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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  November 26, 2011 8:00am-9:15am EST

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>> on the upper right side of the page. booktv has over 100,000 twitter followers. follow booktv on twitter to get publishing news, scheduling updates, author information, and talk directly with authors during our live programming. is there a nonfiction author or book you'd like to see featured on booktv? send us an e-mail at or tweet us at >> this man will tell you how his brilliant new book, "1493"
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actually originated with a question about an heirloom toe may toe plant -- tomato plant. i'm going to let him tell you that story himself. but his story will make you think about so many things, about people, food, diseases, trade, and how a template for event was set as the global network has become the subject of a furious intellectual battle, and i don't think anyone here would disagree with that. charles mann, is a great scholar and questioner. he sint theses the latest research by archaeologists and historians to uncover the germ of today's fiercest political disputes, all the things that we are roiling and talking about and you see in the op-ed pages. and he always finds a great way
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to tell the story. and in his new book, you'll find him an authorrive and engaging guide. you may already have read charles mann's other sweeping portrait of american history, the mind-rocking "1491" which won the national academy's communication award for best book of the year. or you may have read him in half a dozen magazines like the atlantic, science or wired or even seen the two episodes of wrote of "law and order." in a conversation with charles c. mann tonight, we have another great writer, richard rodriguez, richard is the author of an autoboig -- autobiographical thriller. we've missed him here at aloud the last few years, and we were very lucky to coax hem down from
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san francisco where he's hard at work 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 c. mann and richard rodriguez to the los angeles public library. thank you. [applause] >> first of all, let me just say how pleased i am to be here interviewing charles. i feel a little pit like a child -- a little bit like a child interviewing a giant. [laughter] so if i seem a little starstruck, forgive me. i was reading your book over several days. my partner, jim, and i tend to do a lot of reading on weekends,
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but in separate rooms. and if i'm making a lot of noise, laughter, if i slam a book down at the table, he'll ask, what are you reading? and on occasion, the occasion of this book, "1493," i would come into his room, and he'd say, what are you reading? i said, i'm reading this book about the tomato. [laughter] it's the most extraordinary book about a tomato, how it made its way up from south america to mexico, and it ended up on a plate of pasta in italy. and then i'd go back to my room. jim is of the impression that i'm growing, as i grow older, completely mad. but the book was mad, and it was not i that was mad. a few hours later, he said what are you reading now? are you still on that book? i'm reading a book about malaria, about the relationship of malaria to slavery. i never read this before. i've never heard such an idea.
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oh, he said. he's reading a book by an english novelist. the next day jim asks, are you going to read that book about malaria? oh, i'm not into the malaria section at all now. i'm reading about manila, about china town in manila. there was a china town in the 17th century in manila where you could get stir fried chicken. and jim says, oh. and then he said as i finished this book, this remarkable book, what was it about finally? i said, i think the thing i will 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
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blessed man, and they give him gifts appropriate to his station. i never heard of him before. to my surprise reading this book, charles, um, this book is about five centuries, not one year, 1493 seems a bit of a misnomer. >> it's a sort of a stand-in. [laughter] >> tell us a little about the ambition of this book and what you, what you refer to as the colombian exchange. >> the ambition of the book is, um, really to find out why the tomato is growing in my garden. i mean, that's sort of the start. >> that's how it starts. >> yeah. 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 says would you do something about x or y, which
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i'm off happy to do. but my favorite things to do are when i notice something, and i say wait a minute. we live inside new york city for a long time and moved out into the country because we wanted something a little more fast-paced. [laughter] the thing about new york is you get on the subway for an hour, and if you're lucky, absolutely nothing happens whereas in this little town i'm in you pass through in two minutes, everything is there, and it's gone. something sort of zippy in that way. [laughter] and so my son and i were trying to think of something to do with our local college students had grown 100 varieties of tomatoes. i like tomatoes a lot. so i thought, let's go to see it. this is in the early '90s. i'd never heard of heirloom tomatoes which probably most of you have heard of. and i thought, this is just great. they gave me this catalog of where you could get all these
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great tomato seeds, and i was thinking, these tomatoes aren't from around here at all. they're old japanese or ukraine, and i just had these pictures of all these tomato nerds, you know, like i kind of wanted to be all over the world breeding and tasting their tomatoes. and i thought how weird that is that this could have happened, because i had this idea that tomatoes came from mexico. actually, that's not true. they came from the andes and mysteriously came to mexico. you know, it's one of these historical mysteries. and then i sort of started thinking where do plants come from which somehow my elementary schoolteacher neglected to tell me. [laughter] i looked at my garden, and absolutely everything i grew -- i live in new england, wasn't from around there. and i realized my garden which i was puttering around in and felt kind of homey was actually this exotic, cosmopolitan, modern,
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globalized object. it was like a completely weird, artificial construct. which was sort of strange to think of rooting around in there. and i thought, well, how did that happen? and, you know, largely -- >> it would have been, if i were you, it would have been satisfactory to write a book called tomato. >> uh-huh. >> tomatoes i've loved. [laughter] but this is only one chapter of this book about earthworms, about malaria. there is something in this book, um, 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 you -- i think the bookends in the 1990s, the five centuries that you strive through engage questions of politics, slavery, colonialism,
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botany, biology, chemistry, history. at what point do you stop? i almost expected tiger woods to be at the end. [laughter] that this golfer who calls himself a -- [inaudible] is the end of the colombian exchange. what is the colombian exchange in your imagination? and how do you keep it all from falling off the page of the book? >> actually, it's the colombian exchange, that's another starting point for the book. i'm from, my family's from the pacific northwest even though ily in massachusetts now, and -- i live in massachusetts now, and one of our great treats as kids was to go to portland. do you know powell's bookstore there? >> of course. >> this unbelievable bookstore. >> it's still there. >> it's still there. it's an amazing place. so, you know, as young adult, i still liked to go there when i possibly could. and my wife was a little bit
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less enthusiastic about this because i would emerge with this huge box of books which we would have to schlepp around, so i was sent with an allowance. and i found this book with this title, ecological imperialism. which i thought, i mean, that was, like, two words i had never imagined jammed together. so i picked it up, and they have these awful, rattlewhere are chairs that you can sit in for ten minutes. i sat there for two hours. and what it was talking about was the colombian exchange. and what the idea is that when columbus came what he was doing was creating -- 250 years ago there was geological forces broken up, and as a result there's completely different plants and animals over here and over there. and columbus, that's why he's
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important. and there's this ecological convulsion. >> the world meeting itself. >> the world meeting itself. and this is why, actually, you should observe columbus day. i mean, it's a big deal. [laughter] >> yes. >> in human history. as opposed to celebrate. it's an enormous market. >> i always choose to celebrate it because i'm as someone who is part spanish, it's my birthday. [laughter] >> well, it's the birthday of everybody really. [laughter] here i am, you know, i'm descended largely from, you know, scottish people in this strange part of the world married to a japanese woman, and it couldn't have happened without columbus. >> well, i must -- i'm going to say this publicly because i've been waiting to say it since i read your first book, or your other book, "1491," which was for me so redemptive in america. i've never been able to
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accommodate my spanish half to my indian half. i could identify my spanish half because the spanish half spoke spanish, was roman catholic and so forth. but what was my indian half since i didn't speak the language of the indian? >> right. >> 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, that there were dams, that there was a civilization here and that -- >> [inaudible] >> and it was not, as we've always portrayed it to be, a virgin land filled with people who were merely passed. >> but who act like people nowhere from the world. there's a wilderness, the implication is that these people lived here for thousands and thousands of years and didn't do anything. they were the most boring people on earth. >> that's right. [laughter] >> and it just doesn't fit. people are interesting.
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these are really dullards in this picture. and, of course, the instant you think about this, you say, well, that can't possibly be the case. the people just sat there like tourists going, oh, look at the trees. [laughter] look at the beach. 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 european came upon a place that was, essentially, empty? >> well, it's a really complicated question. >> is that the arrogance of discovery? >> no, part that, i think. i mean, one has to -- ethnocentrism, of course, one has to, every group thinks it's really important, and the people it's pushing aside are sort of not so important. >> well, but the puritans required the assistance of the indians. >> that doesn't mean that people who aren't -- all the europeans
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fir required the indians to survive. it's sort of embarrassing. but the real thing, i think, that happens is this wave of disease, one of the first parts of the colombian exchange is when these europeans accidentally import all these diseases that existed in europe and asia and africa and didn't exist over here. >> yep. >> and so between 1500 and 1650 or so, somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters, perhaps even as much as 90% of the people in the americas died. and to me -- >> that becomes a metaphor, though, doesn't it? >> yeah. >> the european becomes the actor, and the indian becomes merely the victim of his actions. >> in this one case i think it's true, but the actual actor, of course, the europeans don't understand. they don't have a germ theory of disease, the indians don't have a germ theory of disease. for both of them it's this unbelievable thing they don't understand why. it has something to do with celestial events, you know,
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misfortune. you know, they have been bad or good or what have you. >> yeah, yeah. >> so these extensively-cleared areas that were throughout the americas where there's lots and lots of farms fill in with trees. so by the time my ancestors, some of my ancestors came in the 19th century -- the farms were gone. and we always think the world is exactly like what we saw the first time. >> yes tbl. and so that's part of it. and 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 david rivera who's quite mad on the murals in mexico city there will be these splendid murals of the dread conquistador, but usually with syphilis. laugh and so while he may have raped the indian, she brought him disease. what i took from your first book
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and what i take from this book, too, is that the encounter between two human beings is going to change both of them. >> right. >> 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, that we can -- this is not a political statement, we can trek through iraq or afghanistan and that 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 way look back at them in such a way that they will be forever changed. >> i think this is actually, you know, maybe particularly for our culture that we have this because one of the oddities of historiography is that 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
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they had no impact at all which, you know, 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, you know, young black kids encountering those korean kids to start doing kung fu? >> yeah. >> people learn from each other incredibly quickly. so the assumption in our, off in our historiography here in north america that this encounter wasn't two ways seems to me, it just seems puzzling to me. it doesn't seem how people really 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. [laughter] there is this testosterone in this book that is just filled with these, this male energy and the world just hacking its way
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through the forest. brave -- >> yeah. brave and idiotic. >> yes. every adjective you want to give me is in these stories that you tell. >> yeah. >> the astonishing -- i was in, i was in, um, you know, 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 who are traveling, not the boys. i think in two out of three of the students who were traveling abroad as part of their college curriculum -- >> really? >> they're girls, yes. we're at the age -- and barack obama's mother who went from kansas to hawaii to indonesia, married twice and so forth. and the boys are upstairs playing video games. [laughter] and i said to these boys, i said, what do you want from the video games? and they said, um, it's the only place where they can feel mythic. and i think to myself, you know, these men that you are
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describing are mythic. i mean, they were, they must have been aware of their importance, of their self-importance that bay, don't you think? >> that's interesting, because i think it's true. there's, i mean, one of the extraordinary things that happens after cortez is suddenly all these spaniards think, whoa, i can do this. >> yes. >> i can go out randomly and find gold. >> yes. >> and they are able, it's a little bit like a boom. >> yes. >> you know, netscape goes out, everybody's willing to fund the most idiotic ideas. >> yes. >> so random spaniards can go and say, give me a boat. which is expensive. and they fly out in all directions. >> one critic praised your book by referring to your prose as being very muscular. there is something in the prose that matches the audacity of the explorers you were describing insofar as there is some attempt to yoke them, to yoke the
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continents. do you admire this habit within the male that you describe, or -- >> i hadn'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 are pushing out west and, you know, body slamming into asian minorities. >> yep. >> they're still doing this today. >> yes. >> and so, you know, there's -- often when you read histories like this, there's a lot of hand wigging. and to -- happened wringing. and to me it just isn't surprising that people do this. one of the most striking comments that is in the last book i quote an to positions who says if you read the mexican accounts, the accounts of the people that cortez conquered in the most brutal way possible, they, of course, don't want to be conquered. of course, they bewail what happened. but they never blame the
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spaniards. they think, this is what people do. and i think there's some truth in that. in fact, if you want to stop people doing this, then the best way to do it is accept that this is something that, you know, is not particularly being assigned to one group or another. >> yes. >> this is what people do. >> yes. >> 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. >> cow come from -- you come from, i mean, i think your grandmother's great uncle pittsburgh-born -- >> yeah. complete lunatic like these guys. >> he sounds like a character one would see in a jungle building a railroad. >> a road to nowhere. [laughter] >> a road to nowhere. with some admiration 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 he was obtuse and horrible.
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but, you know, you can't let the -- 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 would want to be judged one's self. certainly my own life isn't, you know, a perfect record of virtue. >> yeah. >> but i would hope people would see me in the round and cut me a little bit of slack. >> yeah. in fact, there are relatively few women in this book. >> unfortunately, that's the way it is. >> let me just ask -- >> named women. i mean, women are obviously -- >> that's right, named women. and the ones we expect we find. pocahontas we find, we find -- [inaudible] glad to find her because she was my great, great, great, great grandmother in mexico. >> really? >> i mean, she had to be. [laughter] >> i'm actually -- this is something i'm extremely proud of, that in the book i do a total representation of the family trees, one of cortez's many mistress, and he had this
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incredibly convoluted family tree that, and he was, actually, also related to that czar row, and they married into the respective places they conquered. one of the things the spaniards would do, they would essentially, they couldn't really rule by force of arms, so what they would do is marry into the native nobility and, thus, essentially hijack the top and then these empires would continue -- >> except that you remark their son, martin -- >> right. >> -- goes back to spain and becomes a member of the court. >> right. >> so that he, in this a sense, hijacks them too. >> right. well, people manipulate the status. >> that's right. what do you make of these stories, though, of these women in the new world like pocahontas who are antibiotic linguistically to talk to two
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societies and who have a flexibility of identity that one doesn't necessarily associate with the males of their tribe? >> well, i guess this is, you know, really what this is about is people trying to make their way in the world, and it's a world that's in cataclysmic change. and there's a single constant in it. no matter what societies you go to, the women are second class citizens. >> yep. >> it varies their degree in a way, but they're not usually prominent people in the society, not certainly as men. so they are simply making their way, and on occasion you get to hear about a few of them. they sort of pop up momentarily in the archives. but men do this too. i mean, men try to make their way. and you do have these people like my uncle, he's sort of bull moose loony, but the great bulk of us are, you know, trying just to do what they can. and one of the things that is
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exciting for the, in spanish latin america is that they have all these social castes that you can play off each other and seize as identity. you talk about this in your own book. and you see -- i tried to tell as many -- i love that stuff, the way that people would 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, right? and they would claim the status -- >> yes. >> or indians get to do certain kinds of long distance trade. well, i'd really 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 they'll lose the estate, so they'll say, no, no, you're not indian, you're spanish now. so these incredibly fluid social categories you're talking about. i think that's very much the same as people like a maya woman -- no, she wasn't maya, she learned maya, but she spoke
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nawa originally. and this was becoming spanish was her third identity. >> that's right. that's some flexibility of selfhood, don't you think? i remember there was an's cay by joan didion somewhere, where she talks about her difficulty flying, and then she 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. and she wonders whether she has the capacity to, for that kind of physical bravery. but i would even argue, for that kind of, that flexibility of selfhood. most of us are wedded to concepts of self that are really rather static rather than as you're suggesting. >> but we're not in those situations. who knows what would have
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happened, how we would be if we were in a world that was changing as rapidly as the world right after columbus. >> yeah. >> these are people, especially for native people, their entire village would have vanished overnight from disease. >> yes. >> these strange, pasty-faced foreigners would have come in. and then they bring in african slaves. and then there's a china town there. i mean, it's just -- >> up. charles -- >> it might seep ration rational for you to say i'm just not who i said i was. >> the most astonishing part of this book for me since i don't want like tomatoes as much as you do is the business of the african. >> uh-huh. >> i have, you know, i think in the mid 980s i began to hear from the u.s. census bureau the prediction that african-americans were about to be replaced. that was the term the census
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bureau used, replaced by hispanics as cup's largest -- country's largest minority. there are so many things offensive about that. >> right. >> but the notion that hispanics are separable from africans when africans were integral to the history of the americas, that you have rescued this history is astonishing to me. and did it surprise you to come upon this history? >> you sort of know that there's a slave trade, right? >> we know the slave trade, but the stories that you're telling is the not only the flexibility of self, but also the rebellion and the ability of slaves to survive as nonslaves. >> right. and that was, i mean, we all know there was a slavery and that was bad. i mean, i went to a terrible public school, but they managed to convey this to me.
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[laughter] but the, but then again what i learned was that slaves were these passive victims, and they're dragged here, and they could do nothing. and then there's these abolitionists who are very noble types -- >> who freed them. >> who freed them. >> yes. >> again, if you think about it, wait a minute, these people had no ability to do something for themselves which people do stuff for themselves. >> yes, yes. >> if you think about it, that doesn't make anyceps. >> yes. >> and, in fact, africans are involve inside all parts of the slave trade n all kinds of roles. and slavery leaked like a sieve. and many, many people left. and it makes sense especially if we realize that a large number, a large fraction of the slaves that came in were prisoners of war. they were soldiers. african nations would be at war with each other, and they would sell the p.o.w.s. so entire armies were sent over. so the army of slaves was a
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slave army. and they, of course, they're military types. they escaped. especially in areas where the landscape was familiar to them. if you're in a tropical part of west africa and you're sent to brazil, this is a part of the landscape you understand that the portuguese don't. so it's possible for you to get out there, english independent communities that exist for hundreds of years. it's much more difficult here because, you know, in the east coast you have winter which is a much more potent way of keeping you in than any english guy. >> charles, you're a historian, and you must answer this question for me even if it's a good answer. >> well, you've given me license. >> how is it that we can lose hold of such a vast history? is this a willful amnesia on the part of societies? how is it that we can stand it when we see these charts, american demographic charts, where whites are here and hispanics are here as though
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these are separate items? 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 allowed me to give a bad answer. [laughter] it's a strange thing. you know, you sort of know that 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 who came over three or four to one by -- until 1840. and so all the stuff that we see from the colonial period, it was built by africans, you know? these wonderful buildings, african hands built these. colonial roads, these canals that were dug, africans dug them. and then you think, well, wait a minute, the two majority populations were african and indian with the europeans as an important but minor role purely in demographic terms. and you think, well, how could that have been forgotten? and i think, you know, when --
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that 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 the 1840s and a big wave is then later in the 1880s and 1890s is a big pulse of europeans who come over. for the first time, they become a senate demographic -- significant demographic presence. and they look around on these boats, right? and who do they see? people like themselves. and they land and go to these commitments where there are people like themselves. and you get this idea that this is must be what's there. >> it's almost, too, that our grammar traps us after a while. >> yeah. >> these words are not helpful, they separate us from our own reality. >> right. the reality of this place was a big jumble, and it has been for a long time. >> it is true in latin america if i say -- [inaudible] that's unacceptable socially. but if i say -- that's equally unacceptable.
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so the whole language of blackness and indianness becomes inadmissible in a kind of polite way. >> even though at the same time they know that you have this proud recognition in the textbooks in places like mexico where this fusion culture, this hybrid culture, but somehow the use of this that was so painful in your book where i had to kind of put it down where you say, um, that some -- you're at the whitest din party you ever went to. >> in mexico city. >> and somebody says we don't really have writers that look like you. >> yes. >> i know exactly what you're talking about. people don't say that to me, but i hear when i'm over there the most astonishing -- >> yes. this was a dinner party in mexico city, an executive for televisa. when a group of mexicans gets together, they talk about france. and he was talking to me about great hotels that he had been in, and in the middle of the
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conversation, who are you, he said? i'm a writer, i'm in mexico city for a k. he said, you know, munching on his salmon, he said in mexico we don't have journalists who look like you. only in mexico -- [laughter] >> yeah. >> but it's true that there is this vocabulary that it's just not sufficient to the reality that you're describing here. >> 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. but the indian, um, there are these legends. you don't repeat it, and i'm not even sure that it's true now. indian n1492, seeing columbus on the horizon, these ships. they come to the edge of the water to wait for columbus. i've always thought in the indian there is this absorbency
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of, in the presence of the foreign, almost asian in that way. and that 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 call per who wants to swallow this book. [laughter] 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 great hispanic city of america. and i think to myself s that true, or are we in the great indian city? and do we not have a word for that? how do can you see in light of what you have written, how do you see a city like los angeles? >> you know, let me go back to the title. to me it isn't so much absorption, they come and see
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this strange object, these ships, and then these tired, dirty people come onshore -- >> unprecedented. >> yeah, unprecedented people who smell bad. and everybody's ethnosent rick, right? [laughter] first thing they're thinking is, ooh. i'm sure. and the spaniards, oblivious to how they smell, look around and see these people dressed funny, and they think, oh, right? this is the human part. and so the indians look, and they say, hey, these guys have some interesting stuff. i'll hold my nose, and be i'll see if i can acquire, you know, some of the stuff. >> yeah. >> it's a big deal. >> and -- [inaudible] >> there's only a few of them, so give them some bad land, let them stay over there, we'll get their axes, and when we have enough axes, we'll drive them out and kill them. what they consistently make the mistake because how can they
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know is how many of those smelly people there are over there and how willing they are to keep coming over. that's what happened in jamestown. >> and yet eroticism exists within strangers. >> right. >> people -- >> well, that's a mass reaction, and then people get to know even other, and then they see each other as human beings. >> and curiosity. you look different from me. can i touch your hair? >> right. and their always reporting that, that the indians, you see these beards, and they want to touch them. they're sort of repelled and fascinated. >> this notion that the indians are prehistoric or antihistorical and that they belong on a reservation somewhere rather than in los angeles, that the person who comes to los angeles is, therefore, hispanic -- >> right. >> -- a child of spain, not the indian, are we ever going to teach a generation of chirp to think of their -- 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
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the historical records and you just read what's there, you know, the maya, for example, there's zillions of maya. i don't know how many million maya there are. and they were never conquered. when you go to -- [inaudible] i'll give you an example. in researching this book i went to see polenka, of course, and my son and i are driving back on this road to san kris to ball with the speed bumps everywhere, so completely not announced, so you have to go 20 mile-an-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, right? and he looks at me and says, who are you? and i say, look at us. he just gets this look of terrible disgust on his face. because, you know, north americans, right? >> that explains it.
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>> and i say, go on. wait a minute. he says, no, no, no, we want some mexicans. >> and i'm in mexico, right? but they don't see it that way. >> i'm running out of time. i'm running out of time. i have to ask you about china because there is china in this book, and there is manila. >> uh-huh. >> and the china that you -- i was reading in "the wall street journal" recently a book review that concluded by saying there are two things americans are afraid of; china and their children. [laughter] 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 law. these are people who are trespassing into the world. >> right. >> 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 colombian experiment?
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>> yeah. i mean, it's important to realize that the big event, 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 that in 1545 the spaniards discovered discovered this huge mountain of silver in bolivia. for a while, the biggest town in the americas. >> yes. one of the biggest towns in the world, you say. >> right. it's just this extraordinary, crazy boom town which i had a really lot of fun reading about because it's like, you know, dodge city with all these different, crazy people in a much larger scale. >> yeah. >> and it lasts for a couple hundred years. and just an incredible amount of silver comes out of it mined by countless indian and african slaves. a river of silver pours out and goes across the world. and, you know, an extremely
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large fraction of it. and scholars argue about how much it is, half, two-thirds ends up in china. and there's this connection, right? around the world now where american silver mined by africans is taken by europeans to china in return for silk and porcelain that is then shipped across mexico to spain. >> yes, yes. >> and the monies from that is then taken to buy africans to, you know, there's this -- >> 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, 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, what we really want to find out is what we don't know about the line, what our grandmothers didn't tell us.
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>> uh-huh. and there's a lot of us who are -- [laughter] >> yeah. there are a lot of family secrets. but do do you feel -- this story comes, you are such a wonderful storyteller, and the joy of this book is unending, but there is a great deal of calamity in this book. there are deaths and disease -- which that's the human -- sorry. >> to 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 14 93 is not over. it continues. and when i said tiger woods, i meant that jokingly, but in some way we're playing out the dramas of 1493 in this city. >> with right. >> and the concerns with illegal immigration -- >> the whole country. >> that's right. are you optimistic? >> i think, you know, the way i hear your question you're saying
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is, is the pains of this kind of calamitous, explosive mixing that's been going on for 500 years outweighed by the gains? >> that's right. or do, do we as human beings somehow manage to find some benefit in this calamity that -- >> 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 incommensurate. let me give you an example. the poe -- potato comes from europe to china. it's an extraordinary won -- boon to humankind. china is no longer racked by famine, europe is no longer racked by famine. this is a good thing, i think, right? children are no longer dying.
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but that same tidal wave is sweeping away languages and cultures at this extraordinary exchange. how much more we know, but you're going to say, wait a minute, are we losing a language every ten days or whatever the guess is? so that there's this huge human cost to this. >> you fight it? do you fight it? >> me personally? >> no, as a human response. does one try to fight this global energy, or has the door been opened and it can't close? >> i don't think the door can close, but you can certainly, um, you know, on a human level mitigate this. and i think people are torn. you know, they want to embrace the world. you want to -- my kids, you know, are tremendous fans of japanese anime, and they have a little manga fan club in
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massachusetts. [laughter] so that's a fine thing, that they're exposed to this. but at the same time there's all kinds of other, you know, reasons why they want to kind of, that i and my wife want to cling to our new england-y, we're torn in the this way, and i think -- >> it's just a mod everyone condition. >> -- modern condition. >> yeah. >> 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. one of the most delightful things is that a man this smart does not -- one, he can write, but, two, he can tell wonderful stories. and can it's, and the discovery of the book that is of the story about discovery and exploration becomes your story too and that many times in the course of these chapters you are in china,
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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 imitation of the best of this, of the traveler's tale to do the same thing. could i ask you to read something -- maybe your grandmother's -- >> okay. this was a true discovery. um, reading about the amazon and 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 rub freres the rubber tree -- rubber from the rubber tree, and can rubber is an essential part of the rubber revolution. you can't have belts and gaskets and o-rings and all this stuff. and the best supply came from the amazon.
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so i'm reading these accounts, and, um, people keep referring to this book by this guy, neville b. craig, which what's really strange is in my living room it's a picture of an ancestor of mine, neville craig, and after a while i think, what are the odds? i find out, it is. this guy in our living room has played a part in this story that i was reading. so i had this sort of genealogical kick, and i started researching about the, i mean, i've always thought we came from a family of lunatics, and here's another prime example. [laughter] so in my living room hangs a portrait of either my grandmother's uncle or great, great uncle. both were named neville b. craig. my grandmother thought the subject was the older craig, the founding editor of the first daily newspaper in pittsburgh. but the late 19th century style of the painting suggests it was the younger craig, an engineer
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who shipped for the amazon a week after his 31st birthday. craig was not planning on working directly with rubber. then, as now, the primary source of rubber was latex. native to the amazon basis, the tree is most abundant between brazil and bolivia. the ports nearest are on the pacific coasts across the andes. sending rubber to those ports would mean carrying it across the high, icy mountains, dispatching ships around the stormy southern tip of south america, a long and dangerous trip of almost 12,000 miles. the entire route was is so difficult, in fact, that the secretary of the royal geographical society calculated nearly four times faster from the western amazon by transporting it down the river to the amazon itself and then to the atlantic. the problem was that waterfalls and violet rapids blocked a 229-mile section of the lower madeira. west of the was navigable river and vast supplies of rubber.
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the downstream end of the impass bl stretch was the brazilian hamlet of santo antonio. born in pittsburgh, craig took his undergraduate in engineering degrees at yale. he won two university mathematics prizes and was hired by the geologic survey before graduation. five years later, seeking excitement, he joined a philadelphia railway construction firm which had obtained the contract to build the madeira railroad. the two brothers seemed to think their experience with building railroads contrasted with their utter inexperience in the jungles of the amazon. as he later recounted, winter gails plagued the journey. the storms wrecked the second ship about 100 miles south of james town, virginia. company officials had trouble
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replacing the lost men. philadelphians had lost their enthusiasm for the venture. eventually, collins hired a new work force from the, quote, slums of several of our large eastern cities to quote craig's book, people, quote, exhibiting in shape, count nance and gesture striking evidence of the soundness of darwin's theory. [laughter] most were immigrants from southern italy. many had been pushed out of their homes for their beliefs. as ancestor suggests, these americans were desperate for work. the collins brothers signed them up for lower wages than they paid the laborers on the first ship. apparently, it did not occur to the brothers that they would discover this arrangement or find it acceptable. he learned of the fate of the men on the second ship only when the italians arrived as replacements. at the same time, the italians
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found out they were being paid less than everyone else. within days, they went on strike. the engineers, craig among them, constructed the cage and forced the strikers into it at gun point. awaited in vain that imprisoning the work force could have an impact on the construction schedule. [laughter] ultimately, they went to work. a few weeks later, quote, 75 or more took off for bolivia. none made it. perhaps craig lurdly speculated because they had, quote, served as food to the cannibalistic. a nearby native group had kept colonists at bay by cultivating a reputation for frosty. like the jamestown colonists, my ancestors were starve anything the midst of plenty. geneticists have long argued
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that the brazil/bolivia border was the development of peanuts s and chili pepper. chocolate, peach palm and most important, the worldwide staple, hasn't i don't care. my ancestor nearly died for food in one of the world's agricultural heartlands. [laughter] [applause] >> i remember once talking to bill clinton, and you tell me that he was one-twentieth american indian. wouldn't it be wonderful in bill clinton could come upon that indian somewhere in the jungle who sounds like him and who carries on the way he does? [laughter] but to come upon your great, great, great uncle in the brazilian 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
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forgotten so much of it and that so much of it has been withheld in our families -- >> and so interesting, what we've done. it's unbelievably interesting. when i think about what we're told, no wonder the history seems boring? >> let me open this up to questions from the audience. because i've had too much of you for too long. [laughter] >> i, that's, actually, could be taken several ways, couldn't it? [laughter] >> yeah. my name's mario, and i have a question. why isn't this history taught in our schools? >> um, do you know how textbooks are produced in this country? okay. the way it's been explained to me, i'm not a textbook writer, but the way it's been explained to me if you want to produce a textbook that we sold throughout the united states because they're expensive, and you have to recoup your costs by having lots and lots of students read
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them. is and a number of states have special agencies that have to approve the textbooks, so has been explained to me. and the way one publisher put it to me from random house is, you know, the three most important states in this are 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 can't, you know, you basically -- it's worthless. but the problem is that the new york board is super liberal, the texas board is super conservative, and the california board is super crazy. [laughter] and i don't actually have any personal experience of this, i'm just recounting -- laugh. [laughter] and so once they kind of thread the needle through this, they're reluctant to change it because if they change it too much, then testify to go -- then they have to go back through this, and almost all of this will offend
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somebody. >> there's something else, and you're being too generous. you know, we're like now in hispanic history month or something like that. >> right. >> and, you know, you would think that some of this african story would be part of our history, and, you know, i've always said that the if you want to do a real hispanic history month, you should have the irish come through here because the irish, for example, a story that's almost unknown in america even to the american irish of the defection of american-irish immigrants to the mexican side of the mexican-american war is an extraordinary story. well known in mexico. but nowhere told -- we almost can't bear a history that gets, that starts overlapping. you know? what is the irishman doing in this story ant mexico? >> right. and you said it yourself, we have hispanic history month. and so, like, everything about all of this stuff gets, you know, there's 30 days, and it
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doesn't have anything to do with the -- there's a black history month. >> yeah. >> and i guess the other ten months are for europeans. [laughter] >> i mean, i wish. but, in fact, the other ten months are vacuous. [laughter] [background sounds] >> has writing this book ruined gardening if or you? [laughter] can you still go out and garden, or do you see the world differently now? >> i still like to garden. it's very helpful that i'm not a very good gardener. i have these friends who are good gardeners, and they sort of sneer, but i'm not expected to be very good at very much, i'm a writer. [laughter] the answer is, no, because, you know, the more you know about something, for me, you know, often the more you appreciate it. and when i look at these spindly
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tomatoes that i've got because i failed to water them, i just marvel at the journey they've made to me and that, you know, when i do my incompetent seed safing and hoping that they will grow for the next year, you realize you're part of this crazy tradition. and when i take them to my friends in seattle and give them for their gardens, you realize what a part of a huge tradition you are and that it's also, in a certain way, the larger -- it's, i think, easier to feel a little bit relaxed about what's going on in the world when you say, wait a minute, this is part of something that's been going on for a long time. doesn't mean it's not super important or super sere -- 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 a way and change it for a common good. at least that's how i feel. but, of course, i may be totally
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delusional. [laughter] >> hi. do you know what christopher columbus actually did to the spanish monarchy? because there are very few columbus statue in spain, and he not honored as it is honored in the rest of the world. >> he's a kind of a quizzical figure. he didn't, after all, set out to discover -- he didn't set out to do what he did. um, he never really copped to the fact that he hadn't landed in asia, and the spanish monarchy foolishly gave him all these privileges that they then took away from him. so he died a very bitter guy who was widely reviled in the, in that area. so it's, you know, it's not surprising to me that, after all, they had this ambivalent
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reaction to him. i think that feeling is, also, more general than not. i mean, if you go to santa domingo, there's this huge, huge monument to him. it's like this cross-shaped thing. it's, i don't know, 600 feet long or something that has all these lights that shine up. it's so intense, actually, it supposedly blacks out all the areas around it. and there are huge protests when they put it up. so he's, i'm not sure that he's so honored elsewhere in the world. he's a profoundly important guy but not -- people feel a little unease about him. ..
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>> sometimes invasive species come in that are bad in my area in new england and the dutch elm disease or chestnut blight, these come in and clearly cause tremendous damage. any rational person would be -- want to protect against this kind of innovator. the tomato is the exotic. we are very proud of our -- we live in the asparagus valley. believe it or not there are little signs -- it is an exotic species, and so on some level at seems foolish for us to
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celebrate and consume and depend on these exotics to frown on them but at the same time we are building a house and for fun we're trying to decorate the garden with new england species legal the ones we are not growing to eat. we are having a lot of fun with it and picking out plants we don't know much about and ordering them and so forth. i see no harm in this of long as we don't take too seriously. >> when i found "1491" in a bookstore and picked up and read it, that opened my eyes to something happen read before which was why he made the comment about textbooks don't teach us that. as you are talking tonight, i am drawn to the riding of other authors like jared diamond for
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example. is there at -- community of writers that you feel a part of or other people you can mention who are writing about these things in ways that were not revealed to us? >> my book i say and a book called the columbian exchange 30 years ago, i hope it acknowledges enough, wonderful book worth reading about, in the acknowledgements my book is scribbled in the margins of his book. he wrote this book ecological -- two tremendous books. if you are interested in the spanish conquest there is a whole series of books by john hemming about spanish and portuguese conquest of our fabulous. there is a long list of people who have written great stuff
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about -- if you're interested in some ideas about how to think about these things, rodriguez has written some interesting stuff. i tried in the books to tip my hat to the stuff that is really good. there's a big wheel graphical essay in the back. >> it does seem to me also, history often has examples of this exchange of identities where you end up attending your tomatoes. indian in upstate new york, the casino, and something of course -- there is this wonderful wisdom. it is my turn to ransack the environment for a time. you can plant tomatoes. don't you think sometimes that -- i think of the conversion of
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latin america to christianity that the spaniards -- took place in europe. you go to the churches of europe and they are empty and in latin america they are full. the evangelical protestant -- throughout brazil and central america, still full in mexico and south america. mormon church and the population is spanish-speaking. it may be that somehow are swallowed something and became the brittle list in nature. do you think that is possible? >> or but it is important to remember native societies again -- [talking over each other] >> there are certainly things we
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can learn. let me talk about the casinos and so forth. it is important to remember this is excellent federal policy. we passed the indian gaming act -- [talking over each other] >> always amazing to me, i am a state that doesn't have this. we have lofty perspective. and i think the whole purpose of this was to give indians money and in california all these indians have money and -- which is not taken as a success. [inaudible] >> i am curious what you think about 1421. the chinese, seven years before columbus. >> this is a book i should probably explain, there is an amazing spanish -- not spanish -- chinese exports, in muslim
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you neck with seven huge armadas. one of them the largest ever. 300 some ships from southeast china and across the indian ocean and to throw china's weight around and scare the pants off of everybody with this enormous hotel. and they know they went all the way to the southern part of africa. this book which is by this retired submarine captain named gavin mendes said the fleet split up and went to the united states and to the caribbean and europe and basically around the world and as a big part of it they landed in the americas before columbus. i should say the great bulk -- never encountered -- it is a
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distinctly minority viewpoint. are actually very much enjoyed the book but have a terrible weakness for nautical stuff. there are poop deck in it. i am a total sucker for this kind of stuff. so i read it with great pleasure. at one point he said the proof they discharged a bunch of chinese -- between rhode island and massachusetts -- when verrazzano was the first european to go there in the 1520s he landed there and noted that the women were much better looking than all the other women. so gavin menzies said see? chinese. my wife who is japanese find this completely convincing. i had better as well.
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all i can say is i wish it were true because i think the world would be much more interesting if it were. but i don't think he has built up a case that really grabs me. i encourage you to read it. it is fun to read. >> i am interested in the idea of encountering difference. there are so many instances of these encounters and violence. i am wondering how we can encounter difference when things like our language and world views and frameworks don't allow us to understand the difference from a place of humility and the wonder if you could speak to that. >> actually, i think people are getting better at this.
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the encounters between the spaniards were the chinese and native people in the philippines or the west are sort of comically awful. you don't read about that kind of the absurd catastrophe which you see again and again throughout the world when a person encountered each other in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. i think we have a long way to go, but one of the weird comforts of researching this book is for instance balboa comes to -- a group of people he never encountered before in panama. apparently there are a bunch of guys wearing a skirt like clothes. there seems to be some sort of
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power struggle going on in this group of native people and they see the spaniards and face a they are all homosexuals. apparently elite clothings a set dogs on them and killed them all. i don't think this would happen now. people just wouldn't be so naive and immediately think i will go killed those people. i come from a different point of view. it was so bad then that we look a little bit better now. cold comfort may be. >> there is some duality of energy going on right now. i don't want to be a mexican nativist because this was interesting but at the same time america so repulsed by mexico
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and so forth that this appetite for mexican food is happening at the same time. marco polo would tell you these four people speak to each other, they eat each other and there's some energy right now. even what we are wrenching on our pledge, the success we have -- a liberal appetite to devour the world. at the same time over dinner we carry on with these announcements of armageddon. >> to me the sense, there is a real problem of illegal immigration and much of it has to do with idiotic policies by the mexican government to effectively dispossessed people in the southern part of mexico and the u.s. has functioned for decades as a safety belt for them so clearly there is an
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issue there. but at the same time when you look at these efforts that have taken place in latin america for centuries, people trying to shut the door on another group of people is always a sign the battle is over. >> it is my job to end the evening but to remind you, self like coming on pbs, to remind you we are living in this temple in the book and we forget that the weight it once had has a special power that the kendall doesn't quite capture. [applause] having spent time in the middle east recently and watching jews and muslims and christians hold their holy book and cassette. i have never been to a bar mitzvah where anyone walks in with a candle on their head.
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remember that and respect this, these books and this man for having produced this magnificent book. thank you very much. [applause] >> i would like to add a special thanks to the library for bringing us here and this is a great place and you should use it. [applause] >> you are watching booktv on c-span2. forty-eight hours of nonfiction authors and books every weekend. >> the story of the civil-rights movement can't be told without birmingham, alabama.


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