Too often in history we think of 1492 as the beginning of history for the "new" lands Columbus discovered. In fact, before Europeans ever set foot on the soil of the Americas, cultures that would put most European ones to shame flourished. There is so much more to American history that I found in reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
by Charles C. Mann.
Let me start off by saying that this book is not a light read and will not be read in a day or two. It is very heavy and full of information, including a lot of scientific data. There is more than simple history here.
Mann brings with him personal accounts of archeological sites and interviews that he conducted over several years. He takes the reader to the depths of Peru and Mexico. He shows us the coast of North America when blue eyes first scanned it. Through the book the reader learns that the natives were not scattered about and foraging for food. They had many highly developed cultures and thickly populated the continent.
Mann goes through several theories and estimations of what the native population was before Columbus landed. It ends up being a wide range of estimates, but the point cannot be missed that there were many, many more natives that roamed these hills and valleys than we are led to belief in our textbooks. In fact, many of the "facts" told to us throughout the years are either questionable or flat out wrong.
Mann brings up all views and points out the strengths and weaknesses of each. Where did the natives come from? He has a whole section devoted to discussing the Bering Straight theory and many others. In discussing the native population of the Americas, the topic of European diseases cannot be ignored. The truth is that much discussion is given to that. Mann goes much farther than just saying that diseases unknown to the natives killed them. He gets into the genetic makeup of all the ethnic groups to show why they were unable to fight these diseases off.
Think you know how the natives lived? Think again. As more and more research and discoveries are made, the entire picture we have of the Americas before Columbus is being ripped apart and repainted. The new picture presented to us is much more lively and with vibrant colors everywhere.
Yes, the Mayans were advanced. What you really don't realize is how advanced they were. Could they have been further along than the European cultures at one time? Was there development of civilization occurring in the Americas as it was in the Fertile Crescent? Mann addresses this and more.
I thoroughly enjoyed 1491, but I have to admit that when the sections that were heavy in the science and genetic arena, I drifted away. That was way above me and made my head spin.
One of the best things about this book is that Mann explores every stance on each subject and lets the reader understand what each side was conveying. He is not in the least biased. That is not to say that he doesn't give his opinion. He lays it out in a way where the reader can make up their own mind where they stand.
I learned a lot from 1491. Many a section had me stopping and pondering his words and rethinking much of what prior scholars and historians had drilled into me. It made for great discussions between me and my husband, a history teacher.
1491 is a book I highly recommend. Though you need to remember that this is a very heavy read and should not be approached lightly. Mann has done a superb job of exploring the history of the Americas prior to Columbus and showing the world that there is more to this continent than we ever realized.
Note: This book was purchased by me with my own funds.