Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford: Book Review

November 23, 2022

Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the WorldIndian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World by Jack Weatherford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a joy to read! I found unfamiliar stories on every page. Indian Givers, published in 1988, was written by scholar Jack Weatherford. While some of the information may be outdated and superseded by new research and discoveries, the premise of this book, that Native American people gave us an untold wealth of valuable ideas, products, food, and technologies, is still sound.

Weatherford begins the book with an Indian man living in the Bolivian Andes who spends almost every miserable day eking out a living in the nearly-spent tin mines there. From this granular image, the focus sweeps back to reveal how the European discovery of the metals available in the Americas changed the geopolitical structures of the entire globe.

The book explores far beyond the impact of material goods. It discusses how capitalism, corporations, the Industrial Revolution, population growth worldwide, democracy, architecture, and transportation were all directly the result of the contributions of the first Americans.

You would think the world sings their praises every day for all the gifts they’ve brought us, but no. We all know by now how these people, living successful, productive lives before the Europeans landed on their shores, were beaten, enslaved, and killed in massive numbers and apparently without a thought. So instead of receiving thanks, they had their lands confiscated, were confined to reservations, and were forced to adopt the European-American culture. And they’ve been marginalized elsewhere.

While this book is well worth a read for its stunning history, I found it most useful because it further increased my respect for these people who cultivated two continents before us. The book was so well-written that I flew through it, eager to turn each page to see what came next. I was planning to write Jack Weatherford a fan letter, but I see he has moved to Mongolia after writing a book about Genghis Khan. I hope he’s still writing.

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