Mann navigates adroitly through the controversies. He approaches each in the best scientific tradition, carefully sifting the evidence, never jumping to hasty conclusions, giving everyone a fair hearingthe experts and the amateurs; the accounts of the Indians and their conquerors. And rarely is he less than enthralling. A remarkably engaging writer, he lucidly explains the significance of everything from haplogroups to glottochronology to landraces. He offers amusing asides to some of his adventures across the hemisphere during the course of his research, but unlike so many contemporary journalists, he never lets his personal experiences overwhelm his subject.
The New York Times Book Review
This production is-as most nonfiction audios ought to be-a "reading" as distinct from a "performance." Johnson renders this thoroughly researched, well-written history of early North and South American Indian populations in a strong, clear voice, with excellent intonation. His diction is almost too perfect-one occasionally focuses on pronunciation rather than content. Most of the book is written in narrative form that sweeps listeners through an exciting rethinking of all we ever learned about when so-called Indians first inhabited the American continents and how they may have come here, about their numbers, religions, cultures, inventions, social structures and their relations to European invaders and settlers. When Mann relates the internecine battles among schools of anthropologists and archeologists, however, the listener might wish he had the book in hand for clarity. It might be wise from the start to make a list of the numerous Indian and European individuals and groupings. This audiobook is well worth the trouble. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, June 20). (August) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The boom in new scholarship on the Western Hemisphere before Columbus is intelligently synthesized in 1491, the engrossing bestseller by the able science popularizer Mann. Sifting adroitly through the accumulating evidence and the academic disputes, Mann drives home these arguments: the Americas may well have birthed the world's first complex civilization (seizing that claim from Mesopotamia); in 1491 the Americas were densely populated by a dazzling panoply of diverse civilizations superior to 1491 Europe in many areas, including technology, statecraft, and epic poetry; and Indians throughout the Americas, far from living in a pristine, untouched ecology, found ways to manage and improve their environments (that "low-hanging fruit" grew in planted orchards). European viruses, more than guns or steel, explain the utter demise of glorious empires and up to 100 million natives. Mann softens his myth-bashing by underplaying the systematic cultural genocide of the Counter Reformation conquistadors. With its many enlightening comparisons to European achievements, 1491 should be required reading in all high school and university world history courses.
What were the Americas like before the arrival of Christopher Columbus changed the native cultures of the Western Hemisphere forever? Mann, a correspondent for Science and the Atlantic Monthly, provides a fascinating, in-depth examination of this question, identifying tantalizing clues and offering new conclusions from recently discovered archaeological evidence. He explores three different but ultimately related themes. First, the demographics of pre-contact Native American societies are examined to demonstrate that populations in many parts of the Americas were actually much larger than previously believed. (In fact, in all likelihood, more people were living in the Americas, pre-1492, than in Europe.) Next, Mann probes the probability that native peoples inhabited the Americas much earlier than previously thought. Finally, he examines the ecological impact that indigenous groups had on their environments. Mann has done a superb job of analyzing and distilling information, offering a balanced and thoughtful perspective on each of his themes in engaging prose. Including an extensive bibliography, this excellent archaeological synthesis is highly recommended for anthropology and archaeology collections in academic and large public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/05.]-Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Coll. Lib., Westerville, OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Unless you're an anthropologist, it's likely that everything you know about American prehistory is wrong. Science journalist Mann's survey of the current knowledge is a bracing corrective. Historians once thought that prehistoric Indian peoples somehow lived outside of history, adrift and directionless, "passive recipients of whatever windfalls or disasters happenstance put in their way"; that view was central to the myth of the noble savage. In fact, writes Mann (Noah's Choice, with Mark L. Plummer, 1995), Native Americans were as active in shaping their environments as anyone else. They built great and wealthy cities; they lived, for the most part, on farms; and their home continents "were immeasurably busier, more diverse, and more populous than researchers had previously imagined." In defending this view, Mann visits several thriving controversies in the historic/prehistoric record. One is the question of pre-contact demographics: old-school scholars had long advanced the idea that there were only a few million Native Americans at the time of the Columbian arrival, whereas revisionists in the 1960s posited that there were eight million on the island of Hispaniola alone, a figure punctured by revisionists of revisionism, now beset by Native American activists for the political incorrectness of adjusting the census. Another controversy is the chronology of human presence in the Americas: the old date of 12,000 b.c., courtesy of the Bering Land Bridge in Alaska, no longer cuts it. Other arguments center on the nature of Native American societies such as the Aztec and Inca, the latter of whom built a great empire that, defying Western notions of logic, had no market component. Mannaddresses each controversy with care, according the old-timers their due while making it clear that his sympathies lie, in the main, with the rising generation. He closes with a provocative thesis: namely, that the present worldwide movement toward democracy owes not to Locke or Newtonian physics, but to Indians, "living, breathing role models of human liberty."An excellent, and highly accessible, survey of America's past: a worthy companion to Jake Page's In the Hands of the Great Spirit (2003). First printing of 40,000
If you haven't read [it] because the book form seems too weighty, don't miss the audio edition. . . . [It] is even more gripping as an audio listen, allowing listeners to absorb more of the many facts than printed word seems to readily offer.
. . . a landmark of a book that drops ingrained images of colonial America into the dustbin.
“A superbly written and very important book: by far the most comprehensive synthesis I’ve ever seen of the growing body of evidence that our most deep-rooted ideas about the peopling of the Western hemisphere and the kinds of societies that had developed there by the time of European contact are fundamentally wrong. Charles C. Mann is one of those rare writers who can make scholarly concepts exciting and accessible without trivializing them. In 1491 he has integrated the latest research in many different areas with his own insights and experiences to produce a fascinating and addictively readable tour through the ‘New World’ before its ‘discovery.’ His book is, above all, a wonderful, unsentimental act of restitution–challenging centuries of cultural contempt and willful blindness to show just how vigorous, various, densely populated and profoundly human the pre-Columbian Americas really were.”
–James Wilson, author of
The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America
“In the tradition of Jared Diamond and John McPhee, a transforming new vision of pre-Columbian America.”
“Every American knows it was a vast new world that Columbus found in 1492, and most imagine it was a thinly peopled paradise of plants, animals, and hunter-gatherers waiting for civilization. The reality, Charles C. Mann tells us in his startling new book about the world before Columbus, is very different–two continents teeming with languages, cultures, and mighty cities as big, as rich, and even more populous than the capitals of Europe. But there was one thing the new world lacked–resistance to the diseases of the old. This is a lively book, filled with excitements and sorrows–a major contribution to our understanding of the achievements and the fate of the people we call Indians.”
“Charles C. Mann takes us into a complex, fascinating, and unknown world, that of the Indians who lived in this hemisphere before Columbus. He gently demolishes entrenched myths, with impressive scholarship, and with an elegance of style which that makes his book a pleasure to read as well as a marvelous education.”
“When does American history begin? The old answer used to be 1492, with the European arrival in the Americas. That answer is no longer politically or historically correct. For the last thirty years or so historians, geographers, and archaeologists have built up an arsenal of evidence about the residents of North America after the ice receded and before the Europeans arrived. Mann has mastered that scholarship and written the most elegant synthesis of the way we were before the European invasion.”
–Joseph J. Ellis, author of
His Excellency: George Washington