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

1491 by Charles C. Mann
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Mar 03, 09

bookshelves: history, truth_sort-of
Recommended for: history buffs - and archaeology/anthropology
Read in March, 2009, read count: 1

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 could you ask for? Unfortunately what we know is filtered through the eyes and attitude of European xenophobia.

This treatise is designed to change the idea that the Americas before Columbus was a vast wilderness populated by inconsequential natives easily ignored. In fact, when ‘the Italian from Spain’ did show up, the population was equal if not greater than that of Europe—perhaps in the tens of millions.

The scope is vast, the research detailed—combining recent sociological statistics with legend and scholarship from an array of sources. This is the first ‘chunk’ of information I have read on the civilizations of the Mississippi flood plain and how the massive earth mounds correlate, in a way, to the Anasazi. Very interesting. The author also goes into detail on the cat-fights emanating from other experts in the field—a little like Jared Diamonds “Collapse.”

Mann takes into account the immense sweep of geological time and the empires that have come and gone in only a span of twenty millennia and the seemingly abrupt changes that have occurred to so many. There are fascinating tales of places like the great Inca city of Tenochtitlan—in its heyday, it was larger than Paris—and Tawantinsuyu on the shore of Lake Titicaca in the high Andes, a marvel of architecture and economic prosperity.

His prose is concise but sometimes overly technical. As he connects the dots of cultural myths between the Colorado Plateau (particularly the Hopi) and those of Central Peru some amazing revelations emerge.

This makes an excellent companion to “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” with a lot less gloom and doom. Skip about seventy-five pages in the middle. You’ll know when.
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message 2: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Did you link the Inca to Tenochtitlan intentionally? I am just curious if you did so because the book has historically incorrect information in it.


Patrick Gibson Um. Yah, It was me having a cesure or something.Tenochtitlan is Aztec. I knew that. The book is accurate. I am an idiot.


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