Hot Best Seller

Ancient Americans: Rewriting the History of the New World

Availability: Ready to download

History. Charles Mann is a brilliant synthesizer and popularizer of scholarly ideas. In Ancient Americans he brings together all of the latest research, and the results of his own travels throughout North an South America, to provide a new, fascinating and iconoclastic account of the Americas before Columbus.

*advertisement

Compare

History. Charles Mann is a brilliant synthesizer and popularizer of scholarly ideas. In Ancient Americans he brings together all of the latest research, and the results of his own travels throughout North an South America, to provide a new, fascinating and iconoclastic account of the Americas before Columbus.

30 review for Ancient Americans: Rewriting the History of the New World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rick Riordan

    My favorite recent history book, Mann surveys the breadth and complexity of indigenous cultures in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Some of this research was familiar to me. When I taught American history in the 2000s, I would start with such 'snapshots' of Cahokia, the Olmecs, the Serpent Mound, the Maya, the great trade networks that connected the continent. But even that information was hard to find. Good luck finding even a mention of it in the school textbooks. Despite having so My favorite recent history book, Mann surveys the breadth and complexity of indigenous cultures in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Some of this research was familiar to me. When I taught American history in the 2000s, I would start with such 'snapshots' of Cahokia, the Olmecs, the Serpent Mound, the Maya, the great trade networks that connected the continent. But even that information was hard to find. Good luck finding even a mention of it in the school textbooks. Despite having some knowledge, I was blown away, again, by how populated and cultivated the American landscape was before the cataclysmic arrival of Europeans and their diseases. This book blows up many stubborn, out-dated theories like the singular Bering land-bridge migration, the idea that the land was 'mostly empty' when Europeans arrived, and the idea that most indigenous peoples were 'simple' hunter gatherers. It also gives us a good look at just how stubborn and resistant traditional Euro-American scholarship has been to accepting any new information that didn't fit established theories about the indigenous peoples. None of this will comes as a surprise to indigenous readers themselves, I'm sure, but for me, it was a refreshing, amazing read. I knew nothing about the vast, sophisticated terraforming societies of sub-Amazonian South America, or the pre-Incan empires, or the way that hunter-gatherer people intentionally crafted the landscape to better serve their needs. Mann gave me a tantalizing glimpse into a complex, beautiful pre-Columbian world.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    The survey of current thinking on the population of the americas via that Beringia land bridge and the subsequent summary of the evolutions of early american society is interesting. But the repeated comparisons between american society and eurasian society are really fraught and often belabored. The comparisons between the two hemisphere's agriculture and domesticable animals are fine, but the assertion that Aztec (apparently it's more politically correct to call them Mexica) philosophy was as ri The survey of current thinking on the population of the americas via that Beringia land bridge and the subsequent summary of the evolutions of early american society is interesting. But the repeated comparisons between american society and eurasian society are really fraught and often belabored. The comparisons between the two hemisphere's agriculture and domesticable animals are fine, but the assertion that Aztec (apparently it's more politically correct to call them Mexica) philosophy was as rich as medieval europe's is ludicrous, especially given that such a huge volume of Aztec codices have been preserved and deciphered. The Aztecs did some respectable philosophical work, but Mann's exaggerations aside, they didn't come close to rivaling the work done in ancient Greece, to say nothing of the subsequent 2,000 years of philosophy in Europe (with a nod towards Middle Eastern contributions as well) that took place between the death of Aristotle and the discovery of the new world. Today, it may be possible to take a mesoamerican philosophy course in some university departments, but there are very few (if any) lasting or novel contributions to the the broader discipline of philosophy to be found in Aztec (or Mayan, or Incan) philosophy. There's no shame in that: it has been said that all philosophy is but a footnote to Plato. So why feel the need to exaggerate and mislead readers by making politically correct assertions that have no basis in reality? Also, the distinction the author draws between guilt and responsibility (i.e. 'we' should not feel guilty that Cortes introduced smallpox and wiped out 95% of american indians, but 'we' have some responsibility for this) is way too underdeveloped to be taken seriously. I don't necessarily think that the discussion is even necessary, but it is not an uncommon discussion in US politics, and Mann consciously decides to wade into these waters. First, he never defines 'we,' though it seems he means whites of european descent residing in the new world (and maybe Europeans back in Europe who benefitted from mercantilism/colonialism? It's not clear). And then he never explains how responsibility can be justly divided among descendants; how someone of, say, direct Cortez lineage might have a different level of 'responsibility' than a descendant of an Irish family with no seafaring anscestors and no pedigree in the New World until the late 19th century. And if they have the same 'responsibility,' then does a modern day Chinese or Indian immigrant to the new world also have some responsibility? All unclear, and the absence of even any contemplation of these points leaves the book's attempts at constructing a morality of European/American Indian interaction disappointingly hollow. Mann decided the topic was worthy enough to merit some discussion; it is unfortunate he failed to do the topic any justice.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    This was like a coloring book of pre-Pilgrim North America for me in that it filled in a lot of unanswered questions and brilliantly illuminated some areas of my knowledge that were mere outlines. It stays within the lines and makes my early attempts at coloring in the past look like spidery, seizure-induced scrawlings. Being originally from New England, I'm well aware that there were inhabitants here long before the Europeans arrived. Early on in school we were inundated with stories of Samoset This was like a coloring book of pre-Pilgrim North America for me in that it filled in a lot of unanswered questions and brilliantly illuminated some areas of my knowledge that were mere outlines. It stays within the lines and makes my early attempts at coloring in the past look like spidery, seizure-induced scrawlings. Being originally from New England, I'm well aware that there were inhabitants here long before the Europeans arrived. Early on in school we were inundated with stories of Samoset and Squanto, the first Native Americans to make contact with the Plymouth Colony pilgrims, and how in 1621 they strolled into the transplanted Englishmen's village and a big party broke out, thus began the tradition of Thanksgiving. I was (mis)taught in a Massachusetts classroom where heritage and history are king, so much was made of this. We were led to believe the story by elementary schoolteachers who probably wholeheartedly believed it themselves. What about the Virginia Colony of 1607 and their contact with the native inhabitants? It failed, so sweep it under the rug. Something tells me this version of America's founding by Europeans was not the one being taught in Virginia at the time... Never was explained how the two natives could speak English (from Englishmen fishing off of the Maine coast and, in Squanto's case, from abduction and internment for seven years in England) or anything that happened in the Americas prior to the pilgrims landing. Oh sure there was talk of Incas and Mayans and their all important maize. But the extent, the sheer size of the native tribes, clans, and cosmopolitan societies of the Americas, north and south, and how Europe brought it all down upon their heads, none of this was discussed. Why? Because even during the late 1970s and early 80s when the movement to turn the Native Americans into mystical caretakers of Mother Earth, there was still a prejudicial sense of 'white is right' prevalent, at least in the neighborhood I grew up in. The other reason is a plain lack of knowledge. My simple teachers simply did not know. They can't wholly be blamed. The information wasn't readily available or flat-out wasn't available. School books were traditional and outdated. The grey-area material was swept under the rug. Now there is less grey-area material - advances in technology and archaeological practices have greatly advanced our knowledge of the past in just a few short decades - but there's still plenty of unknown patches of time in the western hemisphere. In 1491 Mann does not shy away from them. Having said that, it should be noted that this is not just about North America. No, in fact more time is spent on everything below it. Through discovered texts and deciphered inscriptions there's just more known about Mesoamerica than the other areas, so yes, there are pages upon pages about those Incas and Mayans. In general what I love about 1491 is that it doesn't take the Indians' side or the Europeans'. It doesn't try to cast a glowing angelic light upon the native inhabitants to transform them into woodland spirits whose only concern was the preservation of the trees and the birds, etc blah blah blah (Earth Day is quaint and misguided, but I digress...), nor does Mann attempt to attack or defend the actions of the Europeans. All is more of a statement of fact or, if lacking concrete evidence, a statement of possibility based on sound theory. Sure, this distills oceans of scholarly study down to a more manageable duck pond, but it never tries to pretend it is doing otherwise. Mann is no pretender to vaunted erudition. He's a journalist who's done some research. He's a guy who realized his own grade school education was lacking, and when he found out the moldy stuff he was taught way back when was still being taught to his son he decided to do something about it. I'm glad for it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Hunter

    As someone who writes professionally in this area (unabashed plug: watch for God's Mercies, Doubleday Canada, in October 07) I have high praise for this title, a long-overdue assessment of native culture and civilization before (and at) contact with Europeans. I'm still reading it, but I've been impressed so far.[I've now finished, see below.] Anyone who enjoyed it should also consider Elaine Dewar's Bones, which explores the archaeological controversy of how long people have been in the New Wor As someone who writes professionally in this area (unabashed plug: watch for God's Mercies, Doubleday Canada, in October 07) I have high praise for this title, a long-overdue assessment of native culture and civilization before (and at) contact with Europeans. I'm still reading it, but I've been impressed so far.[I've now finished, see below.] Anyone who enjoyed it should also consider Elaine Dewar's Bones, which explores the archaeological controversy of how long people have been in the New World. (She wholeheartedly supports the "a really, really long time" camp.) My only critique of 1491, and it is minor, is that the author I feel overstates the case that Europeans (mainly English) did not enjoy a military superiority over the natives, that their powder weapons were ineffective. This is a rather generous reading of native military capability. The English army did away with the longbow in 1598, and for all their problems, powder weapons were a clear advantage. Frenchman Samuel de Champlain used just three harquebus to devastating effect against the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) in 1609, and in his trade and colonization monopoly, secured in 1612 under the Prince de Condé, the terms specifically forbid anyone to trade powder weapons with the natives, under penalty of a 10,000 livre fine and corporal punishment. One of the key factors in European inability not to immediately conquer or eradicate native populations by force was the sheer lack of firepower. (They also needed them as trade partners.) These commercial ventures (English and French in particular) didn't have the full might of their states behind them in the early contact period. Had England or France made up their mind to truly "conquer" these shores and their peoples, they would have marched through them much like de Soto did in the southeastern US in the mid 16th century, for good or for ill (pretty well for ill). But an idea the author does well to advance is the fact that coastal nations or tribes that made contact with the newcomers often came to decide that they should secure a strategic advantage and enlist the newcomers' aid in fighting their own enemies. It was a complicated time, and 1491 is a worthy overview. Having now finished, I'll still recommend it. For those interested in precontact cultures north of 49 (as in half of North America) the lack of material about French Canada is a little disappointing. There's nothing about the much-debated vanishing of the Iroquoian-speaking residents of the St. Lawrence (at Hochelaga and Stadacona) who were there in large numbers in palisade villages when Cartier first visited in the 1530s, but had vanished utterly by the time Champlain showed up in 1603. But that's nitpicky, considering the enormous scope of this work.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Very well written, a good mixture of factual evidence and narrative. The main take home point here should be known to everyone, especially Americans. There is a reason why there was a period of 128 years between Colombus' landing and a permanent European settlement in North America. Namely, there were millions of Native Americans there who thought Europeans were dirty, amusing creatures who had interesting objects but were not fit for being neighbors. Attempted European settlers were continuousl Very well written, a good mixture of factual evidence and narrative. The main take home point here should be known to everyone, especially Americans. There is a reason why there was a period of 128 years between Colombus' landing and a permanent European settlement in North America. Namely, there were millions of Native Americans there who thought Europeans were dirty, amusing creatures who had interesting objects but were not fit for being neighbors. Attempted European settlers were continuously driven out. When one tribe finally took pity on the English settlement of Plymouth, it was only because a smallpox epidemic had killed vast numbers of the them off, and they were concerned about being run over by their enemies, who had not yet suffered this fate. It is likely that were it not for the outbreaks of smallpox, preceding many of the first European scouts moving westward, that America would have never been a country. Oh yeah, and concerning South America, there is evidence that much, possibly 70-80%, of the Amazon forest is man-made. This is definitely a well researched & eye opening book that will challenge the idea that Native Americans were a sparse people who had no effect on their environment and let things be on their own. The only reason people think that most Native Americans were purely nomadic hunters was because the smallpox had killed off most of the 'urbanized' settlements that required agriculture.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Hana

    See updated alternative reading recommendations below. Well, I finally finished it. There were some interesting factoids, such as the theory that much of the Amazon rainforest was planted by humans, but even then the data were not marshaled in a convincing, coherent fashion. Over all, the book was badly organized, the chapter and section headings provided no clue to their purpose, the text jumped wildly across continents and thousands of years for no logical reason and technical terms were too of See updated alternative reading recommendations below. Well, I finally finished it. There were some interesting factoids, such as the theory that much of the Amazon rainforest was planted by humans, but even then the data were not marshaled in a convincing, coherent fashion. Over all, the book was badly organized, the chapter and section headings provided no clue to their purpose, the text jumped wildly across continents and thousands of years for no logical reason and technical terms were too often introduced but never defined (I had to look up MFAC in the index to discover it meant Maritime Foundation of Andean Civilization). By far the best part of the book were the aerial photographs that clearly showed the size and complexity of South America's ancient farms and cities. The maps were useful as well, but aides such as a pronunciation guide or a timeline were among the many missing elements. And it's not just the organization of the book that is a challenge; the writing style is difficult as well. One sentence goes on for 27 lines. The author mixes metaphors with such abandon that I often despaired of untangling the meaning: "Peru is the cow-catcher on the train of continental drift. Leading South America's slow, grinding march toward Australia, its coastline hits the ocean floor and crumples up like a carpet shoved into a chair-leg." I simply cannot fathom why so many people thought this book was so wonderful. I will have to look elsewhere for a coherent analysis of this topic. Updated Recommendations: For an excellent analysis of some of the earliest evidence of human habitation in North America, consider Settlement Of The Americas A New Prehistory--it is more scholarly as well as being much more readable and interesting. Timothy Egan's Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis is an interesting introduction to one of the most definitive chronicles of Native American cultures in North America. Curtis' entire multi-volume original work is available online at this Northwestern University site. I have not read this one yet, but I hear good things about The Last Days of the Incas from my friends at the History Book Club. The 1491 factoid about the Amazon rainforests having been heavily cultivated for extended periods of time seems likely to be correct. See this fascinating article about the rainforest's maroon people from National Geographic.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Felicia

    Fascinating exploration of what we know of the "New World" before Columbus arrived. I knew pretty much nothing about the Incas, the Mayans, the Aztecs, and all the other societies that actually were possibly BIGGER than Europe in 1492, and dwarfed it in centuries before. It's also an interesting survey of these societies and their environments, of how the Indians and the "pristine" environments are a bit of a myth. The scope of the book covers so many different culture, puts everything into a co Fascinating exploration of what we know of the "New World" before Columbus arrived. I knew pretty much nothing about the Incas, the Mayans, the Aztecs, and all the other societies that actually were possibly BIGGER than Europe in 1492, and dwarfed it in centuries before. It's also an interesting survey of these societies and their environments, of how the Indians and the "pristine" environments are a bit of a myth. The scope of the book covers so many different culture, puts everything into a context I never imagined before. The author obviously loves what he does, and relishes research and it definitely makes potentially dry material come to life. Opened my eyes to a subject I knew nothing about, so I highly recommend!!!!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ken-ichi

    In brief: I felt this was an adequate, often fascinating summary of human habitation of the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans as understood by present-day historians and scientists. I was happy to see that Mann highlighted controversial areas without simply adopting one side of any given controversy, and in general it seemed like a balanced, well-researched book. That said, there were numerous peccadillos. Mann starts with the basic assertion that the West's primary mistake in our concep In brief: I felt this was an adequate, often fascinating summary of human habitation of the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans as understood by present-day historians and scientists. I was happy to see that Mann highlighted controversial areas without simply adopting one side of any given controversy, and in general it seemed like a balanced, well-researched book. That said, there were numerous peccadillos. Mann starts with the basic assertion that the West's primary mistake in our conception of American Indians is that we have generally seen them as unchanging features in a primeval wilderness. This, he argues, is dehumanizing, regardless of whether you prefer to prefix "savage" with "noble," because a people incapable of change seems incapable of will, of thought, of ingenuity. He attempts to dismantle this notion by presenting research supporting 3 broad ideas: 1) pre-Columbian population estimates are now assumed to be much higher than previously thought (i.e. between the time of first contact and the colony at Plymouth, humanity in the Americans witnessed a massive die-off) 2) humans were present in North America for tens of thousand of years, and the complexity of their societies were comparable with with Eurasian counterparts 3) Indians could and did exert influence over the natural world On the whole, I think Mann made convincing arguments for the broad stokes. However, there were a number of things that set me off, most of them centering around my suspicion that Mann was trying harder to convince than reveal. Maybe this stems from his journalistic rather than academic background, but I constantly felt cajoled when what I wanted to feel was "of course!" First of all there was the general lack of methods. Reconstructing history is a tricky business fraught with error, so when you're trying to communicate a challenging and controversial notion like the number of American Indians who died as a result of European diseases, I think you need to go into excruciating detail about how population numbers are derived. To his credit, Mann touches on it, but he treats the issue of error as a sort of footnote, noting one scientist who thinks the degree of error makes the numbers meaningless. Throughout the book I found myself asking, "But how do we know that?" and was generally disappointed by the number and quality of the citations (sources often include interviews, personal communication, and secondary sources that themselves lack citation). To provide another example, on p. 234 he describes how Olmecs deformed the pliant skulls of their infants to make them look a certain way... only to admit archaeologists only assume they did this based on their artwork. No ellipsis can adequately contain my stupefaction at the absurdity of that claim. Have you seen Mesoamerican artwork? Have you seen any human artwork prior to Enlightenment Europe? Not exactly the height of realism. Perusing his source, it seems that the figurines looked deformed, and intentional deformation was apparently documented elsewhere in Mesoamerica, but the citation trail goes Spanish there, so I'm lost. If there were first-hand accounts of similar practices, you need to describe them. In the text. Because shaping baby skulls is WEIRD by our standards. There were other portions that just seemed irrational and/or unscientific. His attempt to equate human sacrifice among the Mexica (aka Aztecs) and 17th century executions in Britain was a bit ridiculous, as fellow Goodreads user Stefan pointed out (p. 134). On p. 172 he actually describes error ranges for carbon dating as "typographical clutter" [muffled howl of rage]. On p. 291 he writes, "Indians [...] began systematically replanting large belts of woodland, transforming them into orchards for fruit and mast." He cites Krummer (an Atlantic Monthly article about chestnut restoration) and himself, neither of which mention Indian planting. You get the picture. Finally, I found his constant comparisons to Europe and the general sense of hand-wringing and guilt a bit trying, and that's coming from a self-avowed Western liberal hand-wringer. Two back-to-back quotes sum this up nicely: "The complexity of a society's technology has little to do with its level of social complexity–something that we, in our era of rapidly changing seemingly overwhelming technology, have trouble grasping." (p. 250) "But where Europe had the profoundly different civilizations of China and Islam to steal from, Mesoamerica was alone in the world." (p. 251) The sagacity of the former idea and the absurd implication that cultural and technological interchange in Eurasia was both one-way and morally wrong perfectly describe 2/3 of the Ueda-Mann Venn diagram. But like I said, on the whole pretty good. I found the penultimate bit about defining our relationship to nature and the final section about the role American Indian concepts of freedom and individuality may have influenced the founding of the United States super intriguing, worth books of their own. Maybe that's where he's going with 1493. Words prelapsarian (adj): before the Fall of Man. Talkin' Bilbical here. (p. 14) telluric (adj): terrestrial, pertaining to soil. (p. 80) statrapies (n): in this context, leaders (or states?) that act primarily in response to larger political entities. (p. 138) fissiparous (adj): tending to fall apart / separate. (p. 373)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tripp

    Author Charles Mann's purpose is to debunk three commonly held ideas about the Americas before Columbus: that the continents were sparsely populated, that the social and technical development was limited and that the locals left the environment untouched. In discussing scholarly debates on these subjects, he convincingly argues that the population, before the decimation of disease, was quite high. The debate is just how many people there were rather than whether the continents were pristine unocc Author Charles Mann's purpose is to debunk three commonly held ideas about the Americas before Columbus: that the continents were sparsely populated, that the social and technical development was limited and that the locals left the environment untouched. In discussing scholarly debates on these subjects, he convincingly argues that the population, before the decimation of disease, was quite high. The debate is just how many people there were rather than whether the continents were pristine unoccupied lands waiting for the taking. The major factor here is the spread of Old World disease. On the question of social and cultural development, he argues that Peru and Mesoamerica should be counted among the birthplaces of human culture. While they didn't develop in the same way as Asian or European societies, they represent great achievements that best took advantage of their situation. His final point is that the locals were extensive modifiers of the environment. In fact he goes so far as to say that the Amazon as we know it is the result of thousands of years of human engineering. All of these arguments have their foes and Mann gives them room in the book as well. It's a fair, easy to read book that will likely educate and entertain all but specialists.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    A necessary and interesting corrective to popular perceptions on the 'pre-Columbian' eras of the American continent. Many may have already doubted the old narrative of Natives being 'uncivilized' and the stereotype of being 'communal with nature' and the 'noble savage', when they have already built pre-existing complex societies. The author does scatter from topic to topic, but he paints a broad overview of some of the various trends in Native Studies and anthropology. Some tens of millions of pe A necessary and interesting corrective to popular perceptions on the 'pre-Columbian' eras of the American continent. Many may have already doubted the old narrative of Natives being 'uncivilized' and the stereotype of being 'communal with nature' and the 'noble savage', when they have already built pre-existing complex societies. The author does scatter from topic to topic, but he paints a broad overview of some of the various trends in Native Studies and anthropology. Some tens of millions of people lived in these vast cities, with their culture and art and society comparable to the pre-Socratics in ancient Greece, or in size, comparable to ancient China. As such, they are naturally worthy of study. Although with the limited resources of archaeology and the openly destructive inhabitants of the colonial populations, piecing the story has been difficult, with numerous conflicting stories and misconceptions still blundering about today.

  11. 4 out of 5

    N.K. Jemisin

    Mindblowing. Everyone should read this book. It's amazing to me how much historians got wrong -- and what this book illuminates is why historians get such things wrong. Some of it is flat-out racism and ethnocentrism -- historians' tendency to dismiss oral tradition as crap, for example, when it turns out most Indian groups have done a good job of keeping track of their own past. Some of it, however, was simply lost knowledge that's only now being rediscovered, with the aid of modern technology Mindblowing. Everyone should read this book. It's amazing to me how much historians got wrong -- and what this book illuminates is why historians get such things wrong. Some of it is flat-out racism and ethnocentrism -- historians' tendency to dismiss oral tradition as crap, for example, when it turns out most Indian groups have done a good job of keeping track of their own past. Some of it, however, was simply lost knowledge that's only now being rediscovered, with the aid of modern technology and research methods. Changed the way I view the world. Truly stunning stuff.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stefan

    This book could be good. Unfortunately the author seems determined in every part of his "research" to interject his own opinion without duly backing it up. I stopped reading it somewhere around page 100, where the author makes the comparison between ritual human sacrifice by the Aztecs and executions in European countries. By taking the executions in England for a 100 year period, then adjusting for the size of the English population compared to the estimated possible population of the Aztecs, a This book could be good. Unfortunately the author seems determined in every part of his "research" to interject his own opinion without duly backing it up. I stopped reading it somewhere around page 100, where the author makes the comparison between ritual human sacrifice by the Aztecs and executions in European countries. By taking the executions in England for a 100 year period, then adjusting for the size of the English population compared to the estimated possible population of the Aztecs, and comparing that yearly execution total with what Cortez estimated, Mann concludes that Europeans were more bloodthirsty. Despite my issues with the math behind these comparisons, I'm still left wondering what Mann's point is. That becomes my issue with the book. Mann presents a lot of good factual arguments, but then includes hints of his own opinions that don't really contribute to Mann's argument that New World cultures surpass what has been previously estimated, assumed, and ingrained into our own culture.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    Let me start by noting that Mann is a journalist, rather than a historian or cultural anthropologist. This results in a work that is extremely accessible to the non specialist reader and lacking in jargon. So much of our notions of what North America was like before Europeans arrived are the result of our own impact on the continent. The notion of an empty continent populated by either "noble savages" or aborigines comes from the fact that the population was decimated by western diseases within Let me start by noting that Mann is a journalist, rather than a historian or cultural anthropologist. This results in a work that is extremely accessible to the non specialist reader and lacking in jargon. So much of our notions of what North America was like before Europeans arrived are the result of our own impact on the continent. The notion of an empty continent populated by either "noble savages" or aborigines comes from the fact that the population was decimated by western diseases within a 100 years of our arrival. Mann shows that Native American cultures were highly civilized and complex, with enormous centers of population and highly organized agricultural and political societies. He shows that when Europeans came to North America, they were not seeing a "state of nature" but rather a continent that had already been significantly changed by the agricultural practices of its inhabitants. We tend to think of small villages of teepees or cave dwellings. But Mann shows that the populations of the America were equivalent to those of Europe in 1500, and that there were large, organized communiteis throughout the continent. Some of the largest of these, such as the cities of the mound people of the plains, or Tenochtitlan in South America, were enormous in scale, and highly civilized. There was so much here before we arrived, and its important to remember this.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    Outstanding. Amazing.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Confession: I never finished this, leaving about 50 pages (about 15%)on the table. With non-fiction books that are based around a particular theory I feel like as long as I read enough to internalize the argument and really understand some of the evidence I can stop reading when I get bored. If I missed some revelation on page 420 somebody let me know. The key takeaway here: American societies were almost certainly older, larger, more technically advanced and more complex than they are given cred Confession: I never finished this, leaving about 50 pages (about 15%)on the table. With non-fiction books that are based around a particular theory I feel like as long as I read enough to internalize the argument and really understand some of the evidence I can stop reading when I get bored. If I missed some revelation on page 420 somebody let me know. The key takeaway here: American societies were almost certainly older, larger, more technically advanced and more complex than they are given credit for. While this is basically a no brainer for most of us, actually reading all of the evidence and the history of the discovery is really interesting. Another takeaway: Archeology is NOT an exact science. In fact, it seems to basically consist of making a discovery and then claiming your discovery is unimpeachable fact until someone else discovers something older that makes your discovery obsolete. Its like a crappy metaphor for life. Finally: Interesting factoid. It seems like no one can come to a consensus on how corn originated as a crop. The genetic ancestors of the plant are so small and nutrient deficient that they cant figure out how the South Americans managed to cultivate it into the powerful food staple it is today. Probably alien intervention if you ask me..

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Review of the audiobook narrated by Darrell Dennis. I find pre-Columbian history of the Americas fascinating so this book was right up my alley. It did jump around a little more than I liked, but overall this is a great presentation of all of the contemporary findings and generally accepted conclusions (as of 2005) on both the state of culture in the Americas before 1492 and the affect that European settlement/conquering had on said culture beginning in 1492. The first part tells the story of what Review of the audiobook narrated by Darrell Dennis. I find pre-Columbian history of the Americas fascinating so this book was right up my alley. It did jump around a little more than I liked, but overall this is a great presentation of all of the contemporary findings and generally accepted conclusions (as of 2005) on both the state of culture in the Americas before 1492 and the affect that European settlement/conquering had on said culture beginning in 1492. The first part tells the story of what the Americas were like immediately before Columbus' journey. Told mostly through the first person accounts of the Europeans who witnessed with their own eyes, Mann uses those observations to paint a snapshot of the lives and cultures of Native Americans at that fateful time. Most notable is the contrasting of chronicles of the very first who explored (seeing a continent teeming with people) with those who came later (seeing a mostly empty and undisturbed environment) thanks to the diseases the Europeans brought to the Americas which swept ahead of them. The second and third parts are interesting as well, exploring archaeological research, various dating technologies, agricultural advancements (many foods which are now associated with countries, such as tomatoes and Italy, were originally cultured by Native Americans) and the history of a number of different cultures, including the Clovis, Olmec and Maya. Overall this is a great book for anyone interested in American Indian or pre-Columbian history. History doesn't have the same narration demands as the fiction that I spend most of my time listening to as there typically aren't an array of different characters that need to be given distinct voices. The difficulty in narrating this book is with the pronunciations of all of the different places and people(s), which Darrell Dennis does flawlessly. In looking him up after finishing the book I see that he is a Native American (First Nations) actor. Retrospectively, this does give his narration more credibility than I had been attributing it as he does sound like your average reader. Final verdict: 4.5 star story, 4.5 star narration, 4.5 stars overall

  17. 5 out of 5

    John

    I am rethinking my review and giving this the highest rating. This book has really stayed with me in the months since I read it. I'm always a sucker for prehistory stuff, people speculating on history and social structure and motivations for doing things when all you have to go on are oral history and some artifacts but nothing written down. And there is so much we don't know about the Native Americans, even though we act as if we do. This book reminds the reader that we base all our knowledge a I am rethinking my review and giving this the highest rating. This book has really stayed with me in the months since I read it. I'm always a sucker for prehistory stuff, people speculating on history and social structure and motivations for doing things when all you have to go on are oral history and some artifacts but nothing written down. And there is so much we don't know about the Native Americans, even though we act as if we do. This book reminds the reader that we base all our knowledge about Indian tribes on what they were like when we managed to really sit down and chat with them starting in the mid 1600's on the east coast and really the 1700's for the interior, and we didn't know much about the western tribes even by Lewis and Clark, in 1802. But the european contact affected them much earlier. You can see that even with tribes like the Wampanoag, who the Pilgrims met. The Pilgrims had time to sit in their villages and really write about what they were like, but by that point they had been trading with Europeans for almost a hundred years, european goods were ingrained in their society, and the first waves of disease had already arrived via fishing boats. The society was very different from what it had originally been. And so with plains tribes, this was even more of a big deal. A tribe like the cheyenne or sioux, let's say. We really don't record anything about them until the 1800s. But they started getting things from us, not only traded goods but also diseases, in the 1500s. They traded with tribes who traded with tribes who traded with the spanish. That's 300 years of change! It's not that far fetched to think that maybe in 1830 some of these nomadic plains tribes were living in tipis and surviving only on what they could hunt because 150 years ago their societies were decimated by disease and they were forced to become nomadic hunter-gatherers. But what we learn in school is only what we can prove: the Cheyenne were a small tribe of hunter-gatherers that lived a meager existence on the plains, subsisting mostly on buffalo. This makes it sound like they were always FAR behind the europeans, which might not have been true. Another interesting theory. Remember learning about the thundering herds of buffalo, millions strong, dominating the plains. You just figure it must have always been like that, until the europeans came along. But we ignore that the dominant predator for the buffalo was the native american. And European diseases caused possibly 75% of the native american population to die, round about 1700. So what we really saw in the 1800s was a massive population surge of buffalo, because the only people eating them had vanished. Plus there's all kinds of great writing in here about how advanced the Incans were how they may have had a written language after all, but using knots on rope, which is really cool when you think about it. I think people would find history a lot more interesting if they talked about this kind of stuff in school. Maybe it's just me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Aili

    So the major thing to note here is that this is a history of the inhabitants of pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere... written by a feature journalist. It has a lot of straight history, but also a lot of information gleaned from non-standard or new techniques, such as archaeology, forensic science, and linguistics. Oh, and actually talking to folks who identify as indigenous -- who are, lots of them, still around. A fair amount of the material was familiar to me from taking Colonial Latin America (t So the major thing to note here is that this is a history of the inhabitants of pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere... written by a feature journalist. It has a lot of straight history, but also a lot of information gleaned from non-standard or new techniques, such as archaeology, forensic science, and linguistics. Oh, and actually talking to folks who identify as indigenous -- who are, lots of them, still around. A fair amount of the material was familiar to me from taking Colonial Latin America (taught by the awesome Prof. Cope) in college and from reading Guns, Germs, and Steel [and it's clear that the author totally hearts Jared Diamond]. But even with that background, there was enough new/interesting stuff to keep me entertained. The downside is also the upside: as a journalist, the author is prone to kind of florid prose, which I found distracting but others (I hear) find exciting. He also jumps around a lot -- it was unclear from the chapter titles what themes would be covered, or where, or who. The thread within a given chapter can jump from maps of the Amazon Basin to a Short History of the Fall of the Inkan [sic] Empire to How to Make Tortillas in Oaxaca, Mexico. The lack of overall structure meant that the author has to keep explicitly stating his extremely general goal: "I just wanna write about these folks because the current history paradigm totally fails to." Because otherwise you might forget it or wonder why he's spending 10 pages discussing a somewhat arbitrarily-chosen Mayan civil war in extreme detail. His intention is laudable, but having such a general goal means that there's no clear build-up to a conclusion. So it's very easy to flip or page through this book, but it's kind of boring to read it straight through.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    As Mann “suggests” in his preface many of us have been taught that prior to Christopher Columbus showing up, North and South America were pristine lands, sparsely populated by primitive Indians with unsophisticated cultures, who lived at the mercy of Mother Nature. Combining archaeology, history, science and even some psychology/sociology – and as the subtitle suggests – The author paints a very different picture of the “New World” before it was “discovered”. And for the most part 1491 is a fasc As Mann “suggests” in his preface many of us have been taught that prior to Christopher Columbus showing up, North and South America were pristine lands, sparsely populated by primitive Indians with unsophisticated cultures, who lived at the mercy of Mother Nature. Combining archaeology, history, science and even some psychology/sociology – and as the subtitle suggests – The author paints a very different picture of the “New World” before it was “discovered”. And for the most part 1491 is a fascinating read, dispelling one Pre-Columbian myth after another with “new” scientific evidence – although much of it has been around for awhile but ignored – as well as raising some fascinating if troubling questions. For instance – if the New World was a more sophisticated, complex, densely populated place than we realized – what the hell happened? To get the answer to that question as well as a whole lot more information - for instance the “history” of maize/corn - pick up this book. As alluded to above one of the fascinating features of this book is that much of the “evidence” utilized to retool our history of the Pre-Columbian world has been around and has either been ignored or considered “quirks” outside the boundaries of contemporary theory. My only fault with this book is that I got lost several times in some of the cultural details as well as the names of the ancient leaders/personages – and there is a lot of both in this book. Still, 1491 is a fascinating and engaging book and if you’re looking for something a “little different” – you won’t go wrong here.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    Mann is not a historian, but rather is a journalist. And for that reason, this book does read like a history text (like Guns, Germs, and Steel). But it is exceptionally researched and fantastic. Mann describes North and South America in a way that traditional textbooks and contemporary rhetoric never acknowledges. He combats the old-fashioned and anti-academic beliefs that pervade our Eurocentric version of world history (summed up in what he calls "Holmberg's Mistake," a reading I give my studen Mann is not a historian, but rather is a journalist. And for that reason, this book does read like a history text (like Guns, Germs, and Steel). But it is exceptionally researched and fantastic. Mann describes North and South America in a way that traditional textbooks and contemporary rhetoric never acknowledges. He combats the old-fashioned and anti-academic beliefs that pervade our Eurocentric version of world history (summed up in what he calls "Holmberg's Mistake," a reading I give my students at the start of our U.S. Literature class). Marvin Harris tries to "de-mystify the world's mysteries," and Mann does that with the "New" World's mysteries in this text. He tells the true story of the Pilgrims, Jamestown, the Mayas, the Aztecs (or Triple Alliance), and the Incas. He also introduces most readers to Hopewell Indians, Mississippian Indians like the Cahokians, and other groups that built powerful empires and established incredibly technologically-advanced cultures prior to European contact - all without the help of steel, guns, trade with Asia, or beasts of burden. The unfortunate aspect of Mann's book, though, is that it will likely be out of date fairly soon. Much of his information is current scholarship; the investigation of pre-Columbus North and South America is ever-changing. But that just means there will be more to read in the near future (hopefully).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    This book has already been widely reviewed. Many other reviewers have outlined the basic 3 premises that the book advances. The book is extremely well-researched. The author has spoken with numerous experts and covered an enormous amount of territory, and on the whole he presents fairly convincing arguments. Most people do I think accept that the Indian population of the Americas experienced a catastrophic crash after 1492, due primarily to the introduction of Old World diseases, but Mann presen This book has already been widely reviewed. Many other reviewers have outlined the basic 3 premises that the book advances. The book is extremely well-researched. The author has spoken with numerous experts and covered an enormous amount of territory, and on the whole he presents fairly convincing arguments. Most people do I think accept that the Indian population of the Americas experienced a catastrophic crash after 1492, due primarily to the introduction of Old World diseases, but Mann presents this simple fact from another angle. He points out that the earliest European explorers described a heavily populated continent, with numerous towns and even cities. A century or so later their successors described an empty wilderness. Even the huge forests, vast herds of bison and the unimaginably large flocks of passenger pigeons, all of which we tend to associate with early post-colonial North America, were, Mann argues, developments that took place only after the Indian population was drastically reduced post 1492. The author also seeks to change our view of Indian civilisations, arguing persuasively that many Indian societies developed highly complex and effective agricultures as well as independently developing writing, and that in both cases they may have been amongst the earliest in the World to do so. Unfortunately at times the author falls into the trap of overstating his case. He praises Mesoamerican philosophy, and compares it to that of Ancient Greece and China. In support of his argument he provides some rather unimpressive evidence from the Mexica (aka the Aztecs), consisting largely of creation myths and some simplistic questions such as "In the Beyond, are we still dead or do we live?" Perhaps realising the thinness of his evidence, the author asserts that "Cut short by Cortes, Mexica philosophy did not have the chance to reach as far as Greek or Chinese philosophy." This is speculative. As the author himself sets out, dozens if not scores of Indian civilisations had risen and fallen over millennia, and there is no reason to suppose that the fate of the Mexica or the Inca would have been any different, had the Europeans not arrived. Moreover the author finishes the book with a last chapter in which he seems to argue that worldwide ideas of political liberty derive mainly from the Haudenosaunee (The League of the Iroquois). I am not seeking to denigrate the Haudenosaunee, which was an impressive achievement, and I realise the author would be seeking to finish with a flourish, but I find this claim to be a wild exaggeration, totally ignoring the extent to which Ancient Greek ideas of democracy, liberty and equality before the law influenced the 18th Century Enlightenment, and the extent to which the political philosophy of the Enlightenment was inextricably linked with the Scientific Revolution and the challenges it posed to tradition and faith. Regrettably the book's very last paragraph contains two statements that I found to be simply absurd, and for me this rather soured the rest of the arguments the author advanced.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    Sigh, Holmberg didn't 'make a mistake' he used scientific racism. His scientific determinations about Native Americans aren't mistakes. Racism is a form of control and therefore ALWAYS intentional. If an author is unprepared to deal with white folks behaving badly because of racism, he should've picked another continent on which to set this. As it stands this stance is disrespectful to the very people who's history he's supposed to be providing. Racism is never a mistake or oversight. The author' Sigh, Holmberg didn't 'make a mistake' he used scientific racism. His scientific determinations about Native Americans aren't mistakes. Racism is a form of control and therefore ALWAYS intentional. If an author is unprepared to deal with white folks behaving badly because of racism, he should've picked another continent on which to set this. As it stands this stance is disrespectful to the very people who's history he's supposed to be providing. Racism is never a mistake or oversight. The author's inability to leave Europeans out of a book that doesn't include them is annoying. His inability to hold the perpetrators of this genocide accountable is dangerous. Pulling histories for marginalized peoples out of white folks records is a standard method of study and many of the biographies I've read employ this technique. In the beginning generally the author explains where the info/facts/history comes from, the records of the farm or plantation etc, without making those whites the center of the story. No attempt is made to give the subjects that same dignity in this narrative. Yet for all it's flaws it is a groundbreaking book that ties all of this research together in one place. Just do not give any weight to the author's conclusions. One of the author's main goals here is to expose the mistaken history while protecting white supremacy. It's an intricate dance that ultimately fails. If this interests you aptn.ca (aboriginal peoples television network) made an 8 part series with this same name. It's considerably better as it includes much more info than exists in this book or I'm told 1493. Also it's created by Native Americans/ First Nations so no need to protect white supremacy. This show is also available on Vimeo. I rarely suggest this but in this case, skip the book watch the show. The history is more accurate and Europeans are non-existent, as they should be in 1491 Americas.

  23. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is an excellent book that describes the civilizations in North, Central, and South America before (and shortly after) the arrival of Columbus. Many facets of these civilizations are quite impressive. For example, the agricultural method of inter-planting different species of crops in a plot of land was a wonderful approach for keeping farms fertile over long periods of time, even millennia. This farming method was much better--and more efficient--than the European method of rotating crops. This is an excellent book that describes the civilizations in North, Central, and South America before (and shortly after) the arrival of Columbus. Many facets of these civilizations are quite impressive. For example, the agricultural method of inter-planting different species of crops in a plot of land was a wonderful approach for keeping farms fertile over long periods of time, even millennia. This farming method was much better--and more efficient--than the European method of rotating crops. Some of the "forests" of the Amazon are actually the remnants of ancient orchards, where people could just "live off of the land" by picking fruits off of trees. Indians in North America would burn off the underbrush in forests every year, creating forests that were more akin to parks than wilderness. The most impressive part of the book was the last chapter, a recounting of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Indians. They lived as a single social class. They could not fathom the European class system. They didn't understand why servants and slaves didn't simply "walk away" to freedom. Their approach to freedom and independence had a great influence on founding fathers of the United States, and to this day, around the world.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    So much eye-opening research. I know that some of these findings are still being elaborated, but wow. So much devastation by disease, such large populations and complex civilizations. And the thesis at the end was so interesting: that it was Native American political structure that informed the founding fathers in creating our unique constitution that was based on liberty and equality.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Todd N

    I was blown away by the Terry Gross interview with the author about his other book, 1493. (Earthworms went extinct in North America during the Ice Age???) So I figured I should start with 1491 and get the full pre-Columbian experience. I was engrossed by this book to the point where my Kindle 2's failing battery became an issue. (I wound up installing an aftermarket battery, which instantly increased my quality of life by 15%) The main thing I learned from this book is that anthropologists are mai I was blown away by the Terry Gross interview with the author about his other book, 1493. (Earthworms went extinct in North America during the Ice Age???) So I figured I should start with 1491 and get the full pre-Columbian experience. I was engrossed by this book to the point where my Kindle 2's failing battery became an issue. (I wound up installing an aftermarket battery, which instantly increased my quality of life by 15%) The main thing I learned from this book is that anthropologists are mainly jerks. Their careers seem to go like this: Young anthropologist comes up with theory Y and is attacked by older anthropologists that came up with theory X. Eventually theory Y becomes accepted and they spend the rest of their careers in mainstream academia attacking theory Z proposed by younger anthropologists. And so on. The only thing capable of uniting anthropologists is their shared hatred of amateur anthropologists with their own theories, usually based on common sense and some weird thing found on their farm land. These anthropologists are really an unscientific lot. They seem to actually believe that since nothing older than Clovis settlements were found, nothing older than Clovis is possible. One anthropologist casually suggests that another one could benefit from therapy. It reminded me of a line from a book, maybe by David Lodge, that went something like "the battles are so fierce because the stakes are so low." (This is a good general purpose insult that you are welcome to, by the way.) But the thing is that the stakes couldn't be higher. At issue is the very core of the creation myths of USA and all the other countries on two continents. Mr Mann even makes a tantalizing case that the founding fathers were influenced by a confederation of Indian nations as they drafted the Constitution. (Try running that one by one of the Republican candidates, even that fat one that was a history professor.) Also, my son checked out a book about "Squanto" at the library for Thanksgiving this week, and it's presence in my house made me uncomfortable. But then again I wasn't quite sure how to explain the 1491 version to an 8-year-old. One example: The whole corn-in-the-fish thing was probably picked up when "Squanto" was captured and taken to Europe. The most important thing I learned from 1491, which seems sort of "duh" obvious, is that the Indians were their own agents during the post-Columbian period. They weren't passively getting colonized, nor where they innocents. After the initial shock of the meeting, they were making the best deals and the best alliances that they could under very difficult circumstances. It wasn't until disease (from a group of pigs in the Midwest, and some sailors in New England) wiped out about 95% of the native population that the Europeans were able to even think about starting colonies. Before that they were barely tolerated trading partners. They had a civilization that was more advanced in a lot of ways than Europe was at the time, a point the book makes repeatedly until my eyes glazed over. I couldn't keep track of all the civilizations and inventions after a while. The main genius of the Indians seemed to be in agriculture and nutrition. In fact, the Indians were amazed at how short and smelly the Europeans were, something that persists to this day. This is a book that needs to be read twice, though I don't have the time or patience for that. It's most definitely worth reading once.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gordon

    Every now and again a book comes along that fundamentally changes my perspective about something big, and this is one of them. Theres a reason why the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620 and found the forests nicely felled, the fields already cleared, and caches of food ready to be stolen. The reason: a huge population of Indians had already done the work on their behalf. The reason why hardly any of them were left is that the local population had been reduced a few short Every now and again a book comes along that fundamentally changes my perspective about something big, and this is one of them. There´s a reason why the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620 and found the forests nicely felled, the fields already cleared, and caches of food ready to be stolen. The reason: a huge population of Indians had already done the work on their behalf. The reason why hardly any of them were left is that the local population had been reduced a few short years before by a European-introduced epidemic that killed 95% of them. Take this story and multiply it many times over, and you have the story of contact between Europeans and Indians everywhere in the New World. In fact, as the author points out, it may not even be appropriate to call it the "new" world. It seems that the invention of the Neolithic revolution (think farming and villages) had been independently replicated at least twice in the Americas (Central America and the Andes), and at about the same time as it occurred in Mesopotamia. And it also seems that the population of the Americas was probably at least as great if not greater than that of Europe. So, it becomes pretty hard to say which was the new and which was the old world. The author spent years interviewing the scientists uncovering this kind of data and these kinds of new interpretations, and distills the points of view of various schools of thought at odds with one another. Example: Is the Amazon rain forest a wilderness, or is it in fact just the remnant of a forest that had been heavily shaped by millenia of agriculture by the Indians? Since I learned most of what I know about the early history of the Americas back in elementary school in Montreal and in high school in Ottawa several decades ago, I discovered that much of what I knew was, uh, dated. Or to be more accurate, wrong. This book is highly recommended.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shira

    I remember being blown away by this book but unfortunately my notes (what I can find of them) from that time only consist of the following: p. 251 bison fire Ny-GA p. 256 weed crops food: maygrass patties, steamed knowt-weed beans, little barley p. 265 hickory nut milk -grind boil strain p. 333 Iroquoian Great law of Peace Read, Write, Dream, Teach ! ShiraDest 19 February, 12016 HE Updated with re-read: 6 August, 12017 HE Wow to the first civilization being in Peru rather than Asia, based on seafood rat I remember being blown away by this book but unfortunately my notes (what I can find of them) from that time only consist of the following: p. 251 bison fire Ny-GA p. 256 weed crops food: maygrass patties, steamed knowt-weed beans, little barley p. 265 hickory nut milk -grind boil strain p. 333 Iroquoian Great law of Peace Read, Write, Dream, Teach ! ShiraDest 19 February, 12016 HE Updated with re-read: 6 August, 12017 HE Wow to the first civilization being in Peru rather than Asia, based on seafood rather than agriculture and knocking all the Eurocentric archeologists for a loop, Super wow to the existence of a body of literature in Nahua from the Mexica/Aztec and meso-American civilizations that is larger than the Greeks, and not yet translated, Yikes to the pigs actually carrying dozens of diseases that are transmissible between them and not only us, but several of our domesticated animals as well, making Europeans far far more microbe resistant than North/South Americans. and the 3/4 Siberian death rate made a 90% death rate absolutely plausible in the Western hemisphere: pigs :-( What a sad but also incredibly awe-inspiring second read, but this time I really remembered his comments about the works of art cut short by the Conquistadores... Very very sad for Humanity. 6th of August, 12017 HE

  28. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Tom Miley told me to read his copy of this book while I was visiting him and his family in San Francisco. It was an excellent suggestion. Rarely have I read a book filled with so much information contrary to what I thought I knew. 1491 basically summarizes recent researches suggesting that the Americas were populated earlier than previously believed, more densely populated than commonly estimated and more widely civilized. One of the more interesting stories in this book is about the civilization( Tom Miley told me to read his copy of this book while I was visiting him and his family in San Francisco. It was an excellent suggestion. Rarely have I read a book filled with so much information contrary to what I thought I knew. 1491 basically summarizes recent researches suggesting that the Americas were populated earlier than previously believed, more densely populated than commonly estimated and more widely civilized. One of the more interesting stories in this book is about the civilization(s) along the Amazon. Like Hadingham's Lines of the Mountain Gods, Mann's account details a breakthrough which occurred as a result of a researcher thinking to simply ask current inhabitants about signs of civilization which might accord with the generally discredited earliest accounts of Europeans following the course of the river. The accounts had mentioned town after town, but when later explorers visited no signs remained. The natives, however, knew of artificial riparian hills, hills of potsherds, enough to indicate both a large and relatively sophisticated population whose other artifacts, made of woods and other organic substances, had long since disintegrated. This further correlated with the peculiar distribution patterns of trees bearing edible fruit, patterns suggestive of an arboreal milpa culture. The rainforest, much of it, might be more a tree garden gone to seed than a primeval jungle. The book contains many stories such as this, stories which are joined by a grand, speculative narrative about the broad scope of human history and pre-history in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kenny

    As a result of decades of revisionist history (as well as flat-out incorrect but sincere assumptions by scientists), most people have come to see pre-Columbian America as an Edenic wilderness inhabited by pure-hearted indigenous folk living lightly on the land, leaving nary a footprint outside their biodegradable sweatlodges. Yet Mann shows us a densely populated, fiercely impacted hemisphere where no one was indigenous (they all came from somewhere else), much of the land repeatedly went up in s As a result of decades of revisionist history (as well as flat-out incorrect but sincere assumptions by scientists), most people have come to see pre-Columbian America as an Edenic wilderness inhabited by pure-hearted indigenous folk living lightly on the land, leaving nary a footprint outside their biodegradable sweatlodges. Yet Mann shows us a densely populated, fiercely impacted hemisphere where no one was indigenous (they all came from somewhere else), much of the land repeatedly went up in smoke in a slash-and-burn regime designed to remake it for man, plants, and animals alike (a good portion of the Amazon rainforest itself is said to be the result of human intervention, planting, and control over millenia), sculpted in incredibly huge and aggressive ways (terrace farming in Peru, the literal creation of the Great Plains in north America by the "Indians," giant figures carved into the dirt seen in their complete form only from the air in the Andes), with vast, heavy-handed populations (many ancient cities in the Americas were not only contemporaneous with those in Europe, they were larger, cleaner, and better managed). The result is that Columbus brought steel and smallpox to the Americas, decimating the local populations through war and disease, which perhaps wiped out as much as 90% of the entire human population of the hemisphere in just a few years. Columbus' men received syphillis in return, and cannot be blamed for the smallpox (no one even knew how disease was transmitted back then). They can also be excused from attempting to dominate the local cultures. After all, that is what the Inka, Maya, Olmec, and a score of other civilizations Mann discusses in the book had been doing to each other for nigh onto 10,000 years. The only difference is that we have the history of the conquest (thanks to the Spaniards themselves), not just a few worn sandstone steles covered in vines to place the popular blame on the Euro-conquerors. What happened in the Americas happened everywhere else in the world by people no different from those they found in the western hemisphere. Thus it has always been and likely thus it will always be.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paige

    This book is a fascinating window into the cultures of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Author Charles Mann, an award-winning writer for Science and The Atlantic Monthly, debunks many widely held notions about the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere. With a contagious excitement, Mann shares recent discoveries of archeologists, historians and geographers, many of which up-end previously accepted beliefs. Mann presents new research showing that the population numbers of America’s Fi This book is a fascinating window into the cultures of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Author Charles Mann, an award-winning writer for Science and The Atlantic Monthly, debunks many widely held notions about the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere. With a contagious excitement, Mann shares recent discoveries of archeologists, historians and geographers, many of which up-end previously accepted beliefs. Mann presents new research showing that the population numbers of America’s First Nations were vastly underestimated. Many tribes were decimated by smallpox and other diseases shortly before Columbus arrived. Rather than living nomadic lives in a pristine wilderness, many early Native Americans built and resided in some of the world’s biggest and most opulent cities. For example, early societies in Bolivia created rich artificial environments with vast geometrical earthworks, manmade causeways and canals, moats and palisades. Amazon residents practiced sophisticated crop engineering. He also brings to light research showing that the tribes of what is now the Northeast U.S. had a politically sophisticated confederation governed by democratic principles. Another widely held belief – that early inhabitants of the Americas arrived by crossing the Bering Strait land bridge from Siberia to Alaska – is also held up for scrutiny because of new evidence of early human habitation in Chile. Mann brings to light a vast body of research from diverse fields, but does so in a style that is quite readable. As a science writer, he is careful to present opposing arguments on controversial topics, but paints a compelling picture of the early Americas as being more sophisticated and more widely settled than we had previously imagined.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.