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Some of the most memorable, appalling statistics in history are those of the accidental genocides wrought by human exploration. After its introduction to Central America by the conquistadors in 1520, for example, smallpox had by 1527 killed millions in Mexico and precipitated the collapse of the Inca empire. The same disease, introduced by Europeans to north America, killed 90% of the Massachusetts Bay Indians between 1617 and 1619. By the end of the 18th century, European diseases—of which smallpox was the worst—had managed to kill 90-95% of the native population of the Americas (Roy Foster gives a brief, haunting account…

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