1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

by Charles C. Mann

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Overview

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 Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital -- were far greater in population than any contemporary European city. Furthermore, Tenochtitlán, 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.

About the Author
CHARLES C. MANN is a correspondent for Science and The Atlantic Monthly, and has cowritten four previous books including Noah’s Choice: The Future of Endangered Species and The Second Creation. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he has won awards from the American Bar Association, the Margaret Sanger Foundation, the American Institute of Physics, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, among others. His writing was selected for The Best American Science Writing 2003 and The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2003. He lives with his wife and their children in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400032051
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/10/2006
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 17,860
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)
Lexile: 1210L (what's this?)

About the Author

Charles C. Mann is a correspondent for Science and The Atlantic Monthly, and has cowritten four previous books including Noah’s Choice: The Future of Endangered Species and The Second Creation. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he has won awards from the American Bar Association, the Margaret Sanger Foundation, the American Institute of Physics, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, among others. His writing was selected for The Best American Science Writing 2003 and The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2003. He lives with his wife and their children in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

Why Billington Survived

THE FRIENDLY INDIAN

On March 22, 1621, an official Native American delegation walked through what is now southern New England to negotiate with a group of foreigners who had taken over a recently deserted Indian settlement. At the head of the party was an uneasy triumvirate: Massasoit, the sachem (political-military leader) of the Wampanoag confederation, a loose coalition of several dozen villages that controlled most of what is now southeastern Massachusetts; Samoset, sachem of an allied group to the north; and Tisquantum, a distrusted captive, whom Massasoit had reluctantly brought along as an interpreter.

Massasoit was an adroit politician, but the dilemma he faced would have tested Machiavelli. About five years before, most of his subjects had fallen before a terrible calamity. Whole villages had been depopulated—indeed, the foreigners ahead now occupied one of the empty sites. It was all he could do to hold together the remnants of his people. Adding to his problems, the disaster had not touched the Wampanoag’s longtime enemies, the Narragansett alliance to the west. Soon, Massasoit feared, they would take advantage of the Wampanoag’s weakness and overrun them.

Desperate threats require desperate countermeasures. In a gamble, Massasoit intended to abandon, even reverse, a long-standing policy. Europeans had been visiting New England for at least a century. Shorter than the natives, oddly dressed, and often unbearably dirty, the pallid foreigners had peculiar blue eyes that peeped out of the masks of bristly, animal-like hair that encased their faces. They were irritatingly garrulous, prone to fits of chicanery, and often surprisingly incompetent at what seemed to Indians like basic tasks. But they also made useful and beautiful goods—copper kettles, glittering colored glass, and steel knives and hatchets—unlike anything else in New England. Moreover, they would exchange these valuable items for cheap furs of the sort used by Indians as blankets. It was like happening upon a dingy kiosk that would swap fancy electronic goods for customers’ used socks—almost anyone would be willing to overlook the shopkeeper’s peculiarities.

Over time, the Wampanoag, like other native societies in coastal New England, had learned how to manage the European presence. They encouraged the exchange of goods, but would only allow their visitors to stay ashore for brief, carefully controlled excursions. Those who overstayed their welcome were forcefully reminded of the limited duration of Indian hospitality. At the same time, the Wampanoag fended off Indians from the interior, preventing them from trading directly with the foreigners. In this way the shoreline groups put themselves in the position of classic middlemen, overseeing both European access to Indian products and Indian access to European products. Now Massasoit was visiting a group of British with the intent of changing the rules. He would permit the newcomers to stay for an unlimited time—provided that they formally allied with the Wampanoag against the Narragansett.

Tisquantum, the interpreter, had shown up alone at Massasoit’s home a year and a half before. He spoke fluent English, because he had lived for several years in Britain. But Massasoit didn’t trust him. He seems to have been in Massasoit’s eyes a man without anchor, out for himself. In a conflict, Tisquantum might even side with the foreigners. Massasoit had kept Tisquantum in a kind of captivity since his arrival, monitoring his actions closely. And he refused to use him to negotiate with the colonists until he had another, independent means of communication with them.

That March Samoset—the third member of the triumvirate—appeared, having hitched a ride from his home in Maine on an English ship that was plying the coast. Not known is whether his arrival was due to chance or if Massasoit had asked him to come down because he had picked up a few English phrases by trading with the British. In any case, Massasoit first had sent Samoset, rather than Tisquantum, to the foreigners.

Samoset had walked unaccompanied and unarmed into the circle of rude huts in which the British were living on March 17, 1621. The colonists saw a robust, erect-postured man wearing only a loincloth; his straight black hair was shaved in front but flowed down his shoulders behind. To their further amazement, this almost naked man greeted them in broken but understandable English. He left the next morning with a few presents. A day later he came back, accompanied by five “tall proper men”—the phrase is the colonist Edward Winslow’s—with three-inch black stripes painted down the middle of their faces. The two sides talked inconclusively, each warily checking out the other, for a few hours. Five days later, on the 22nd, Samoset showed up again at the foreigners’ ramshackle base, this time with Tisquantum. Meanwhile Massasoit and the rest of the Indian company waited out of sight.

Samoset and Tisquantum spoke with the colonists for about an hour. Perhaps they then gave a signal. Or perhaps Massasoit was simply following a schedule. In any case, he and the rest of the Indian party appeared without warning at the crest of a hill on the south bank of the creek that ran through Patuxet. Alarmed by Massasoit’s sudden entrance, the settlers withdrew to the hill on the opposite bank, where they had emplaced their few cannons behind a half-finished stockade. A standoff ensued.

Finally Winslow exhibited the decisiveness that later led to his selection as colony governor. Wearing a full suit of armor and carrying a sword, he waded through the stream and offered himself as a hostage. Tisquantum, who walked with him, served as interpreter. Massasoit’s brother took charge of Winslow and then Massasoit crossed the water himself followed by Tisquantum and twenty of Massasoit’s men, all ostentatiously unarmed. The colonists took the sachem to an unfinished house and gave him some cushions to recline on. Both sides shared some of the foreigners’ homemade moonshine, then settled down to talk, Tisquantum translating.

To the colonists, Massasoit could be distinguished from his subjects more by manner than by dress or ornament. He wore the same deerskin shawls and leggings and like his fellows had covered his face with bug-repelling oil and reddish-purple dye. Around his neck hung a pouch of tobacco, a long knife, and a thick chain of the prized white shell beads called wampum. In appearance, Winslow wrote afterward, he was “a very lusty man, in his best years, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech.” The Europeans, who had barely survived the previous winter, were in much worse shape. Half of the original colony now lay underground beneath wooden markers painted with death’s heads; most of the survivors were malnourished.

Their meeting was a critical moment in American history. The foreigners called their colony Plymouth; they themselves were the famous Pilgrims.* As schoolchildren learn, at that meeting the Pilgrims obtained the services of Tisquantum, usually known as “Squanto.” In the 1970s, when I attended high school, a popular history text was America: Its People and Values, by Leonard C. Wood, Ralph H. Gabriel, and Edward L. Biller. Nestled among colorful illustrations of colonial life was a succinct explanation of Tisquantum’s role:

A friendly Indian named Squanto helped the colonists. He showed them how to plant corn and how to live on the edge of the wilderness. A soldier, Captain Miles Standish, taught the Pilgrims how to defend themselves against unfriendly Indians.

My teacher explained that maize was unfamiliar to the Pilgrims and that Tisquantum had demonstrated the proper maize-planting technique—sticking the seed in little heaps of dirt, accompanied by beans and squash that would later twine themselves up the tall stalks. And he told the Pilgrims to fertilize the soil by burying fish alongside the maize seeds, a traditional native technique for producing a bountiful harvest. Following this advice, my teacher said, the colonists grew so much maize that it became the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving. In our slipshod fashion, we students took notes.

The story in America: Its People and Values isn’t wrong, so far as it goes. But the impression it gives is entirely misleading.

Tisquantum was critical to the colony’s survival, contemporary scholars agree. He moved to Plymouth after the meeting and spent the rest of his life there. Just as my teacher said, Tisquantum told the colonists to bury several small fish in each maize hill, a procedure followed by European settlers for the next two centuries. Squanto’s teachings, Winslow concluded, led to “a good increase of Indian corn”—the difference between success and starvation.

Winslow didn’t know that fish fertilizer may not have been an age-old Indian custom, but a recent invention—if it was an Indian practice at all. So little evidence has emerged of Indians fertilizing with fish that some archaeologists believe that Tisquantum actually picked up the idea from European farmers. The notion is not as ridiculous as it may seem. Tisquantum had learned English because British sailors had kidnapped him seven years before. To return to the Americas, he in effect had to escape twice—once from Spain, where his captors initially sold him into slavery, and once from England, to which he was smuggled from Spain, and where he served as a kind of living conversation piece at a rich man’s house. In his travels, Tisquantum stayed in places where Europeans used fish as fertilizer, a practice on the Continent since medieval times.

Skipping over the complex course of Tisquantum’s life is understandable in a textbook with limited space. But the omission is symptomatic of the complete failure to consider Indian motives, or even that Indians might have motives. The alliance Massasoit negotiated with Plymouth was successful from the Wampanoag perspective, for it helped to hold off the Narragansett. But it was a disaster from the point of view of New England Indian society as a whole, for the alliance ensured the survival of Plymouth colony, which spearheaded the great wave of British immigration to New England. All of this was absent not only from my high school textbooks, but from the academic accounts they were based on.

This variant of Holmberg’s Mistake dates back to the Pilgrims themselves, who ascribed the lack of effective native resistance to the will of God. “Divine providence,” the colonist Daniel Gookin wrote, favored “the quiet and peaceable settlement of the English.” Later writers tended to attribute European success not to European deities but to European technology. In a contest where only one side had rifles and cannons, historians said, the other side’s motives were irrelevant. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Indians of the Northeast were thought of as rapidly fading background details in the saga of the rise of the United States—“marginal people who were losers in the end,” as James Axtell of the College of William and Mary dryly put it in an interview. Vietnam War–era denunciations of the Pilgrims as imperialist or racist simply replicated the error in a new form. Whether the cause was the Pilgrim God, Pilgrim guns, or Pilgrim greed, native losses were foreordained; Indians could not have stopped colonization, in this view, and they hardly tried.

Beginning in the 1970s, Axtell, Neal Salisbury, Francis Jennings, and other historians grew dissatisfied with this view. “Indians were seen as trivial, ineffectual patsies,” Salisbury, a historian at Smith College, told me. “But that assumption—a whole continent of patsies—simply didn’t make sense.” These researchers tried to peer through the colonial records to the Indian lives beneath. Their work fed a tsunami of inquiry into the interactions between natives and newcomers in the era when they faced each other as relative equals. “No other field in American history has grown as fast,” marveled Joyce Chaplin, a Harvard historian, in 2003.

The fall of Indian societies had everything to do with the natives themselves, researchers argue, rather than being religiously or technologically determined. (Here the claim is not that indigenous cultures should be blamed for their own demise but that they helped to determine their own fates.) “When you look at the historical record, it’s clear that Indians were trying to control their own destinies,” Salisbury said. “And often enough they succeeded”—only to learn, as all peoples do, that the consequences were not what they expected.

This chapter and the next will explore how two different Indian societies, the Wampanoag and the Inka, reacted to the incursions from across the sea. It may seem odd that a book about Indian life before contact should devote space to the period after contact, but there are reasons for it. First, colonial descriptions of Native Americans are among the few glimpses we have of Indians whose lives were not shaped by the presence of Europe. The accounts of the initial encounters between Indians and Europeans are windows into the past, even if the glass is smeared and distorted by the chroniclers’ prejudices and misapprehensions.

Second, although the stories of early contact—the Wampanoag with the British, the Inka with the Spanish—are as dissimilar as their protagonists, many archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have recently come to believe that they have deep commonalities. And the tales of other Indians’ encounters with the strangers were alike in the same way. From these shared features, researchers have constructed what might be thought of as a master narrative of the meeting of Europe and America. Although it remains surprisingly little known outside specialist circles, this master narrative illuminates the origins of every nation in the Americas today. More than that, the effort to understand events after Columbus shed unexpected light on critical aspects of life before Columbus. Indeed, the master narrative led to such surprising conclusions about Native American societies before the arrival of Europeans that it stirred up an intellectual firestorm.

COMING OF AGE IN THE DAWNLAND

Consider Tisquantum, the “friendly Indian” of the textbook. More than likely Tisquantum was not the name he was given at birth. In that part of the Northeast, tisquantum referred to rage, especially the rage of manitou, the world-suffusing spiritual power at the heart of coastal Indians’ religious beliefs. When Tisquantum approached the Pilgrims and identified himself by that sobriquet, it was as if he had stuck out his hand and said, Hello, I’m the Wrath of God. No one would lightly adopt such a name in contemporary Western society. Neither would anyone in seventeenth-century indigenous society. Tisquantum was trying to project something.

Tisquantum was not an Indian. True, he belonged to that category of people whose ancestors had inhabited the Western Hemisphere for thousands of years. And it is true that I refer to him as an Indian, because the label is useful shorthand; so would his descendants, and for much the same reason. But “Indian” was not a category that Tisquantum himself would have recognized, any more than the inhabitants of the same area today would call themselves “Western Hemisphereans.” Still less would Tisquantum have claimed to belong to “Norumbega,” the label by which most Europeans then referred to New England. (“New England” was coined only in 1616.) As Tisquantum’s later history made clear, he regarded himself first and foremost as a citizen of Patuxet, a shoreline settlement halfway between what is now Boston and the beginning of Cape Cod.

Patuxet was one of the dozen or so settlements in what is now eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island that comprised the Wampanoag confederation. In turn, the Wampanoag were part of a tripartite alliance with two other confederations: the Nauset, which comprised some thirty groups on Cape Cod; and the Massachusett, several dozen villages clustered around Massachusetts Bay. All of these people spoke variants of Massachusett, a member of the Algonquian language family, the biggest in eastern North America at the time. (Massachusett was the name both of a language and of one of the groups that spoke it.) In Massachusett, the name for the New England shore was the Dawnland, the place where the sun rose. The inhabitants of the Dawnland were the People of the First Light.

Table of Contents

List of Mapsvii
Prefaceix
Introduction: Holmberg's Mistake
1A View from Above3
Part 1Numbers from Nowhere?
2Why Billington Survived31
3In the Land of Four Quarters62
4Frequently Asked Questions97
Part 2Very Old Bones
5Pleistocene Wars137
6Cotton (or Anchovies) and Maize (Tales of Two Civilizations, Part I)174
7Writing, Wheels, and Bucket Brigades (Tales of Two Civilizations, Part II)204
Part 3Landscape with Figures
8Made in America243
9Amazonia280
10The Artificial Wilderness312
Coda
11The Great Law of Peace329
Appendixes
ALoaded Words339
BTalking Knots345
CThe Syphilis Exception351
DCalendar Math355
Acknowledgments359
Notes361
Bibliography403
Index451

Reading Group Guide

“Marvelous. . . . A sweeping portrait of human life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. . . . A remarkably engaging writer.”
The New York Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about 1491, Charles Mann’s compelling and wide-ranging look at the variety, density, and sophistication of the cultures in the Western Hemisphere before the arrival of Columbus.

1. Mann begins the book with a question about our moral responsibility to the earth’s environment: Do we have an obligation, as some green activists believe, to restore environmental conditions to the state in which they were before human intervention [p. 5]? What does the story of the Beni tell us about what “before human intervention” might mean?

2. What scientists have learned about the early Americas gives the lie to what Charles C. Mann, and most of us, learned in high school: “that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about thirteen thousand years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation the continents remained mostly wilderness” [p. 4]. What is the effect of learning that most of what we have assumed about the past is “wrong in almost every aspect” [p. 4]?

3. There are many scholarly disagreements about the research described in 1491. If our knowledge of the past is based on the findings of scholars, what happens to the past when scholars don’t agree? How convincing is anthropologist Dean R. Snow’s statement, “you can make the meager evidence from the ethnohistorical record tell you anything you want” [p. 5]? Are certain scholars introduced here more believable than others? Why or why not?

4. Probably the most devastating impact from the contact between Europeans and Americans came from the spread of biological agents like smallpox. Of Mann’s various descriptions of the effects of foreign diseases on the Americas’ native populations [pp. 96—124], which are most shocking, and why? How do you respond to his questions on page 123: “In our antibiotic era, how can we imagine what it means to have entire ways of life hiss away like steam? How can one assay the total impact of the unprecedented calamity that gave rise to the world we live in?”

5. In the nineteenth century, historian George Bancroft described pre-contact America as “an unproductive waste. . . . Its only inhabitants were a few scattered tribes of feeble barbarians, destitute of commerce and of political connection” [pp. 14—15]. To what degree is the reflexive ethnocentrism of earlier times responsible for the erroneous history of the Americas we have inherited?

6. When Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto brought pigs along on his expedition in order to feed himself and his men, the pigs carried microbes that apparently wiped out the Indian populations in the southeast part of the current United States [p. 108—09]. While this episode illustrates the haphazard quality of biological devastation, how does it also connect 1491 to our contemporary world, in which the media reports daily on scientists’ fear of diseases like avian flu jumping from animal to human populations? In our present global environment, are we as vulnerable as the Indian tribes discussed by Mann? Are there, as he suggests, moral reverberations to be felt as a result of the European entrance into the Americas five centuries ago [p. 112]?

7. Several of the cultures discussed by Mann honored their dead so highly that, in effect, the dead were treated as if they were still alive. What is most interesting about the attitudes toward death and the dead found in the Chinchorro [pp. 200—01], the Chimor [p. 264], and the Inka [p. 98] cultures?

8. Much of America’s founding mythology is based on the idea of the land as an untouched wilderness, yet most scholars now agree that this pristine myth [p. 365] was a convenient story that the early settlers told themselves. What kinds of actions did the myth support, and how did it serve the purposes of the settlers?

9. Because of the lack of documentary and statistical evidence for the mass death caused by disease in the New World, experts have argued about the size of the pre-Columbian population. The so-called High Counters, according to their detractors, “are like people who discover an empty bank account and claim from its very emptiness that it once contained millions of dollars. Historians who project large Indian populations, Low Counter critics say, are committing the intellectual sin of arguing from silence” [p. 112]. Yet those who count low, Indian activists say, do so in order to diminish not only the mass death suffered by indigenous peoples, but also the significant achievements of their pre-contact cultures. Which side does it seem Charles Mann leans toward? Which side do you find more believable?

10. Consider Mann’s remark about what was lost because of the destruction wrought by Cortés and others: “Here, at last, we begin to appreciate the enormity of the calamity, for the disintegration of native America was a loss not just to those societies but to the human enterprise as a whole. . . . The Americas were a boundless sea of novel ideas, dreams, stories, philosophies, religions, moralities, discoveries, and all the other products of the mind” [p. 137]. How might the world have been different had the ancient cultures of the Americas survived into the present?

11. Mann writes, “Native Americans were living in balance with Nature–but they had their thumbs on the scale. . . . The American landscape had come to fit their lives like comfortable clothing. It was a highly successful and stable system, if ‘stable’ is the appropriate word for a regime that involves routinely enshrouding miles of countryside in smoke and ash” [p. 284]. Why did the Indians burn acres of land? Does Mann suggest that there are the ecological lessons for our own time in the Native Americans’ active manipulation of their environment?

12. Using the words of Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, Mann explains that a “keystone” species is one “that affects the survival and abundance of many other species”; Mann adds that, “Keystone species have disproportionate impact on their ecosystems” [p. 352—53]. Indians were a keystone species in most of the hemisphere before the arrival of Columbus. What force led to their greatly diminished importance in the evolution of the hemisphere’s ecosystems? If our species now has an even greater impact on the world ecosystems, does Mann suggest ways to avoid disasters such as those he delineates in 1491?

13. Discussing foreign environmentalists’ opinions about saving the Amazonian forests, Mann raises a problem with the whole environmental movement: Those in poverty-stricken areas like Amazonia want development and jobs; wealthy, well-educated people in the U.S. and Europe tend to want to preserve these forests [pp. 363—64]. How can this problem be resolved?

14. The Gitksan Indians of Canada’s Northwest have argued a case in the Supreme Court of Canada that “the Gitksan had lived there a long time, had never left, had never agreed to give their land away, and had thus retained legal title to about eleven thousand square miles of the province” [p. xi]. What are the implications of such a claim for the various peoples and tribes that Mann discusses in 1491, and for the descendants of European settlers?

15. What does Mann mean in saying, “Understanding that nature is not normative does not mean that anything goes. . . . Instead the landscape is an arena for the interaction of natural and social forces, a kind of display, and one that like all displays is not fully under the control of its authors” [p. 365—66]?

16. People have long believed that being in the wilderness conveys a sense of the sacred. Mann explains, “The trees closing over my head in the Amazon furo made me feel the presence of something beyond myself, an intuition shared by almost everyone who has walked in the woods alone. That something seemed to have rules and resistances of its own, ones that did not stem from me” [p. 365]. What happens to this idea of a non-human force in nature if, as Mann concludes, the concept of nature is a human creation?

17. Why does Mann end 1491 with a coda on the Haudenosaunee “Great Law of Peace,” and what resonance does it have for the book as a whole?

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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 179 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I felt motivated to write this review after seeing some of the other reviewers comment on very odd things. This book was eye opening for me. I couldn't put it down--which says something. And it changed the way I think about the history of the Americas and the world. Regarding the person who claims that Mann criticizes environmentalists--nothing could be further from the truth. I am an ardent conservationist and am quoting Mann in my master's thesis. He discusses some very central controversies in conservation. For the person who was so outraged by the idea that some native peoples prefer to be called Indians--actually some do. And this may be more relevant in Spanish. While indio is an insult in some countries, there are native people in Colombia who refer to themselves as indios. I wasn't sure where the rage was coming from, but Mann was not incorrect. In addition, I would have to go back to the book, but I didn't interpret his portrayal of Holmberg as insulting. I thought that Mann actually spoke quite highly of him. There is much to like in this book, and maybe the fact that it can stir up so much controversy is part of that.
StreamFollower More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be a very interesting read - particularly from the perspective of a biologist and professional conservationist. However one thing about the Nook e-version totally ticked me off. The notes, very important references to sources for some pretty controversial material, were NOT displayed in the text. That made it impossible to read, and as you go along, consider validity of the author's positions relative to the sources he felt supported them. There were references to some interesting Appendices made in the text, and there were asterisks linked to brief explanations included at the end of each chapter, but none of the text included reference notes. They were there, following page 410, seventy-eight pages of them, and you could link from them to the text page they were associated with, but not the line or statement there. Regardless, once at the end, to go back and try to integrate references into your thinking just doesn't work. If I were the author I'd be furious. As it is I just feel ripped off. B&A must do better than this!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had high hopes for Mann's interpretation especially reading this after Philbrick's Mayflower. With the exception of Part One, 90% of the book relates to South and Central America, and it almost reads as a topographical history or South America. I was 'expecting' more insight into Columbus and the North American tribes and their history, but I think people are getting caught up in the story. I found myself skipping chapters something I never do (well, there was a chapter on tortilla making).
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully explained and organized. The wealth of data is amazing and the unbiasedness is welcomed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One would think that reading about so many stats would just put one to sleep, BUT it did just the opposite for me. To understand the advanced societies in the Americas for so many centuries before the arrival of European virus just boggled my mind. If you have any interest in our past this is a must read. Until this book my perspective of pre-Columbus America was the European version.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have always thought the traditional history taught in schools is incorrect and lacking. But I don't think this book provides all the answers. I think Mann assumes quite a bit in some of his arguements and makes some claims that seem to be a stretch at best. But this is a good book and I think anyone interested in history should read it, just keep an open mind on some of the claims. Just because it is in a book does not make it true.
mike-v More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting book, full of information I had never seen or heard before. The author writes very clearly and is easy to understand. Occasionally, the sections were so dense with information that I became a little lost and confused--I found it hard to keep up with all the Indian names--but other than that I enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AP World History Review: While other people seem to have really liked this book, I did not really like it. I thought it was not very interesting and very dry to read. I got very bored reading it and just wanted the book to be over. I felt like Mann was a lot more involved in the politics about who was wrong and right than he was actually about the topic. While some of his personal stories may have been interesting, after the millionth one, I was really tired of it. His round about way of describing things confused me because first he would talk about the wrong theory, then he would describe another theory but say that they weren’t true. Some of the things he said went against other ideas and I was really confused about what to think. While I liked the stuff about the actual culture of the different civilizations, for some reason I didn’t feel he made it very interesting. I also wish that Mann wrote more about the North American societies, because he didn’t talk about those very much. I also felt like Mann had a very negative view towards environmentalists and people who didn’t agree about how long people had been in America, but I understand why because that was against what he was trying to say. All of his stories though bored me and I felt like he was always criticizing the people that didn’t agree with him by saying that they were stupid, which isn’t very nice. I felt like he completed his purpose well though because he provided facts and data about these civilizations and how they knew these things, although I felt like the facts were confusing because he told lots of different ideas, but never fully explained which one was correct. To me, I felt like he completed his purpose though by showing how humans are older than we thought and that Americans have been here longer and are more civilized and awesome than we thought. This wasn’t my favorite book though because Mann’s writing style bothered me though, although that in itself is very biased of me. The places where he actually described the civilizations felt a lot like a textbook and I am kinda tired of textbooks, while the rest of the book felt like an autobiography and a book about how the scientists/archaeologists/historians knew all of the facts. I do not recommend this book for other students, people with a short attention span, or people who aren’t that interested in how they know these things, but I would recommend this book for a person who really likes history or wants to become an archaeologist.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am fortunate enough to have a first edition of this book. While I don't agree with everything that he wrote, the man made me THINK. The history itself is interesting and presented well. The most valuable service that this book does, though, is to clearly point out that more than a few generally accepted "facts" are really theories. BTW, "1493" is a good read, too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read
Guest More than 1 year ago
Who were the first people on North and South America and how did they arrive here? A subject some don't care about but for us who do, its truly a mystery. The author chose a subject knowing how many would disagree with him but he came through with material to back his ideas up. Its interesting in that we can use this to save ourselves from destruction since so many before us did the same things were doing and didn't learn. To save our planet from our own wrath and be the ones who can at least say we learned from the past. What civilization will come next if we don't learn now? This is what our children have to look forward to.
Stbalbach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The past 40+ years have seen scientific revolutions in many fields including demography, climatology, epidemiology, economics, botany, genetics, image analysis, palynology, molecular biology, soil science, and others. As new evidence has accumulated, long-standing views about the pre-Columbian world have come under increasing pressure. Although there is no consensus, and Mann acknowledges controversies, the general trend among scientists is that 1a) the population levels were probably higher than traditionally believed among scientists (known as "high counters"), 1b) humans probably arrived in the Americas earlier than thought over the course of multiple waves (not a single land bridge crossing window) 2) The level of cultural advancement and settlement range was higher and broader than previously imagined and 3) the New World was largely not a wilderness but an environment controlled by humans (mostly with fire). These three main focuses (origins/population, culture, environment) form the basis for three parts of the book.This is a good survey of the state of things circa 2005. Given the pace of change it will need to be re-written in a decade or so. I'd been hearing snippets of these theories over the past 20 years and was never attached to the "old views" (who is?), so over-turning them is not a great upset and often a revelation. The details of specific cultures and places were mostly new to me and highly educational. The biography is excellent if not extensive (everything from 16th unpublished documents to Fodors Travel Guide to Mexico), but about a dozen of the most important works are discussed in the first Notes page.
JayDugger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pretty well-written, Mann's 1491 introduced me to theories of a well-populated pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere. Later chapters discuss landscapes and ecosystems as artifacts. Mann even calls this by its right name: terraforming. He doesn't do so with the rigor of Fogg's "Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments," but he does it with equal clarity.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As an American of largely European descent raised in the latter half of the 20th century, I¿ve always had a feeling of shame over how those ancestors treated the people they found on the American continents when they arrived. The appalling heights of hubris and greed are staggering. The loss of humanity and knowledge untold. It makes me sad and ashamed. Not guilty, mind you, as I personally did nothing to atone for, but ashamed. Not that this book is a focus for `white guilt¿ in any way; it merely shows up what was destroyed by accident or design when Europeans arrived in the Americas. Now when some smug Englishman tries to belittle me by saying that Americans have no history, I¿ll merely reply that the illusion of no history lies in the utter genocide perpetrated here. There would have been plenty to learn from and be fascinated by if everyone hadn¿t died. Not that we had a garden of earthly delights over here in the Americas. There was plenty of war, corrupt governments, unjust laws and bad ideas. By today¿s standards anyway. But Mann does a pretty good job of portraying things in a non-judgmental way. Neither attacking seemingly bloodthirsty practices nor mythologizing the already misjudged harmonious nature of many Indian groups.That¿s probably the most valuable thing I learned from reading 1491; that Indians were human like any other group of humans. They really didn¿t differ much from their European counterparts. They built cities, grew crops, husbanded animals, worshipped gods. They just did many of these things so differently that the newcomers failed to recognized many practices and thus concluded that they didn¿t exist. Or didn¿t recognize a complete change of situation in a group and decided that¿s the way they¿d always been. The concept of Holberg¿s Mistake isn¿t only isolated to that one man misunderstanding what he saw. Mann¿s theories and concepts are indeed cutting edge and some are highly controversial. Even if they are proven to be outright wrong, at least it¿s spurring conversation and further study. For hundreds of years the indigenous people were at worst massacred and at best treated like children. This book attempts to see them as fellow humans; doing amazing things sometimes, awful things other times and living as fully and selfishly as all humans do.
Garp83 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Way back in 2005, I set out to study American History all over again -- from the beginning, chronologically that is. I launched the effort with 'big history' 65 million years ago with the outstanding "The Eternal Frontier" by Tim Flannery, then followed with another winner, "Facing East from Indian Country" by Daniel Richter. The next one was still another superlative title, "American Colonies" by Alan Taylor. I was all set to move on to the French & Indian Wars when I stumbled upon "1491" by Charles Mann. Everything suddenly came to a screeching halt as I literally inhaled this masterpiece of multi-disciplinary scholarship on the pre-Columbian Americas, and I realized I needed a long pause and lot more study before I abandoned the early period of American history and moved on. Mann successfully integrates and synthesizes all the latest research and findings from historical sources as well a wide range of archaeological, anthropological, linguistic and -- well, you pick a field and Mann has consulted it -- and successfully wraps his narrative around it. Mann virtually rediscovers the lost world of Mesoamerican, Andean and other pre-Columbian societies, bringing a new and crisper focus to the more familiar "high civilizations" of the Aztecs and the Incas, and -- more critically -- rescuing from the dustbin of pre-history less well-known and perhaps less advanced cultures that were nonetheless more than the equal in many ways to their European counterparts who supplanted them. He challenges the customary assumptions that most of the pre-contact population beyond the golden cities was primitive and made little impact upon their respective environments. With a narrative gift that is never tedious despite the complexity and detail of the material he discusses, Mann delivers nothing less than a tour-de-force of history told from a perspective long overlooked, a fascinating account of a thriving and successful population much larger than once assumed, decimated primarily by devastating plagues from across the sea they could never have anticipated or countered. Readers will walk away from this book breathless from what they have encountered and absorbed. I award ¿1491¿ five stars because it is unique ¿ like such other masterworks as Jared Diamond¿s ¿Guns, Germs & Steel¿ and Nicholas Wade¿s ¿Before the Dawn¿ ¿ in literally provoking entirely new perspectives in otherwise familiar territory. I award ¿1491¿ my very highest recommendation for all students of history, especially those who seek to better understand the Americas prior to European contact.
bfertig on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed 1491 immensely, and found that it really fit well within the context of [Guns, Germs, and Steel] and [Changes in the Land] which, along with a few other books will really change the way popular history views early history of the western hemisphere.I really think this is an important book and will have a large influence.
Mendoza on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I occasionally do read non-fiction books. Occassionally. But, really, this didn't read that way at all. And, I don't recall learning any of this in my American History class.What? Indians were actually intelligent people with expansive societies? I guess it makes sense - I mean, how did they survive until we got there anyway?Anyway, very thought provoking. I read it slowly and had great discussions with my dh about it. It really just brings home how very slanted the information our children are taught is.
NativeRoses on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating history of Native American history and impact on America's geography before Columbus arrived. Very well researched and extremely eye-opening. A great deal of the public school curriculum could be re-written to include the extensive civilizations and contributions of Native Americans. Very highly recommended.
swedeandczech on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be one where the author had a theory, and was going to prove the theory regardless. I am leery of some of the information he put forth in the book. Somewhat entertaining, but skips around a lot.
nmaloney on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A tuly refreshing and surprising history book. Mann brings the world of pre-discovery America into focus. The environmentalist picture of the pristine, noble savage is dispelled and is replaced by a more complex, human picture of the native American. I highly recommend this book.
eduscapes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I always enjoy a book that makes me look at the world in a new way. Mann presents many ideas that I've heard whispers of during the past 20 years, but never seen in one book. Providing many different perspectives, Mann does an excellent job tracing the history of many of the theories about what life may be been like thousands of years ago throughout the Americas.
labdaddy4 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent - a detailed and engrossing analysis of the state of native peoples prior to the influence of "Europeans" - dispels many of the things taught in schools in the "old days" ! Makes one regret even more the destruction and fracturing caused by early "explorers" of the Western Hemisphere. This work also emphasizes the role played by disease pandemics.
wbc3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The basic question this book tries to answer is what were the Americas like before Columbus and the Europeans arrived. The book pulls together lots of resources to argue persuasively that the year 1491 is not at all like what we usually imagine. Mann contends that the population of the Americas was vastly larger than we once thought and that the Indians were not just hunter/gatherers living in harmony with nature. Instead, they transformed their environment on a massive scale. Rather than just farming vegetables, they farmed trees and entire ecosystems. He contends that much of the Amazon rainforest was actually created by civilizations we know very little about since the climate and geography mean that traces of them are hard to detect. The reason that we think of the native population of the Americas so differently is because European illnesses (and other external factors like weather changes) caused a rapid and massive population collapse, potentially over 95% of the population in 1491 was gone in the next century or so. For example, when the Pilgrims landed, there were few Indians there. The Pilgrims were able to use lands that had been farmed by Indians when they were more numerous. His conclusions are fairly controversial, but he makes them very well. If you are at all interested in American history or anthropology, this is well worth your time to read.
EpicTale on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed "1491" for Mann's deft and articulate summations of and reflections on recent scholarship regarding pre-Columbian life in the Western Hemisphere, a subject which I knew little to nothing about. I enjoyed learning about different Indian civilizations and societies, which in many cases achieved levels of high sophistication (and, often, profound demise) well before the arrival of the Europeans and the devastating impact of the heretofore-unseen germs and viruses with which they unknowingly poisoned the native population. Like us, Mann helps us to appreciate, Indians were political, pragmatic, calculating, and sometimes petty in their actions and motives despite the popular impression that they led an exquisitely zen-like and peaceful co-existence with nature. The book made me realize that I need to pay lots more attention to Indian culture, beyond what little I know so far, if I want to understand the full history of human activities in the Western Hemisphere.
addunn3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author summarizes research on what the Americas were like before Columbus bumped into it. One of the best reads I have encountered - especially since much of the original material had to have been rather academic. Easy to understand, with what appears to be a pretty fair shake to countering views on the many topics he presents.