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

1491 by Charles C. Mann
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Jan 12, 09

bookshelves: history
Read in January, 2007

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 a 100 years of our arrival.

Mann shows that Native American cultures were highly civilized and complex, with enormous centers of population and highly organized agricultural and political societies. He shows that when Europeans came to North America, they were not seeing a "state of nature" but rather a continent that had already been significantly changed by the agricultural practices of its inhabitants.

We tend to think of small villages of teepees or cave dwellings. But Mann shows that the populations of the America were equivalent to those of Europe in 1500, and that there were large, organized communiteis throughout the continent. Some of the largest of these, such as the cities of the mound people of the plains, or Tenochtitlan in South America, were enormous in scale, and highly civilized.

There was so much here before we arrived, and its important to remember this.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jon (new) - added it

Jon Wonderful review Bruce. I'm adding this book to my to read shelf based on it.


message 2: by Aaron (new) - added it

Aaron Benarroch Good review, just a comment about the incipit: it looks like you think that professional historians wouldn't be able to write accessibly for the main street man. Well, I agree with you, it is very rare. I read essays produced here in Europe in several languages (not -yet- english) and it's always the same: when it is easy-going it was written by a journalist. I mean, to be an historian is a tough business, very important in our society, and tools and jargon can't be necessary simple to use. But there are some of them who adore to remain in their golden towers, when they should do an effort, every now and then, to go out and explain what they found out to my grandma.


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