1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Charles C. Mann clarifies North, Central, and South America’s misty history by examining the continents’ past landscapes, archeological records, and legends.
While this book was published almost two decades ago, there was a lot of information here that was new to me. Mann doesn’t do most of his research from a desk. Instead, he travels to the places he discusses and talks to local residents and experts.
I appreciate his honesty in discussing the disagreements between the experts on topics like whether the Amazon basin ever had advanced civilizations. He explains the debates and why they matter. In doing so, he clarifies that archeologists, like everyone else, sometimes allow their values to color their conclusions. My only wish was that he had skipped around a little less geographically. Switching from North to South to Central America caused occasional mental whiplash.
While the stories cover a dizzying amount of material, the quantity is not unreasonable considering he’s covering tens of thousands of years and that the acreage covers two massive continents. Mann weaves in stories that provide entertainment and humor. Whoever knew “Squanto,” the friend of the Pilgrims, introduced himself to them as, roughly translated, “The Wrath of God.” Things have always been more complicated than we are led to believe from a distance.
I enjoyed this book. It’s densely packed with information, and this was generally welcome for someone interested in history. I’m sure since Mann wrote this book, scientists and historians have discovered many new artifacts, so I would love to see it updated. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in indigenous cultures or early American history.