The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900

Alfred W. Crosby

Cambridge, 1993.

The emphasis in this study is less technically biological than in Boyden's. Crosby sets the scene with Pangaea, and goes on to discuss the Norse raids and the Crusades, with this statement exemplifying the general tenor of the book:

"With few exceptions, Westerners throughout history who have gone to the eastern Mediterranean to fight wars have believed their chief problems to be military, logistical, and diplomatic, and possibly theological, but the truth is that their primary and immediate difficulties usually have been medical." (p.63)

The other, more dismaying side of this story is instanced in Crosby's account of the ill-fated Guanches of the Canary Islands:

"Very few experiences are as dangerous to a people's survival as the passage from isolation to membership in the worldwide community that included European sailors, soldiers, and settlers." (p.99)

There are chapters on winds, weeds and animals, including consideration of "Neo-Europe's only domesticated insect, the honeybee". Of particular interest is the chapter on New Zealand, "whose history is the briefest and most fully documented among all the Neo-Europes". It is here that we find perhaps the best example of Crosby's style, in this brilliant biological metaphor for the pakeha (white people's) ships, like Captain Cook's, which brought commodities and organisms to the country:

"These ships were like giant viruses fastening onto the sides of a gigantic bacterium and injecting into it their DNA, usurping its internal processes for their own purposes." (p.227)



Paul Taylor 2001