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 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 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 co 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 context I never imagined before.The author obviously loves what he does, and relishes research and it definitely makes potentially dry material come to life Opened my eyes to a subject I knew nothing about, so I highly recommend 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 so 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 some knowledge, I was blown away, again, by how populated and cultivated the American landscape was before the cataclysmic arrival of Europeans and their diseases This book blows up many stubborn, out dated theories like the singular Bering land bridge migration, the idea that the land was mostly empty when Europeans arrived, and the idea that most indigenous peoples were simple hunter gatherers It also gives us a good look at just how stubborn and resistant traditional Euro American scholarship has been to accepting any new information that didn t fit established theories about the indigenous peoples None of this will comes as a surprise to indigenous readers themselves, I m sure, but for me, it was a refreshing, amazing read I knew nothing about the vast, sophisticated terraforming societies of sub ian South America, or the pre Incan empires, or the way that hunter gatherer people intentionally crafted the landscape to better serve their needs Mann gave me a tantalizing glimpse into a complex, beautiful pre Columbian world 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 spolitically correct to call them Mexica philosophy was as ri 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 spolitically correct to call them Mexica philosophy was as rich as medieval europe s is ludicrous, especially given that such a huge volume of Aztec codices have been preserved and deciphered The Aztecs did some respectable philosophical work, but Mann s exaggerations aside, they didn t come close to rivaling the work done in ancient Greece, to say nothing of the subsequent 2,000 years of philosophy in Europe with a nod towards Middle Eastern contributions as well that took place between the death of Aristotle and the discovery of the new world Today, it may be possible to take a mesoamerican philosophy course in some university departments, but there are very few if any lasting or novel contributions to the the broader discipline of philosophy to be found in Aztec or Mayan, or Incan philosophy There s no shame in that it has been said that all philosophy is but a footnote to Plato So why feel the need to exaggerate and mislead readers by making politically correct assertions that have no basis in reality Also, the distinction the author draws between guilt and responsibility i.e we should not feel guilty that Cortes introduced smallpox and wiped out 95% of american indians, but we have some responsibility for this is way too underdeveloped to be taken seriously I don t necessarily think that the discussion is even necessary, but it is not an uncommon discussion in US politics, and Mann consciously decides to wade into these waters First, he never defines we, though it seems he means whites of european descent residing in the new world and maybe Europeans back in Europe who benefitted from mercantilism colonialism It s not clear And then he never explains how responsibility can be justly divided among descendants how someone of, say, direct Cortez lineage might have a different level of responsibility than a descendant of an Irish family with no seafaring anscestors and no pedigree in the New World until the late 19th century And if they have the same responsibility, then does a modern day Chinese or Indian immigrant to the new world also have some responsibility All unclear, and the absence of even any contemplation of these points leaves the book s attempts at constructing a morality of European American Indian interaction disappointingly hollow Mann decided the topic was worthy enough to merit some discussion it is unfortunate he failed to do the topic any justice 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 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 and Squanto, the first Native Americans to make contact with the Plymouth Colony pilgrims, and how in 1621 they strolled into the transplanted Englishmen s village and a big party broke out, thus began the tradition of Thanksgiving I was mis taught in a Massachusetts classroom where heritage and history are king, so much was made of this We were led to believe the story by elementary schoolteachers who probably wholeheartedly believed it themselves What about the Virginia Colony of 1607 and their contact with the native inhabitants It failed, so sweep it under the rug Something tells me this version of America s founding by Europeans was not the one being taught in Virginia at the timeNever was explained how the two natives could speak English from Englishmen fishing off of the Maine coast and, in Squanto s case, from abduction and internment for seven years in England or anything that happened in the Americas prior to the pilgrims landing Oh sure there was talk of Incas and Mayans and their all important maize But the extent, the sheer size of the native tribes, clans, and cosmopolitan societies of the Americas, north and south, and how Europe brought it all down upon their heads, none of this was discussed Why Because even during the late 1970s and early 80s when the movement to turn the Native Americans into mystical caretakers of Mother Earth, there was still a prejudicial sense of white is right prevalent, at least in the neighborhood I grew up in The other reason is a plain lack of knowledge My simple teachers simply did not know They can t wholly be blamed The information wasn t readily available or flat out wasn t available School books were traditional and outdated The grey area material was swept under the rug Now there is less grey area material advances in technology and archaeological practices have greatly advanced our knowledge of the past in just a few short decades but there s still plenty of unknown patches of time in the western hemisphere In 1491 Mann does not shy away from them Having said that, it should be noted that this is not just about North America No, in facttime is spent on everything below it Through discovered texts and deciphered inscriptions there s justknown about Mesoamerica than the other areas, so yes, there are pages upon pages about those Incas and Mayans In general what I love about 1491 is that it doesn t take the Indians side or the Europeans It doesn t try to cast a glowing angelic light upon the native inhabitants to transform them into woodland spirits whose only concern was the preservation of the trees and the birds, etc blah blah blah Earth Day is quaint and misguided, but I digress , nor does Mann attempt to attack or defend the actions of the Europeans All isof a statement of fact or, if lacking concrete evidence, a statement of possibility based on sound theory.Sure, this distills oceans of scholarly study down to amanageable duck pond, but it never tries to pretend it is doing otherwise Mann is no pretender to vaunted erudition He s a journalist who s done some research He s a guy who realized his own grade school education was lacking, and when he found out the moldy stuff he was taught way back when was still being taught to his son he decided to do something about it I m glad for it