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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  33,378 ratings  ·  2,339 reviews
In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.

Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influe
Paperback, 2nd Edition, 541 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by Vintage (first published 2005)
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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
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
Douglas Hunter
Jul 30, 2007 Douglas Hunter rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: readers of history, ethnohistory, First Nations history
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 ...more
Dec 04, 2013 Jason rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: favorites
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 ...more
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
Feb 03, 2008 Tripp rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Non-specialists
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
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
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 ...more
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
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 ...more
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
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
Nov 21, 2008 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs
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 ...more
Jul 06, 2007 Ian rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
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
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
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
Erik Graff
Aug 24, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: Tom Miley
Shelves: history
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(
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
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 ...more
Patrick Gibson
Mar 03, 2009 Patrick Gibson rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs - and archaeology/anthropology
Glyptodonts, caliche and zoonotic. Sounds like a law firm hell doesn’t it? Alas, it is only some of the terms Charles Mann digs up discussing pre-Columbian agriculture. (Digs up, get it? Never mind.)

I’ve done my share of wandering the Yucatan. Unlike the civilizations of Rome or Egypt, you just know there is a much more profound mystery surrounding the Maya, Inca and even the North American cultures pre-invasion. Vast cities, astounding architecture, math, astrology and human sacrifice—what more
Jul 24, 2008 Kenny rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: amateur historians
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
Ryan Moulton
Everyone who lives in the Americas ought to read this book, particularly during Thanksgiving when schools impart our mythology to the next generation.

In writing this, Charles Mann intended to simply summarize the consensus opinion of modern researchers about what the Americas were like before Columbus. Sounds pretty dry right? What he produced is mind blowing, and for two reasons. Firstly because the facts themselves are both nearly unbelievable and exhaustively supported. Secondly because the f
1491. (2005). Charles C. Mann. ****.
This clever title lets us know that we will soon be exploring time before Columbus. Remember…”In 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean blue…” What the author manages to accomplish is to dispel a variety of myths and historical errors that have perpetuated themselves down through the years related to pre-Columbian history of the Americas. Using the most recent findings based on the newest investigative techniques, Mann outlines the truer, more recent history of the I
Avis Black
I lost patience with this book with the section entitled Holmberg's Mistake. Charles Mann's contention is that the native indians of the Beni, an area in Bolivia, deliberately created a surprisingly complex region of plant biodiversitiy. So far, so good. Then Mann complains about the anthropological work of Allan Holmberg, conducted in the 1940s. Holmberg, in his ethnography Nomads of the Longbow, portrayed the indians of the Beni as being, in essense, a bunch of feckless losers. Since the india ...more
A semi-engaging analysis of life before the European discovery of the Americas, and extrapolation from newly discovered information on the depth and breadth of native culture and society pre-contact.

I picked up as this is a subject of cursory interest to me, and I indeed learned a lot. The biggest problem I had with the book was that Mann often used a less than engaging style in his narrative. I sometimes felt like I was reading a textbook, and while I may not necessarily mind that sometimes, i
What we think of when we think of the pre-Columbian Americas -- a wilderness lightly occupied by primitive tribes -- was in fact only the tiny remnants of a sophisticated and highly evolved society which had been ravaged by European disease, largely before Europeans could ever make contact with them.

That is the provocative thesis of this thoughtful and thorough look at what existed in this hemisphere before 1491, and what happened to it in 1492. While it sounds like a tired politically correct,
Todd Nemet
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
John G
A very interesting look at pre-Conquest America, containing some relatively new (and far from established) academic theories. The main thesis of the book is that pre-Columbian American societies were far more advanced and populous than recorded by European colonists/invaders/priests. The successive waves of epidemics brought by European contact decimated the Americas to such an extent that these societies caved into anarchy and ruin, which was seen as their original condition by the new arrivals ...more
An informative book about Native American civilization before the arrival of Europeans. The author's main points are that Native Americans were more sophisticated and more populous than Europeans have historically believed. Also, according to many researchers, the Americas were settled thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

I have always been interested in learning more about Native American history, and the topics discussed in the book are intriguing. However, due to my unfamiliari
I didn't know any of this shit! There were, like, tons and tons of Native Americans,in huge, modern cities, all over the place! They were making huge monuments at Cahokia that are still there! The Aztecs had running water! They were farming the Amazon!

Everything you learned about Native Americans in school was totally wrong - like, not just a little wrong but way, way wrong - and here is what was actually going on, all in one well-written and well-researched book, in a tidy little package for y
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  • Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815
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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, ...more
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“I kept waiting for the book to appear. The wait grew more frustrating when my son entered school and was taught the same things I had been taught, beliefs I knew had long been sharply questioned. Since nobody else appeared to be writing the book, I finally decided to try it myself. Besides, I was curious to learn more. The book you are holding is the result.” 3 likes
“On Columbus’s later voyages, his crew happily accepted godhood—until the Taino began empirically testing their divinity by forcing their heads underwater for long periods to see if the Spanish were, as gods should be, immortal.” 1 likes
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