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1491 (Second Edition): New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus [Paperback]

Charles C. Mann
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 10 2006 Vintage

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 influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.

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1491 (Second Edition): New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus + 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created + 1492: The Year the World Began
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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In a riveting and fast-paced history, massing archeological, anthropological, scientific and literary evidence, Mann debunks much of what we thought we knew about pre-Columbian America. Reviewing the latest, not widely reported research in Indian demography, origins and ecology, Mann zestfully demonstrates that long before any European explorers set foot in the New World, Native American cultures were flourishing with a high degree of sophistication. The new researchers have turned received wisdom on its head. For example, it has long been believed the Inca fell to Pizarro because they had no metallurgy to produce steel for weapons. In fact, scholars say, the Inca had a highly refined metallurgy, but valued plasticity over strength. What defeated the Inca was not steel but smallpox and resulting internecine warfare. Mann also shows that the Maya constructed huge cities and governed them with a cohesive set of political ideals. Most notably, according to Mann, the Haudenosaunee, in what is now the Northeast U.S., constructed a loose confederation of tribes governed by the principles of individual liberty and social equality. The author also weighs the evidence that Native populations were far larger than previously calculated. Mann, a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly and Science, masterfully assembles a diverse body of scholarship into a first-rate history of Native America and its inhabitants. 56 b&w photos, 15 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Science journalist Mann proves audacious as a surveyor of pre-Columbian history, for few topics are so fraught with controversy. Emanating from the academic, activist, and environmental arenas, the disputes share a revisionist drive to dismantle the popular perception that the New World was a pristine wilderness in balance with its inhabitants. Accordingly, Mann opens with an episode familiar to most Americans, the Plymouth colony of the Pilgrims and its salvation by the friendly Squanto, or Tisquantum, his proper name, according to Mann. Indian altruism toward encroaching Europeans was never quite convincing, so following a discerning inquiry into Tisquantum's more likely motivations, with his Wampanoag people devastated by disease, Mann discusses examples of when warfare abruptly terminated Indian history, as with Pizarro and the Inka (formerly the Inca). Drawing upon the research of recent decades, Mann constructs fascinating narratives of Indian empires, interweaving theories about their rise and fall that are debated by specialists in archaeology, physical anthropology, linguistics, and ecology. Mann had to master an impressive breadth of material but better yet is his clarity and judgment, which meld into a compelling and balanced introduction for general readers. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
There has been much scholarly discussion over the years about pre-Columbian societies in the Americas. How many were there? What technologies did they develop? Did they have writing? What destroyed them? Where is the evidence?

In this book, Charles Mann brought together much of the recent scholarly knowledge, piecing together evidence from across North, Central and South America, to come up with a cohesive image of what the Americas looked like in terms of human occupation before Columbus.

The book's main arguemnt is that the Americas were already heavily populated with as many as 20 million people when Columbus arrived. These people possessed technology very advanced that was not, as much of history tells, puny and weak compared to what Europeans had developed. Agricultural methods were advanced and very productive, providing the basis for the establishment of large sedentary populations, much larger than previously thought. These large populations were mainly destroyed by disease. What we see today are in fact the remaining population after the equivalent of a holocaust, which is hardly a good basis to judge their capabilities and one time glory.

To demonstrate this theory, evidence is gathered from archeology and ancient reports from travellers. From most 16th century explorers, we get a picture of a heavily populated landscape, both in the southeastern US and in the Amazon. However, explorers through the same regions roughtly a century later describe a landscape of peaceful nature without large human interventions. The archeological evidence, as more is discovered, points in the direction of large populations and many characteristics (such as religion and art) of sedentary populations.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a refutation Aug. 16 2006
Having read 1491 I find myself in disagreement with Mr Bass. I am neither archiologist or anthropologist but do have a keen interest in history. I feel that Mr Mann makes a good case for the North American Indian population having an impact on their environment beyond that previously thought. It is interesting that recently a University of Calgary professor was on the news, announcing that in his research he had come to the conclusion that the plains Indians were far more numerous and socially organised than previously thought. He felt that the traditional image of small groups of nomadic stone age hunters had to be re-examined. He fell short of suggesting that these same groups were probably the remanents of the largely inadvertant genocide that saw, what is likely, the largest human die off in history. The implication has to be there and Charles Mann addresses this time and again. 1491 is a compelling and worthy read and there is no compunction to accept every argument as gospel, even Mann provides the material with acknowlegment that there are opposing points of view. As for Mr Bass why as a member of the USDA why is he writing to amazon.ca?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelationary Feb. 15 2012
This is a very compelling work, rife with revelation amounting to a rewrite of the history of the Americas. It is a well referenced volume with extensive use of footnotes, maps and diagrams to clarify an emerging, more complete picture of our history. Inspired by recent groundbreaking discoveries made with the aid of technological advances, it makes for an eye opening account of a rich heritage not previously afforded by scholars. Imagine for example knowledge of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and other founding civilizations buried by a tumultuous past event suddenly coming to light. This is every bit as revealing. To think that the Americas once housed such great cultures in parallel with the known world is truly inspiring. Mann is an entertaining writer who overcomes the constant need to reference facts with dramatic detail, thought provoking insight and who also can surprise us with an occasional colorful metaphor.

As a Canadian I was disappointed and somewhat puzzled that we were for the most part omitted, especially since I live on the island of Newfoundland who's native population, the now extinct Beothuck were first encountered by the Norse who arrived centuries before Columbus to settle in Lanse aux Meadows. The Beothuck inspired the term Red Indian with their use of red ochre as ceremonial face paint. The use of the term to describe natives in general was inaccurate but well intended in that regard.

The discovery of an historically cultivated Amazon is unexpected but should not detract as the author suggests from efforts to preserve parts of the jungle that have reverted
to a completely natural state. The notion of civilizations overextending their reach and succumbing to environmental degradation is a universal theme that reverberates in the book.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As someone who enjoys sociology and the various human myths across history, I couldn't put it down. Granted, this was very much my first foray into South American History. I'm not a scholar, and you'll find my review doesn't delve into the nuts and bolts; even though the nuts and bolts are the driving force of the book. As he reveals the various landscapes with highly technical detail; the historical landscapes, the social landscapes, the physical landscapes; the details are merely the pixels to the larger picture.

As the author sprinkles stories of massively complex societies across the continent like seeds, the whole lost world seems to be called back from the dead and come alive. The cultures that were (masterfully) revealed were so completely different and yet they worked, and impressively so! Huge, intricate societies were founded on such radically different ideas that it almost seems impossible. They could never work today. Magic. And yet no one seems to know about this lost world. Far from being popular culture, it's like a huge swath of the world's culture was wiped clean off the map in 1492 and no one has since looked back. That's how the book sinks it's teeth into you, you feel privileged to be able to read the stories. And even just how some of the research was salvaged through long winding adventures is in itself compelling enough.

These people and their myths were so beautiful, original, radical and different, so strong, ingenious and clever, at times ruthless and crushing... That new and strange spirit is what uplifted me most; I feel like it is almost exactly what is lacking in our society. Like as though humans have been living, amputated from this particular arm of the human spirit, oblivious that we're missing something, that we aren't whole.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Terrific, never learned this stuff in school. Clearly more plausible explanation of history.
Published 9 days ago by Lynne (Tim) Hutchins
5.0 out of 5 stars the ruins all around us
This book takes archaeology way beyond delving into ruined structures -- to examinations of region-wide environmental management systems. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Brian Griffith
5.0 out of 5 stars Beware of Extrapolating Conclusions without Adequately Examining the...
"What is the conclusion then?" -- 1 Corinthians 14:15 (NKJV)

Accurately describing the past is tricky business. Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2012 by Donald Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Response to a one star reviewer
Did Mr Bass read past the dustcover of this excellent book? If he had then he should have mentioned that 1491 embodied recent research, duly presented with counter-arguments that... Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2011 by K. Reid
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
This book was amazing - i don't know why something about pre-Columbian Americas has not been written already like this - it is well researched and expands across the north and... Read more
Published on Dec 21 2010 by Jennifer Der
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening and thought provoking
Unlike many opinion/fact based books, Mann allows the reader to see the different sides or the argument of some key points of the Americas before Columbus. Read more
Published on April 2 2009 by Zude
4.0 out of 5 stars Sheds much light on Pre-columbus americas
Very entertaining and insightful book. You can agree or disagree with his thesis but you will be enlightened. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2007 by Boreal Jeff
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a review - a short response to previous review
Well, I think that it can be very strongly shown that pre-Columbian Americans had a major ecological impact. Read more
Published on Dec 16 2005 by K. Bascom
1.0 out of 5 stars An incorrect argument
Often when developing a certain argument, some authors become so enamored by the argument that they get carried away by the beauty of their argument to the exclusion of the facts. Read more
Published on Sept. 1 2005 by Quentin R. Bass II
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