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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  67,319 ratings  ·  3,912 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

Paperback, 2nd edition, 541 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by Vintage (first published August 9th 2005)
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 ·  67,319 ratings  ·  3,912 reviews

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Rick Riordan
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My favorite recent history book, Mann surveys the breadth and complexity of indigenous cultures in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Some of this research was familiar to me. When I taught American history in the 2000s, I would start with such 'snapshots' of Cahokia, the Olmecs, the Serpent Mound, the Maya, the great trade networks that connected the continent. But even that information was hard to find. Good luck finding even a mention of it in the school textbooks. Despite having ...more
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
Jason Koivu
Nov 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
You know in fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue. So, 1491 was a particularly interesting year for the inhabitants of the Americas. This is a remarkably similar story to that told in Dark Emu. It is almost as if everything Ive ever known about pre-European settlement in Australia and the Americas has been, well, utter rubbish. Which is more than a little annoying.

What is very interesting here is that we seem to have grossly under-estimated both the population of the
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
Aug 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣
I'm astonished at how many people mention in their reviews that they are surprised at how rich and varied and impressive the cultures of the Americas were until a certain point. Many of them actually live on the said continents. How do you even live on a continent and know little about its history? What, did anyone think the Aztec were a bunch of barbarians? Did anyone think Columbus arrived to find an unpopulated part of the world? Maybe because said history gets understated treatment (if not ...more
Nov 28, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: learning, history
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
Dec 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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 ...more
N.K. Jemisin
Feb 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-history, usa, mexico
This book has already been widely reviewed. Many other reviewers have outlined the basic 3 premises that the book advances. The book is extremely well-researched. The author has spoken with numerous experts and covered an enormous amount of territory, and on the whole he presents fairly convincing arguments. Most people do I think accept that the Indian population of the Americas experienced a catastrophic crash after 1492, due primarily to the introduction of Old World diseases, but Mann ...more
Philip Allan
Aug 18, 2020 rated it liked it
As a white man educated in the 1970s and 80s, I am aware of the limitations of the western-view of world history I was taught. As a result, I am always on the lookout for books that might offer me a different perspective, and was delighted when several Goodreads friends recommended 1491 to me. As a survey of pre-Columbian America, it does not disappoint. Mann combines first hand reportage with a survey of the current evidence to reveal a Lost World. Some aspects of the narrative were familiar ...more
Feb 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 01, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: stopped-reading
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, ...more
Sigh, Holmberg didn't 'make a mistake' he used scientific racism. His scientific determinations about Native Americans aren't mistakes. Racism is a form of control and therefore ALWAYS intentional.
If an author is unprepared to deal with white folks behaving badly because of racism, he should've picked another continent on which to set this. As it stands this stance is disrespectful to the very people who's history he's supposed to be providing. Racism is never a mistake or oversight.
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Aug 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who received an inadequate education on American Indian history
Its been a while since Ive read a work of nonfiction, and I dont think Ive ever read one for pleasure and not as a school requirement. I chose this as my first because Ive always wanted to learn more about American Indian history. I knew before picking up 1492 that I received a woefully inadequate education on the subject in school and Im eager to make up for that.

I cant speak to the accuracy of 1492, so this review will focus only on how readable it was and how much I enjoyed it. Charles C.
Feb 27, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Review of the audiobook narrated by Darrell Dennis.

I find pre-Columbian history of the Americas fascinating so this book was right up my alley. It did jump around a little more than I liked, but overall this is a great presentation of all of the contemporary findings and generally accepted conclusions (as of 2005) on both the state of culture in the Americas before 1492 and the affect that European settlement/conquering had on said culture beginning in 1492.

The first part tells the story of what
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Ted by: Barbara
Outstanding. Amazing.
Aug 23, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Jul 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Dec 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is an excellent book that describes the civilizations in North, Central, and South America before (and shortly after) the arrival of Columbus. Many facets of these civilizations are quite impressive. For example, the agricultural method of inter-planting different species of crops in a plot of land was a wonderful approach for keeping farms fertile over long periods of time, even millennia. This farming method was much better--and more efficient--than the European method of rotating crops. ...more
Inderjit Sanghera
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Years of disinformation and Western hubris have buried the human history of the Americans beneath an avalanche of ignorance and inaccuracies. As such, a multitude of false myths have been perpetuated about the Native Indian societies in North and South America so that they have transformed into self-evidence truths; that they were uncivilized, that they didnt have culture, that they didnt shape or cultivate the lands. In many ways this is just a smokescreen to assuage feelings of European guilt ...more
Jun 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Erik Graff
Oct 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
As Mann suggests in his preface many of us have been taught that prior to Christopher Columbus showing up, North and South America were pristine lands, sparsely populated by primitive Indians with unsophisticated cultures, who lived at the mercy of Mother Nature. Combining archaeology, history, science and even some psychology/sociology and as the subtitle suggests The author paints a very different picture of the New World before it was discovered. And for the most part 1491 is a fascinating ...more
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
So much eye-opening research. I know that some of these findings are still being elaborated, but wow. So much devastation by disease, such large populations and complex civilizations. And the thesis at the end was so interesting: that it was Native American political structure that informed the founding fathers in creating our unique constitution that was based on liberty and equality.
Roy Lotz
Oct 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I should begin by saying that this book is not what I expected, which necessarily entails some disappointment. I was hoping for a more in-depth look at the major pre-Columbian societies and cultures. What this book instead offers is a sort of overview of trends in research in this area, highlighting how these trends contradict the popular image of the Americas before European colonization. This is, of course, also a valuable and worthwhile topicand, considering the books popularity, many have ...more
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Charles C. Mann is a correspondent for Science and The Atlantic Monthly, and has cowritten four previous books including Noahs 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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Neal Stephenson is the bestselling author of the novels Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Seveneves, Reamde, Anathem, The System of...
33 likes · 7 comments
“In 1491 the Inka ruled the greatest empire on earth. Bigger than Ming Dynasty China, bigger than Ivan the Great’s expanding Russia, bigger than Songhay in the Sahel or powerful Great Zimbabwe in the West Africa tablelands, bigger than the cresting Ottoman Empire, bigger than the Triple Alliance (as the Aztec empire is more precisely known), bigger by far than any European state, the Inka dominion extended over a staggering thirty-two degrees of latitude—as if a single power held sway from St. Petersburg to Cairo.” 13 likes
“The Maya collapsed because they overshot the carrying capacity of their environment. They exhausted their resource base, began to die of starvation and thirst, and fled their cities en masse, leaving them as silent warnings of the perils of ecological hubris.” 12 likes
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