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

1491 by Charles C. Mann
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Feb 03, 08

Recommended for: Non-specialists
Read in January, 2008

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 unoccupied lands waiting for the taking. The major factor here is the spread of Old World disease.

On the question of social and cultural development, he argues that Peru and Mesoamerica should be counted among the birthplaces of human culture. While they didn't develop in the same way as Asian or European societies, they represent great achievements that best took advantage of their situation.

His final point is that the locals were extensive modifiers of the environment. In fact he goes so far as to say that the Amazon as we know it is the result of thousands of years of human engineering.

All of these arguments have their foes and Mann gives them room in the book as well. It's a fair, easy to read book that will likely educate and entertain all but specialists.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Carol Succinct summary of his purpose. Thank you.


message 2: by brian (new)

brian dean I briefly mistook the title for '1421' - I think- the one about China reaching America before Columbus. This does look interesting.


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