misnomer. >> it's a stand in. >> tell us about the ambition of the book and what you refer to as the columbian exchange. >> well, the ambition of the book is really to find out why the tomato is growing in my garden. thafers the start -- that's the start. >> that's how it started? >> yeah. you get two kinds of story. the editor calls you up asking you to do something about x or y, which i'm happy to do, but my favorite thing is when i notice something and say, wait a minute. we lived in new york city for a long time, and then we moved out into the country because we something more fast paced. [laughter] the thing is with new york you're on the subway for an hour
if you're lucky, absolutely nothing happens, whereas this little town i'm in, two minutes, and everything is there and is gone, so something sort of zippy in that way. [laughter] so my son, trying to think of something to do and there's local college students we saw in the small town paper, and they grew 100 varieties of tomatoes. i like tomatoes a lot. i thought, let's go see it. this was in the early 1990s. i never heard of hair loom toe -- heirloom tomatoes. i thought this was great. it's tomato pornography, a catalog of where to get all the great seeds. [laughter] these tomatoes are not from around here at all. they are all japanese or ukraine. i thought -- i just had this picture of all these tomato nerds, you know, like i kind of wanted to be, all over the world, you know, breeding and tasting their tomatoes.
i thought, how weird that is that this could have happened because they had the idea that tomatoes came from mexico. that's not true. they -- >> their taste improved in mexico. >> it used to be toxic. where to plants come from? you know, which somehow my elementary schoolteacher neglected to tell me. i looked in my garden, and absolute i everything i grew -- i live in new england -- wasn't from around there, and i realized my garden, which i was hovering around in, feels homey, and it was this exotic cos moo pal tan -- cosmopolitan globalized object. it was like a weird artificial construct. it's strange when rooting around in there, and i thought, well, how did that happen? in a large way -- >> it would have been, if i were you, it would have been satisfactory to write a book
called tomato: tomatoes i loved. [laughter] there's only one chapter in the book about earthworms, about malaria. there is something in this book, it'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 -- i think the bookends in the 1990 -- book ends in the 1990s, and the five centuries you stride through engage questions of politics, slavery, clonianism, botany, biology, history. at what point do you stop? i almost expected tiger woods to be in the end. [laughter] this golfer who calls himself a
catholic asian, is the end of the columbian exchange. what is the columbian exchange in your imagination, and how do you keep it from falling off the page of the book? >> that's another starting point for the book, the columbian exchange. my family's from the pacific northwest even though i live in massachusetts now, and one of our great treats as kids was to go to portland, and, you know, there's the pella corp. store. >> amazing store. >> it's still there. as a young adult, i still like to go there when i possibly could, and my wife was a little bit less enthusiastic with this because i emerged with a huge box of books. i was sent with an allowance. i was rummaging around and i found this book "ecological
imperialism". i picked it up, and they have these awful rattly chairs to sit in for like 10 minutes maximum there. i sat there for two hours reading the book. it was amazing. the fact of the columbian exchange, which is why this is not relevant to aggression, and what the idea is that when columbus came, what he was doing was recreating, you know, 250 million years ago, there was a single giant continent, geological forces broke it up, and as a result, there's different plants and animals here than over there. columbus recreates it, and there's this convulsion that happens. >> the world meaning itself? >> the world meaning itself. you should observe columbus day. it's a big deal in human history. [laughter] as oppose to celebrate.
it's an enormous marker, beginning of the new world. >> i choose to celebrate it, i'm part indian and it's my birthday. [laughter] >> it's the birthday of everybody, really. here i am, i'm descendent largely from, you know, scot itch people -- scottish people and i married a japanese woman. this couldn't have happened without columbus. >> i'm going to say this publicly because i've been waiting to say it since i read "1491", which for me was redemptive. i never been able to accommodate my spanish half to my indian half. i can identify my spanish half because they spoke spanish, but what was my indian half? 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 dams and a civilization here. it was not as we've always pore portrayed it to be, a virgin land filled with people who were passive. >> or act like people elsewhere in the world. the americas were occupied for 15,000 years. the implication was these people lived here and didn't do anything, the most boring people. it just doesn't fit. people are interesting. these are really dull in the picture, and when you think about it, you say that's not the case that people just sat there and were like tourists going, oh, look at trees, you know, look at the beach. that's all people do, and so they built stuff. >> where did that idea come?
i mean, i can think of any number of writers who speak of america, the united states -- >> right. >> as having been virgin land, for example. where does that idea come? that the europeans came upon a place that was essentially empty in >> it's a complicated question. >> is that the arrogance of discovery? >> part that, but one has to -- every group thinks it's important and the people it's pushing aside are not so important. >> well, but the puritans required the assistance of the indians to survive. >> that doesn't mean people who don't -- all the europeans who first came required the indians to survive. doesn't mean they can't think. the real thing that happens is this wave of disease, one of the first parts of the columbian exchange when the europeans accidently import diseases that
existed in europe, asia, and africa, and they did not exist over here, and so between 1500 and 1650 or so, somewhere between two-thirds, three quarters, or up to 90% of the people in the americas dayed, and to me -- >> that becomes a metaphor, though, doesn't it? the european becomes the actor, and the indian becomes the victim of the actions. >> in this one case, it's true, but the actual actor, of course, the europeans don't understand. they don't have a germ theefer ri for disease. it's an unbelievable thing that happens. they don't understand why. it has something to do with some celestial events, misfortune, you know, they have been bad or good or what have you. >> yeah, yeah. >> these extensively cleared areas throughout the americas where there were lots and lots and people living and farms filled in with tree, and so by the time, you know, my
ancestors, some of my ancestors came in the early 19th century. >> farms are gone. >> farms are gone, and there's a forest. we always think the world is spinning, and so that's part of it. it's hard to credit when you're in the 19th century coming here and see the forest, but it was once completely different. >> yeah. one of the wonderful things about one who is quite mad, but the murals in mexico city, there's great murals of the dread conquistador, but usually with syphilis, and so while he may have raped the indian, she brought him disease. >> right. >> what i took from your first book and what i take from this book, too, is that the counter between two human beings is going to change both of them. >> right. >> and that seems to be so profound that we don't recognize the importance of that today, that we really do imagine that, for example, that we can -- this
is not a political statement, but we can trek through iraq or afghanistan, and we will not -- 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 ways, look back at them in such a way that they will be forever changed. >> i think this is actualliy particularly for our culture, if you read mexican histories or, you know, or histories in brazil or peru of the encounter, they recognize they create this culture that's a joint creation, and here the assumption is that they had no impact at all which, you know, if you live in new york as i did for awhile, how long did it take korean immigrants in queens to do hiphop moves? how long did it take young black kids to encounter the korean
kids to start doing kung fu? people learn from each other quickly. here in north america, this encounter was not two ways, just does not seem how people are. >> can i say that there is something in this book that is just so full of male energy. i think -- >> thank you, i think. [laughter] >> i didn't want to put it too near my bed at night. there's this test toes roan in the book that it's just filled with this male energy in the world just hacking its way through the forest. brave. >> yeah, brave and id yodic. >> yes. it's in the stories that you tell. the astone europeansing --
astonishing -- i was in alaska a few weeks ago, and i was asking a group of young men why so many colleges now, it's the young girls traveling, not the boys. i think in two out of tree of the students traveling abroad as part of the college curriculum -- >> really? >> they are girls, yes. president obama's mother who went from kansas to hawaii to indonesia married twice, and so forth, and the boys are upstairs playing video games, and i said to these boys, i said what do you want from the video games? they said it's the only place where they can feel mythic, and i think to myself, these men you're describing are mythic. i mean, they were, they were aware of their importance, of their self-importance that way, don't you think? >> it's interesting. i think it's true, and one of the extraordinary thing that happens after cortez is suddenly
spaniards think, i can do this. i can go out randomly and find gold. it's like a dot-com boom. everybody is willing to fund any idea, and random spaniards can say, give me a boat, and they go out in all directions. >> one critic referred to your prose as being muscular. there is something in the prose that matches the audacity of the explorers you described in as far as there's an attempt to link the continents. do you admire this habit within the male that you describe, or -- >> i haven't thought about it. i mean, i guess this is part of what people do and of all cultures, you know, i describe how the chinese push out west,
and, you know, body slamming into asian minorities. they are still doing this today. >> yes. >> so, you know, there's often when you read histories like this, there's a lot of hand ringing, and to me, that is -- it's just not surprising people do this. one of the most striking comments that i -- that's in the last book i quote, an anthropologist who says if you read the accounts, the accounts of the people that cortez conquered in the most brutal way possible, they, of course, don't want to be conquered. they never blame the spaniards. they think this is what people do, and i think there's truth in there. in fact, if you want to stop people doing this, then the best way to do this is acceptance. this is something that is not particularly to be assigned to one group or another. this is what people do, and so,
you know, we have to -- you can't just get too worked up about it, and there is, you know, these stories are extraordinary. >> you come from a -- i mean, i think your grandmother's great uncle, pittsburgh born -- >> right. >> ends up in brazil. >> yeah, like these guys. >> it's like a character in a movie. these people, one you see in a jungle, are building a railroad. >> a railroad to nowhere. >> with some admiration, do you regard this memory? >> yeah, i mean, it was tremendously brave. >> i think so. >> he wanted to encounter the world, but at the same time, you can't left -- you have to see the person whole. these people are admirable in some ways, and, i mean, i guess you have to think of them as one wants to be judged oneself. my life is not a perfect record
of virtue, but i hope people cut me a little bit of slack. >> yep. in fact, there are relatively few women in this book. >> unfortunately, that's the way it is. >> well, let me just ask -- >> named women. women are in it, but they don't make a difference in the records. >> the ones we suspect we find. we find poke haunt toc, and another my, great, great, great, great grandmother from mexico was in there. >> really? >> well, she had to be. [laughter] >> in the book, i do a representation of the family trees. >> yes, yes. >> there's mistresses, and there's a con that lewded family tree, and they married into the nobility of the per specttive places they conquered. the spaniards couldn't rule by
force of arms, and so they married into the native nobility, and thus essentially hijacked the top, and then these empires continue -- >> except that you remark, their son, martene, goes back to spain and becomes a member of the court. he hijacks them too. >> well, people manipulate their status. >> what do you make of these stories though of the women in the new world like pochantas who are able linguistically to talk to two societies, and who have a flexibility of identity that one doesn't necessarily associate with the males of their tribe. >> well, i guess, you know, this is, you know, really what this is is about people trying to make their way in the world. it's a world for them that is in cataclysmic change.
a single constant in it no matter what societies you're in, the women are second class citizens. it varies their degree in a way, but they are not usually prominent people in the society. not like men. they are there, but they pop up momentarily in the archives, but men do this too. mep try to make their way, and you have people like my uncle, these people who went out, but the great bulk of us are, you know, just trying to do what they can, and one of the things that's exciting in spanish latin america is social caps to play off against each other and seize on identity. you talk about this in your own book, and i love that, i love
that stuff that people sort of say, oh, wait a minute, african slaves here, africans don't have to pay taxes. i'm a small businessman. i'm african, and they claim the status here, and indians do long distance trade. well, i'd like to do that. i'm indian, and then some spanish family they are related to will not have a proper heir, so they say, no, no, you're spaniard now. these incredibly fluid social categories you're talking about. well, i think that's the same as people who was from -- she learned mayan, and this is the third identity. >> that's right. that's some flexibility of selfhood, do you want -- don't you think? >> yeah. >> there's an essay somewhere
talking about the difficulty flying from new york to california, how long the six hour flight seemed, and then remembered that her ancestors trekked across the great plains or something and died or didn't, you know, by the time they reached the rockies. she wonders if she has the capacity to, for that kind of physical bravery, but i argue for that kind of flexibility of selfhood, most of us are wedded to con cements of self-that are -- concepts of self that are static than you're suggesting. >> but we're not in those situations. who knows what would have happened, how we would be, if we were in a world chai -- that changed as rapidly after the time of columbus. these were times for native people their village vanished overnight from disease, these strange foreigners would have
come in, could have come in, and then think bring in african slaves, and then there's a china town there. it's just -- it might seem rational to say, you know, i'm not going to be who i thought i was. >> the most astonishing part of the book for me since i don't like tomatoes as much as you do -- [laughter] is the business of the african. i have, you know, i think in the mid 1980s, i began to hear from the u.s. census bureau, the prediction that african-americans were about to be replaced. replaced by hispanics as the country's largest minority. there were so many things offensive about that predictions. the notion that african-american would be replaced was not clear, but the notion that hispanics
are separable from africans when they were integral to the history of americas that you rescued the history is astonishing to me. did it surprise you to come upon this history? >> you know there's a slave trade; right? >> we know the slave trade, but the stories you tell is not only the flex -- flexibility of self, but the rebellion, and the ability of slaves to survive as non-slaves. >> right, and i mean, we all know there was slavery, and that was bad. i went to a terrible public school, but they didn't convey this to me. [laughter] the -- but then again, slaves are these passive victims. they are dragged here, can do nothing, and then there's abolitionists who are noble types. >> who freed them. >> who freed them. >> yeah.
>> again, if you think about it, again, wait a minute, these people had no ability to do something for themselves. people do stuff for themselves. >> yes, yes. >> i mean, you think about it, and it just doesn't make any sense. >> yes. >> in fact, africans are involved in all parts of the slave trade, in all kinds of roles, and that slavery leaks like a sieve, and many, many people left, and it makes sense when we realize that the large fraction of the slaves who came in were prisoners of war, they were soldiers. various active nations were at war with each other, and they would sell the pows, and entire armies was sent over. the army of slaves was a slave army. they are military types. they escaped, especially in areas where they are in kind of in landscape that was familiar to them. if you are sent to brazil, you understand this in a way the
portuguese don't. it's possible for you to get there, to establish independent communities that exist for hundreds of years. it's more difficult here because in here there's winter. it's a potent way of keeping you in than any kind of english guy. >> charles, you're a historian, and you must answer this question for me. >> oh, oh. >> even if it's not a good answer. >> then you've given me license. [laughter] >> how is it we can lose hold of such a vast history? is this is willful ab knee sha on the parts of the society? how can we stand it when we see charts of american demographics where whites are here, hispanics here, and blacks here as though we're separate? how is it we can forget so much about the history of the americas? >> i thought a lot about that. i'm really glad you allow me to give a bad answer because it's a strange thing. you know, you sort of know there's a lot of slaves that
came over to the americas, but it's a shocking thing to realize that they outnumbered europeans in the terms of people who came over, three or four to one until 1840, and so all this stuff that we see from the colonial period, it was built by africans. these wonderful buildings, african hands built them. these colonial roads and canals, africans built them. the two majority populations here was african and indian. the europeans had a minor role in purely demographic terms, and you think, well, how could that have been forgotten? >> you know, i think that a big part of that, and this is just a guess 1 that when there's a great wave of european immigration started by the irish in the 1840s and then again in the 1880s and 1890, a pulse of europeans who come over, and for
the first time there becomes a demographic presence, and that's in addition to the slave trade. who do they see? they see people like themselves. they land and go to communities with people like themselves, and you get this idea that this must be what's theirs. >> it's almost too as though grammar traps us after awhile, the words are not helpful separating us from our own reality. >> right. reality during here was a big jumble. >> it was of north america, that's unacceptable socially, but if -- [inaudible] the whole language of blackness and indianness becomes inadmissible in a polite way. >> right. even though, at the same time, they know there's a proud recognition in the textbooks in a place like mexico where the fusion culture, this hybrid
culture. there's a scene that's painful in your book where i had to put it down where you say that some -- you're -- the whitest in the party. >> mexico city. >> and i say we don't have writers that look like you. >> yes, yes. >> i know exactly what you're talking about because people don't say that to me, but i hear when i'm there, the most astonishing comments in that way. >> it's a bitter part of mexico city, and the executive for televisa that when a group of mexicans get together, they talk about france. he was talking about great hotels in france that he'd been in, and i was listening to this. in the middle of the conversation, he says, who are you? i said i'm a writer. he said, you know, in mexico, we don't have journalists who look like you. only mexico would say such a thing too. [laughter]
it's true there is this vocabulary that just not sufficient to the reality that you're describing. >> right. >> speaking of -- i think the african sections of this book are just dazzling, and that's what i will remember most from the book, and the indian -- there are these legends. you don't repeat it, and i'm not sure it's true now. indians in 1492, seeing columbus on the horizon, the ships, they come to the edge of the water to wait for him. i've always thought in the indian, there is this absorb of the presence of the foreign, almost asian in that way, meets the aggression of the european activist with this capacity to take the european in. the most interesting character in literature, indian character is caliband who wants to swallow
this book, you know, and wants to devour charles mann, and he will eat it. there's this sense of i come to los angeles, and i look around, and everyone says this is the greatest hispanic city of america. i think to myself, is that true, or are we in the great indian city? go we not -- do we not have a word for that? how do you see in light of what you've written, how do you see a city like los angeles? >> let me go back to -- to me, it's not absorption is that they see this strange b object, these ship, and then these tired, dirty people come on shore. >> unprecedented people. >> yes, unprecedented people who smell bad, and everybody's ecocentric. all they are thinking is oh, and
oblivious how they smell, the spaniards have been around each other a long time, and then they see theme people from the boat and say, oh. they have interesting stuff. i'll hold my nose and see if i can acquire this stuff. >> yeah, yeah. >> it's a big deal. >> i want your horse. >> there's only a few of them. give them bad land, let them stay there. when we have enough access, we'll drive them out and kill them. it's -- what they consistently make the mistake is how many of the smelly people are over there and how willing they are to keep coming over, and that's what happened in jamestown. they let them survive. >> and yet e -- >> people get to know each other, and then they see each other at human beings.
>> and curiosity. you look different from me. can i touch your hair. >> right. they are always reporting that. you see these bristling beards, and they want to touch them. they are repelled and fascinated. >> this notion that the indians are prehistoric or anti-historical and belong on a reservation rather than los angeles, that the person who comes to los angeles is therefore 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 or are we caught in this impossible history? >> it's because if you look at the historical records and you just read what's there, you know, the maya, for example, there's millions of maya out there, and they were never conquered. when you go to javas, an example, in researching this
book, i went to javas, and i went to see this incredibly beautiful place, and my son and i are driving back on this road, a terrible road with all the speed bumps everywhere, and so we're -- you have to go 20 miles per hour because you're afraid to hit them, and something out of nowhere comes, you know, a guy with a gun, and i think, uh-oh. he looks at me and says who are you? i said, you know, look at us. he gets this look of terrible disgust on his face. >> that explains it. >> he's then gone. he says, no, no, no, we want mexicans. i'm in mexico, but they don't see it that way. >> i'm running out of time. i have to ask you about china because there's china in this book. >> yeah, yeah. >> and there's manilla.
>> yeah p. >> and i was reading in the "wall street journal" recently, a book review that concluding by saying america is scared of two things, china, and their children. [laughter] 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 walls, but people 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? >> yeah. i mean, it's important to realize that the big event, an event that the other event i guess after the diseases that i think should be taught in the schools is that what the most important event from the european point of view, and then the world point of view is in
1545, the spaniards discover this huge mountain of silver in bolivia and created an amazing town around it. it's for awhile the biggest town in the americas. >> one the biggest town in the world. >> right. it was a crazy boom town that i had a lot of fun reading about. it was like dodge city with all these different crazy people in a much larger scale, and it lasts for a couple hundred year, and just an incredible amount of silver comes out mined by countless indian and african slaves, a river of silver pours out and goes across the world, an extremely large fraction, and some argue half ends up in china, and there's this connection; right? around the world now where america silver mined by africans was taken by europeans to china in return for silk and porcelain
that is then shipped across mexico to spain. >> yes, yes. >> and the moneys from that is then taken to buy africans. >> yes. >> there's this pulse that is created by this wash of silver. >> i'm going to ask you just on that sentence -- >> uh-huh. >> the hardest question and the last question, and that is this reunion of the world, the world meeting itself after the fracture of 12 million years ago, this encounter, you know, when i see friends who are paying $500 to get their dna examined and what we really want to find out is what we don't know about the line, what our grandmothers didn't tell us. >> there's a lot of us. >> yeah. there's a lot of family secrets, but do you feel this story comes -- you are such a wonderful story teller and the joy of this book is unending, but there's a great deal of
calamity in the book. there's death and disease. >> that's the human -- sorry. >> do you feel -- the question, i guess, is not would we be better not to have met each other since that's impossible, but are you optimistic about this thing that's going to continue? this 1493 is no over. it continues. when i say tiger woods, i said that jokingly, but we're playing out the dramas from the city and the concerns of immigration. >> the whole country. >> are you optimistic? >> well, i think, you know, in a -- the way i hear your question is is the pains of this kind of calamitous explosive mixing that's been going on for 500 years jots weighed by the gain -- outweighed by the gains? >> that's correct, or do we as human beings somehow manage to find some benefit in this
calamity that -- >> right. there's -- i guess for me 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 incommerce. millions and millions of people are kept from premature death. there's a boom to human kind that in china, you know, it's no longer racked by famine. this is a good thing, i think; right? children are no longer dying, but that same tidal wave of globalization is sweeping away languages and cultures at this extraordinary rate. if you go to your part of the world and you hear about the information explosion and how much we know, but are we losing a language every ten days or
whatever the guess is? there's this huge human cost to this. >> do you fight it? >> what? >> do you fight it? >> [inaudible] >> as a human response, does one try to fight this global energy, or has the door now been opened and can't be closed? >> i don't think the door can close, but you can certainly on a human level mitigate this. i think people are torn. they want to embrace the world. you want to -- my kids, you know, are tremendous fans of japanese animae, and they have a fan club. [laughter] in massachusetts which is -- and so that's a fine thing; right? they are exposed, but at the same time, there's all kinds of other, you know, reasons why they want to kind of cling -- i and my wife, want to cling to
our new englandy -- and we're torn in this way, and that's an essential contradiction. >> the condition. >> yeah, i think that's home. >> i'm going to ask you to read something from your book just because i want the audience to have a sense of the texture of your prose. it's one of the most delightful thing about his prose is that a man this smart does not want -- one, he can write, but two, he can tell wonderful stories, and the discovery of the book that is of this story about discovery and exploration becomes your story too, and at 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 intimidation of the best traveler's tale to do
the same thing. can you read something? >> sure. >> maybe your grandmother's -- >> oh, okay. the true discovery. i'm reading about the amazon about the 19th century, and there's this huge rubber boom then where all kinds of people went out into the amazon often with huge numbers of enslaved indians and took rubber if the rubber trees, and rubber is essentially a huge part of the industrial revolution. you can't have o-rings and gaskets and all of this stuff, and the best supply came from the amazon. i'm reading these accounts, and people keep referring to this book by this guy which it's strange that in my living room is a picture of an ancestor of mine, and after awhile, i think
this would be this guy? i find out, it is this guy in our living room played a part in the story that i'll read, and i have this gene logical kick, and i started researching about the -- i mean, i thought we came from a family of lunatics, and here's another prime example. "in my living room hangs a picture of an ancestor. they were named craig. my grandfather who found the painting in a thrift shop felt it was the older craig, but the late 19th century style of the painting suggested it was the younger craig. he intended to make his fortune in rubber. he was not planning to work directly with rubber, but build a railroad to transport it. native at the amazon basin, it's
most abun adapt in bolivia. the ports nearest are in the indees, and sending rubber there means sending it over the high mountains, and then dispatch ships around the stormy tip of south america, a long dangerous trip of almost 12,000 miles. the entire route was so difficult, in fact, that the secretary of the royal geographic society call clipped it's four times faster to ship to london from the western amazon by transporting it down the river itself to the atlantic. water falls in violent rapids. west of the stretch were 300,000 miles of river in bolivia and vast supplies of rubber. east of it was the amazon and then the atlantic. the downstream end of the impassable stress was the san san antonio. my ancestor built a railroad around the rapids.
he a fine student and was hired by the u.s. coast survey before graduation. five years later, seeking excitement, he joined a philadelphia railway construction firm that obtained the contract to build the railroad. two collins brothers believed their considerable experience with railroads trumped their utter lack of experience in the amazon. [laughter] in january 1878, they sent out two ship loads of eager engineers. craig was in the first vessel. as he later recounted, winter gails plagued the journey. the storms wrecked the second and last much seaworthy ship. more than 80 people drowned. company officials had trouble replacing the lost men. philadelphia shocked by the disaster lost their enthusiasm for the venture. he hired a new work force from the the slums of several of our large eastern cities and people
with striking evidence of the soundness of darwin's theory. most were immigrants from italy, pushed from their homes because of their beliefs. as my ancestor suggests, anti-italian prejudice was widespread. these americans were desperate for work. the collins brothers took advantage of the desperation and signed them up for lower wages. apparently it did not occur to the brothers they discovered the arrangement or they would find it unacceptable. meanwhile craig steamed up the amazon to the proposed railway terminal and sent to work surveying the rote. he learned of the fate on the second ship when the aalians arrived as replacements. they found out they were paid less than everyone else and went on strike. the engineers, craig among them, created the cage for the railway and forced the strikers in by gunpoint. em prisoning the work force could have a negative impact on
the construction schedule. ultimately, the strikers went to work hacking at the forest. 75 or more took off for bolivia. none made it. perhaps because they served as food to gratify the none too dainty appetites of the cannibals. they a nearby native group kept them at bay for having a reputation of veer rosety. the fight may have been a boom. they were running out of food. my ancestor's party was starving in the midst of plenty. agriculture argued the area around the railroad was the grounds for peanuts and peppers. evidence accumulated the area was the domestication of tobacco, chocolate, and most important, the worldwide staple of manet i don't care.
my ancestor almost tied from -- [inaudible] >> thank you. [applause] i remember when i was talking to bill clinton, and he said he was 1/20th american indian. wouldn't it be wonderful if he came up upon the indian in the jungle who sounds like him and who carries on the way he does. [laughter] but to come upon your great, great uncle in the brazilian jungle is part of this american story it seems to me. 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 withheld in our families. >> it's interesting. it's unbelievably interesting. when i think about what we are told, no wonder history seems boring. >> let me open it up to questions in the audience
because i've had too much of you for too long. [laughter] >> can we take them several ways? [laughter] >> yeah, i'm mile, and i have a question. why isn't the history taught in our schools? >> do you know how textbooks are produced in this country? okay. the way it's been explained to me is that if you're a textbook company, you want to produce a textbook to be sold and read throughout the united states because they are expensive things to produce, and you have to recoop the costs by having lots and lots of students read them. a number of states have special agencies that have to approve the textbooks as has been explained to me, and the way one publisher put it to me from randomhouse, is so, you know, the three most important states
in this is new york, texas, and california, and the way he explained it to me is if you can't sell your textbook in new york, texas, and california, you basically -- it's worthless. the problem is the new york board is super liberal. the texas board is super conservative. and the california board is super crazy. [laughter] i don't have any personal experience, i'm just telling you, and once they thread the needle through this, they are really reluctant to change it because if they change the books too much to accommodate, you know, recent knowledge, then they have to go back through this, and almost all of this will offend somebody. yeah. >> there's something else there too, and you're being too generous. [laughter] you know, we're now in hispanic history month or something like that, and you think some of the african story would be a part of our history, and, you know, i've
always said if you want to do a real historic month, have the irish coming through here because the irish suffered, a story that's almost unknown in america, even to the american-irish, the defection of american-irish imgrants to the mexican side of the mexican-american war. it's an extraordinary story. it's well-known in mexico, but nowhere told here. we almost can't bear a history that gets -- that starts overlapping. you know, what has the irish been doing in the story about mexico. >> right. we have hispanic history month, and everything about off l this stuff, there's 30 days. black history month. right. so i guess the other 10 months are for europeans. [laughter] >> i wish we could, but, ncht, the other ten months of vac cue yows --
vacuous. [laughter] >> has writing this book ruined gardening for you? [laughter] can you still go out and garden, or do you see the world differently now? >> i still like to garden. it's helpful i'm not a very good gardener. i have friends who are good, and they sneer, but, you know, i'm a writer, so i'm not expected to be good at very much, but the answer is, no because, you know, the more you know about something, for me, you know, often the more you appreciate it, and, you know, when i look at these tomatoes i have because i failed to water them, i'm just marveled at the journey they've made to me, and, you know, when i do my seed saving hoping they'll grow the next year, you know, you realize you're part of
this crazy tradition, and when i take them to my friends in seattle for their garden, you realize what a part of a huge tradition you are, and that it's also in a certain way in a larger sense, it's, i think, easier to feel a little bit relaxed about what's going on in the world if you say this is something that's been going on for a long time. it doesn't mean it's not super important or super serious, 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 ray way and change it for the common good. that's how i feel. maybe i'm totally delusional. [laughter] >> hi. do you know what the -- [inaudible] actually did not spanish mon irk ky -- monarchy because very few statue
in spain, and he not honored -- it is honored in the rest of the world. >> well, he's an equivocal figure. he didn't start out to discover or set out to do what he did. he never came to the fact he had not landed in asia, and the spanish monarchy foolishly gave him privileges that they took away from him, so he died a very bitter guy who was widely reviled in that area, so it's, you know, it's not surprising to me that after all, he had this ambivalent reaction to him. ..
clearly bad the nomani area and in new england for example dutch elm disease came in and these are exotics that come in and clearly cause tremendous damage so any rational person i think would want to protect against this kind of innovator but the tomato is exotic and my area where we are very proud of asparagus we live in the asparagus valley and they have their little signs. it is an exotic species, and so on some level it seems foolish for us to celebrate and consume and to depend on these exotics and known to frown on them, but at the same time we are building a house and kind of for fun trying to dictate our garden with the new england species the
ones who aren't growing to eat and we are having a lot of fun with it and ordering them and so forth i see no harm as long as you don't take it too seriously. >> when i found 1491 in an airport bookstore and picked it up and read it and opened my eyes to something i hadn't read before i think that when you make a comment about textbooks don't teach us that and as you are talking tonight i am drawn to the authors in these terms. is there a community of writers that you feel a part of four other people you can mengin writing about these things perhaps in ways you want to reveal to us?
>> my book i say in this exchange and i hope it acknowledges enough it is a wonderful book still in print and it is worth reading about and i say in the acknowledgement by book is scribbled in the margin of his book the ecological imperialism so it is a tremendous books interested in the spanish conquest there is a series of books by john having about the conquest that are just absolutely fabulous so there's a long list of people who've written great stuff about this if you are interested in sort of ideas about how to think about these things rodriquez has written some interesting stuff. so i try in the books to tip my hat to the stuff is good and
there is a bit of a graphic s.a. >> it does seem to me also history often has examples of this exchange of identities where you end up tending your tomatoes when indians upstate new york is helping the casino but there is this wonderful wisdom that passes and it is my turn to ransack the environment for a time you can plant the tornadoes don't you think that sometimes i think the conversion of american christianity and spaniards fought it depleted europe in some way. you go to the churches of europe and they are empty. good to latin america and they are full and the protestants
throughout brazil and central america catholicism is still full in mexico koppel. it is spanish speaking. it may be that somehow i've swallowed something and have become and you have become me do you think it is possible? >> it's important to remember the native societies. >> they certainly have the kind of agriculture the practice there are things we can learn from and in fact they are studying this little talk about the casinos and so forth this is actual federal policy with the idea that these guys were so it is always amusing to me and in a
stated it doesn't have any of this so we have a sort of lofty perspective and they think like well the whole purpose of this was to give indians money in here in california all these indians have money which is not taken as a success. >> i'm curious what you think about 1421 and above what the chinese. >> the book you mean? i should explain this. there is an amazing chinese exporters a muslim munich who had these huge armada rose one of them may be the largest ever, 300 some ships from southeast china and then across the indian ocean and just to throw weight around and scare the pants off
everybody he visited with this enormous flotilla, and they know that it went all the way to the southern part of africa and this book which is why the retired submarine captain says the fleet split up and went to the united states and the caribbean and europe and basically around the world and as a big part of it they ended in the american for columbus and i should say the great bulk of its a distinctly minority viewpoint, and i actually very much enjoyed the book but i have a terrible weakness for stuff and it's like poop deck senate. [laughter] so i total sector for this kind of stuff and so i read it with
great pleasure. he says the proof they discharge the chinese which is between rhode island and massachusetts was the first european to go by there in the 1520 he landed and he noted that the women were much better looking than all the other women and so he said see, the chinese. [laughter] my wife whose japanese find this completely convincing. [laughter] so, all i can say is i wish it were true because the world will be much more interesting if it were, but i don't think that he has built up the case that grabs me but i would encourage you to
read it because it is fun to read. >> uninterested in this idea of in countering difference. there are so many instances of these encounters being sought with violence, and i'm wondering how we can encounter difference when things like our language and world view it frameworks' don't allow us to understand or approach a different place a few of the and i am wondering if you can speak to that. >> will actually, we are overall getting a little better at this. i mean, the encounters that were between the spaniards and need of people or between the chinese and the native people in the philippines or the west are comically awful, and you just
don't read about that kind of just absurd catastrophe which you see again and again and again this world the world when they encounter each other in the 15th and 16th century. i think we have a long way to go. but one of the -- weird comforts of researching this book is balboa comes to meet a group of people he's never encountered before in panama, and apparently there's a lot of guys there who are wearing skirts like clothes, so they're seems to be some sort of a power struggle going on between this group of native people so they sat dogs on them in kiloton that people i guess i
come to this from a different point of view it is so bad then that we actually do better. >> i think that there is a duality right now because i don't want to be in the mixed and nativist because at the same time the post by mexico and uninvolved and so forth and this appetite for mexican food would tell you that before people speak to each other they meet each other and there is energy right now even in the miscegenation that we are arranging on our plate of this
finished food suggest we have a little appetite to devour the world, and at the same time that over dinner we carry on with these announcements. >> don't you see that to me there is a problem of illegal immigration and having to do with idiotic policies of mexican government to disinvest and people a specially in the southern part of mexico and the u.s. has functioned for decades as a kind of safety belts for them and 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 for centuries one group of people trying to shut the door on another group it is always the time it rattles over. >> it is my job to end the
evening but to remind you -- this sounds like something on pbs. remind you that we are living in this temple of a book coming and we forget the special power that the kendal doesn't quite capture. [applause] having spent some time in the middle east recently watching muslims and christians hold their book it to sit. i've never been to a bar mitzvah or anybody walks in with a kindle. laughter could remember that and respect this man for having produced this magnificent book. thank you. [applause] i'd like to add a special thanks to the library for bringi