1491

1491

New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Book - 2005
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A groundbreaking study that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans in 1492.

Traditionally, Americans learned in school that the ancestors of the people who inhabited the Western Hemisphere at the time of Columbus's landing had crossed the Bering Strait twelve thousand years ago; existed mainly in small, nomadic bands; and lived so lightly on the land that the Americas was, for all practical purposes, still a vast wilderness. But as Charles C. Mann now makes clear, archaeologists and anthropologists have spent the last thirty years proving these and many other long-held assumptions wrong.

In a book that startles and persuades, Mann reveals how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques came to previously unheard-of conclusions. Among them:

* In 1491 there were probably more people living in the Americas than in Europe.
* Certain cities-such as Tenochtitl#65533;n, the Aztec capital-were far greater in population than any contemporary European city. Furthermore, Tenochtitl#65533;n, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets.
* The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids.
* Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process so sophisticated that the journal Science recently described it as "man's first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering."
* Amazonian Indians learned how to farm the rain forest without destroying it-a process scientists are studying today in the hope of regaining this lost knowledge.
* Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively "landscaped" by human beings.

Mann sheds clarifying light on the methods used to arrive at these new visions of the pre-Columbian Americas and how they have affected our understanding of our history and our thinking about the environment. His book is an exciting and learned account of scientific inquiry and revelation.
Publisher: New York : Knopf, 2005.
ISBN: 9781400040063
140004006X
Characteristics: xii, 465 p. :,ill., maps ;,25 cm.

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d
dnk
Feb 04, 2018

1491 paints a three-part picture of the American continents before the Europeans arrived: it was settled earlier than is generally believed, there were more people and, most importantly, the populations here controlled their environment. Any other person who has ever had to sit through someone describing Native Americans as, essentially, timeless hippies in constant commune with Nature will particularly enjoy Part Three: Landscape with Figures. This may be the hardest chapter for a lot of people to take. In it, Mann shares the theory that the Amazon forest is really a giant man made orchard. Hard to believe- unless one considers it more likely that human beings would have inhabited a region for thousands of years and not changed their environment, or that those people would have discovered a group of tree species growing in abundance that just happened to provide food and medicine for them.

The book's opening anecdote is "Holmberg's Mistake". Mann briefly explains the conclusions Allan Holmberg drew after meeting the Siriono people. He described them as being the most culturally backward people on the planet. True, they couldn't count past three, they had no clothing and they couldn't make fire. However, what Holmberg saw was what they were in the 1940s- after they had been devastated by infectious diseases and battles for land with cattle ranchers. It's not that Holmberg inaccurately described them as they were at that moment in time; it's that he assumed that because he was looking at them in that state, they had always been in that state.

That criticism is at the core of the book: most of our histories assert that the people of North and South America lived in small populations and were surrounded by plenty before the Europeans arrived. This is because this is what many settlers saw. This myth persists despite the fact that it has been shown repeatedly how devastating European diseases were to Early American populations. Mann quotes accounts from early explorers who reported "cheek to jowl" populations when they first visited. Four decades later, many of those accounts could not be verified; follow on explorers found sparser populations. What they could not have known at the time was that the diseases they brought with them lingered long enough after they left to wipe out up to 95% of the original population. With fewer among them, they would have been less likely to control their environments as they had before; thus New England forests were lush, 60 million bison roamed the plain states and it would have been all too easy- and convenient- to interpret the Americas as relatively uninhabited and thus ripe for colonization.

Understandably, it's difficult to make any clear assertions about when the earliest Americans arrived and settled- and that is also part of Mann's criticism. The popular theory- that people crossed the Bering Strait from Asia to North America- was something that people were hoping would be true almost as soon as people were seen in the Americas because then it wouldn't invalidate the biblical timeline that had been established in the 17th century. While almost undoubtedly people did use that passage, there is evidence that they came through other avenues as well. There is also strong evidence that they have been here longer than is generally assumed. This is perhaps the most disturbing part of the story: though known in scholarly circles, this is not shared in schools or popular books.

mvkramer Sep 01, 2016

When people say nonfiction can't move you - they are liars. This book opened my mind and broke my heart. Long story short - indigenous societies were more advanced, complex and prosperous than your high school history teacher told you. Sadly, about 90% of the people were wiped out by disease after contact with Europeans. Their works were largely forgotten, replaced by the image of the timeless, simple, "savage" Native American. This book is amazing. I highly recommend it to anyone with even the vaguest interest in history.

j
jaybird443
Feb 20, 2016

A very educational read that explores the great mystery of American indigenous civilizations. The author makes some startling points and raises some intersecting questions. This book is a must read if you have interest in this fascinating topic.

v
VictoriaS2
Sep 16, 2013

Revelatory!

s
shelleysf
Aug 18, 2012

There are many new revelations in this book, but unfortunately they are announced over and over again with little concern for the pacing and impact of the information. It's important reading for anyone that wants to get a better sense of just what the Europeans destroyed when they invaded this continent, but it's the information, and not the writing that will keep you reading through the entire book.

An exceptional historical according of the people of the Americas before european influence, as well as the effects there of. A great read for anyone who finds anthropology fascinating.

And I would hope no one puts any weight into the comment below that fails to even spell fantasy properly, Mann did his work, and it's citable from the bibliography.

z
zipread
Feb 22, 2012

1491 New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus --- by Charles Mann. This is a prodigious and ambitious work. The book is of gigantic proportions: over three hundred and fifty pages of gripping text and ambitious in scope: the history, or should we say the prehistory of the peoples, cultures, states and practices of the inhabitants of North America, Middle America and South America from its earliest inhabitants at the end of the Pleistocene era who have left barely a trace of their presence on the continents to those who encountered those strangers on their shores just after 1492. The book looks at some of those peoples with which we are undoubtedly familiar such as the Incas and the Aztecs to those with which we may perhaps be unfamiliar such as the Wari and the Taino Indians. In spite of being about prehistory, Archaeology, Geography, Ethnology and more, it is, none the less an eminently readable book that is hard to put down. In fact, there is a lot of fiction that pales by comparison with this book. It is spellbinding.

s
SirWhiskers
May 05, 2011

Fascinating subject. The author does a good job of presenting different sides of the various arguments about what the pre-Columbus Western Hemisphere was like. He also does well at noting when he is relating opinion vs. fact. The book is a fast read, with a number of interesting vignettes.

The only real weakness was with the author's last topic, Democracy. I feel he doesn't support with much evidence his final contention that pre-existing Indian societies significantly influenced contemporary and modern views of Democracy.

That's a minor nitpick. I highly recommend this book.

s
skiier55
May 09, 2010

A real revelation!

2
21288004246712
Oct 27, 2008

more fanticy than fact

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suby99
Sep 29, 2008

suby99 thinks this title is suitable for All Ages

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