An excellent new work by non-Native American, non-archaelogist Charles C. Mann. Aptly subtitled "New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus," 1491 is a compendium of new (and not so new but underreported) research on the history of the Western Hemisphere before the European Conquest. Among the more fascinating discoveries: human beings likely began arriving in the "New World" some 30,000 years ago; the population of the Americas before the Conquest was greater than that of Europe (making the Smallpox Holocaust all the more horrific; perhaps one out of every five human beings on the planet died in the century-and-a-half after Columbus); In 1500, Tentochtitlan (capital of the Triple Alliance or Aztec Empire) and Qosqo (capital of Tawantinsuyu, the Inkan Empire, the largest empire on Earth at the time) were larger, more advanced and more populous than any cities in Europe; pre-Conquest American history was a fascinating tapestry of empires that rose, achieved greatness and fell, only to be replaced by others; that Indians had a profound impact on their environment, from the genetic engineering of maize to the use of controlled burns to maintain and expand the Great Plains as a vast hunting preserve and to turn large areas of the Amazon Rainforest into orchards to support large population centers in the jungle. Along the way, Mann also discusses how racism and paternalism clouded archaelogical research on Native American culture and history, all presented in a brisk, enjoyable style. I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in history or Native American issues.
Labels: Book Reviews, History, Native American