New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Book - 2005
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An analysis of America prior to 1492 describes how the research of archaeologists and anthropologists has transformed myths about the Americas, revealing that the cultures were far older and more advanced than previously known.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2005
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781400040063
Branch Call Number: 970.01 Ma
Characteristics: xii, 465 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm


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Sep 25, 2018

Could not take seriously after the claims were made:

Bows are superior to guns
English have no knowledge of the proficiency of bows in warfare
Copper and gold metallurgy is as sophisticated as steel
Cloth armor is better then steel armor

Feb 04, 2018

1491 paints a three-part picture of the American continents before the Europeans arrived: it was settled earlier than is generally believed, there were more people and, most importantly, the populations here controlled their environment. Any other person who has ever had to sit through someone describing Native Americans as, essentially, timeless hippies in constant commune with Nature will particularly enjoy Part Three: Landscape with Figures. This may be the hardest chapter for a lot of people to take. In it, Mann shares the theory that the Amazon forest is really a giant man made orchard. Hard to believe- unless one considers it more likely that human beings would have inhabited a region for thousands of years and not changed their environment, or that those people would have discovered a group of tree species growing in abundance that just happened to provide food and medicine for them.

The book's opening anecdote is "Holmberg's Mistake". Mann briefly explains the conclusions Allan Holmberg drew after meeting the Siriono people. He described them as being the most culturally backward people on the planet. True, they couldn't count past three, they had no clothing and they couldn't make fire. However, what Holmberg saw was what they were in the 1940s- after they had been devastated by infectious diseases and battles for land with cattle ranchers. It's not that Holmberg inaccurately described them as they were at that moment in time; it's that he assumed that because he was looking at them in that state, they had always been in that state.

That criticism is at the core of the book: most of our histories assert that the people of North and South America lived in small populations and were surrounded by plenty before the Europeans arrived. This is because this is what many settlers saw. This myth persists despite the fact that it has been shown repeatedly how devastating European diseases were to Early American populations. Mann quotes accounts from early explorers who reported "cheek to jowl" populations when they first visited. Four decades later, many of those accounts could not be verified; follow on explorers found sparser populations. What they could not have known at the time was that the diseases they brought with them lingered long enough after they left to wipe out up to 95% of the original population. With fewer among them, they would have been less likely to control their environments as they had before; thus New England forests were lush, 60 million bison roamed the plain states and it would have been all too easy- and convenient- to interpret the Americas as relatively uninhabited and thus ripe for colonization.

Understandably, it's difficult to make any clear assertions about when the earliest Americans arrived and settled- and that is also part of Mann's criticism. The popular theory- that people crossed the Bering Strait from Asia to North America- was something that people were hoping would be true almost as soon as people were seen in the Americas because then it wouldn't invalidate the biblical timeline that had been established in the 17th century. While almost undoubtedly people did use that passage, there is evidence that they came through other avenues as well. There is also strong evidence that they have been here longer than is generally assumed. This is perhaps the most disturbing part of the story: though known in scholarly circles, this is not shared in schools or popular books.

mvkramer Sep 01, 2016

When people say nonfiction can't move you - they are liars. This book opened my mind and broke my heart. Long story short - indigenous societies were more advanced, complex and prosperous than your high school history teacher told you. Sadly, about 90% of the people were wiped out by disease after contact with Europeans. Their works were largely forgotten, replaced by the image of the timeless, simple, "savage" Native American. This book is amazing. I highly recommend it to anyone with even the vaguest interest in history.

Feb 20, 2016

A very educational read that explores the great mystery of American indigenous civilizations. The author makes some startling points and raises some intersecting questions. This book is a must read if you have interest in this fascinating topic.

Sep 16, 2013


Aug 18, 2012

There are many new revelations in this book, but unfortunately they are announced over and over again with little concern for the pacing and impact of the information. It's important reading for anyone that wants to get a better sense of just what the Europeans destroyed when they invaded this continent, but it's the information, and not the writing that will keep you reading through the entire book.

An exceptional historical according of the people of the Americas before european influence, as well as the effects there of. A great read for anyone who finds anthropology fascinating.

And I would hope no one puts any weight into the comment below that fails to even spell fantasy properly, Mann did his work, and it's citable from the bibliography.

Feb 22, 2012

1491 New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus --- by Charles Mann. This is a prodigious and ambitious work. The book is of gigantic proportions: over three hundred and fifty pages of gripping text and ambitious in scope: the history, or should we say the prehistory of the peoples, cultures, states and practices of the inhabitants of North America, Middle America and South America from its earliest inhabitants at the end of the Pleistocene era who have left barely a trace of their presence on the continents to those who encountered those strangers on their shores just after 1492. The book looks at some of those peoples with which we are undoubtedly familiar such as the Incas and the Aztecs to those with which we may perhaps be unfamiliar such as the Wari and the Taino Indians. In spite of being about prehistory, Archaeology, Geography, Ethnology and more, it is, none the less an eminently readable book that is hard to put down. In fact, there is a lot of fiction that pales by comparison with this book. It is spellbinding.

May 05, 2011

Fascinating subject. The author does a good job of presenting different sides of the various arguments about what the pre-Columbus Western Hemisphere was like. He also does well at noting when he is relating opinion vs. fact. The book is a fast read, with a number of interesting vignettes.

The only real weakness was with the author's last topic, Democracy. I feel he doesn't support with much evidence his final contention that pre-existing Indian societies significantly influenced contemporary and modern views of Democracy.

That's a minor nitpick. I highly recommend this book.

May 09, 2010

A real revelation!

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Jan 22, 2019

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Sep 29, 2008

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