Click here for an absolutely spellbinding John Batchelor Show interview with Charles C. Mann, author of 1493, the followup to his excellent 1491, after and before the European invasion of the New World.
Among the gems:
---The Mason-Dixon line delineates exactly the northern limit of the anopheles mosquito, and therefore malaria. The white European indentured servants tended to die from it; the African slaves had a level of immunity to it. The slave plantations tended to be the more successful; the slave economy grew by natural selection.
The same thing happened in South America; south of a certain point in Brazil, say Uruguay and Argentina, black slavery was rare.
---It was looting, then working, the silver mines of the Andes that opened China to the Europeans--until then, the West had very little the Chinese were interested in trading for. The city of Cerro Rico, in what's now Bolivia, grew to 150,000 people, bigger than London.
---Along with fossil fuels and iron/steel, the Industrial Revolution required one more thing---rubber, for belts and gaskets. The Amazon saw dictatorships arise upriver; occasionally the West had to send gunboats to assure the supply of this essential key to prosperity.
---Europe got a taste of sugar along the eastern Mediterranean during the Crusades. The most suitable place to grow it themselves turned out to be the Caribbean, and black slavery, again because of malaria, is the most cost-effective way for entrepreneurs to man the sugar trade, away from the prying eyes of more conscientious Europeans, who ban slavery on their home turf.
---And no potatoes, no popery! Listen to the whole thing...