Erik Graff's Reviews > 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

1491 by Charles C. Mann
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Aug 24, 11

bookshelves: history
Recommended to Erik by: Tom Miley
Recommended for: Americans
Read in November, 2006, read count: 1

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.
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John Mann just published a new book, 1493, about the changes (social, ecological, biological) inflicted by post-Columbian conquest.


Erik Graff Yes, I noticed it while organizing the Mann portion of the database.
Thanks,
Erik
PS I told you that I'd be in CA throughout October, right?


John No I didn't know that. Will you be in Chicago around Thanksgiving?


Erik Graff Assuming Thanksgiving is in November, yes.
EG


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