NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492—from “a remarkably engaging writer” (The New York Times Book Review).
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.
In a riveting and fast-paced history, massing archeological, anthropological, scientific and literary evidence, Mann debunks much of what we thought we knew about pre-Columbian America. Reviewing the latest, not widely reported research in Indian demography, origins and ecology, Mann zestfully demonstrates that long before any European explorers set foot in the New World, Native American cultures were flourishing with a high degree of sophistication. The new researchers have turned received wisdom on its head. For example, it has long been believed the Inca fell to Pizarro because they had no metallurgy to produce steel for weapons. In fact, scholars say, the Inca had a highly refined metallurgy, but valued plasticity over strength. What defeated the Inca was not steel but smallpox and resulting internecine warfare. Mann also shows that the Maya constructed huge cities and governed them with a cohesive set of political ideals. Most notably, according to Mann, the Haudenosaunee, in what is now the Northeast U.S., constructed a loose confederation of tribes governed by the principles of individual liberty and social equality. The author also weighs the evidence that Native populations were far larger than previously calculated. Mann, a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly and Science, masterfully assembles a diverse body of scholarship into a first-rate history of Native America and its inhabitants. 56 b&w photos, 15 maps.
The author presents a good overview of what the Americas were like pre-Europeans.
The first complaint I have is that there aren't enough pictures and diagrams. The author frequently provides a long, narrative description of something, when a picture or diagram would help immensely. When there is such, it's usually too many pages past the description to be helpful.
My second complaint is that the author often presents interpretations that have been disproven without warning. I spent a lot of time integrating ideas that were later shown by the author to be replaced by a better explanations. I like that he shows the evolution of interpretations based on available evidence, but a little heads up would have been helpful.
I read this years ago and really enjoyed it. If this topic interests you it is a great book.
I enjoyed this book very much. The historical information and detail are impressive and it was written with respect for the cultures described. However, it is fairly technical, and I spent a good bit of time looking up terms with which I’m unfamiliar.
That said, I’ve gained a huge appreciation and respect for the peoples who lived in pre-Colombian Americas.