Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Hemispheres of Influence

The Great Divide: History and Human Nature in the Old World and the New

By

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‘There are’, some great sage once said, ‘two kinds of people: those who think there are two kinds of people and those who don’t.’ For Peter Watson, the ‘Great Divide’ separates the Americas from the rest of the world. ‘Until roughly 1500,’ he says, ‘there were two entirely separate populations on earth, one in the New World, one in the Old’, with ‘markedly different trajectories of civilisation’. (Here and in all subsequent quotations from the book, the italics are the author’s, who scatters them with a hand as free as a Victorian matron’s.) Watson characterises the divergent paths that he detects as leading to ‘more vivid religion’ and ‘more organized violence’ in the New World than elsewhere. When compared they reveal, he assures us, ‘a unique opportunity to see how nature and human nature interact, to explain ourselves to ourselves’.

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