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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before…

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (edition 2005)

by Charles C. Mann

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4,0381171,261 (4.16)1 / 231
Title:1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
Authors:Charles C. Mann
Info:Knopf (2005), Hardcover, 480 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:American History, Archaeology, Anthropology, History

Work details

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

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Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
As a subscriber to National Geographic since @1984, a lot of the information and controversies Mann presents aren't groundbreaking for me. However, reading bits and pieces in articles over the decades is not the same when fit into one overarching narrative. When presented in this manner, events and their relevance really "pop."

The book is well-written and lively. While Mann is not afraid to take sides in controversies, I like it that he laid out controversies and disagreements. Other researchers simply present a narrative supporting their theories while not mentioning any other possibilities or conflicting information. When reading Mann, it is clear that there is/was highly vocal opposition to the point he is espousing. In fact, these conflicts actually add to the interest.

Over the last 10 years, I've read an enormous amount of history books. This is one of the top 3 I'd recommend, the other 2 being Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace" and Lowe's "Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War 2." All three open up history overshadowed by events surrounding around them, but having enormous consequences felt today. ( )
  Hae-Yu | Jul 5, 2015 |
Probably closer to 3.5, but Mann does offer some fascinating stories about Pre-Columbian Native Americans that would be difficult to find elsewhere. Chalked full of details, Mann goes to great lengths to cover most regions in North and South America, with a heavy focus on the impact of disease.

Though fascinating, the book focused too much on post-1942. The book was advertised and sold as a work that focused on theories and evidence prior to Columbus' landing, yet did not follow this throughout much of the work. Additionally, most of the evidence is placed from the perspective of colonists, conquistadors, and other early European visitors to the Americas, which was a bit of a letdown.

4/5 for strong writing and interesting stories that would be attention-grabbing for the average reader. ( )
  bdtrump | May 9, 2015 |
This is a fascinating and very detailed book. Although it wasn't quite what I had expected (I thought it would deal strictly with accounts of pre-Columbian peoples of North America), the author did a great job of presenting a balanced and (more importantly) entertaining story. This is a must read for anyone who wants to gain more insight to ancient inhabitants of this hemisphere. ( )
  jimocracy | Apr 18, 2015 |
Pretty darn interesting - but if you're going to read it, do it soon before new data and more sophisticated theories make his thoughts either obsolete or even better-supported. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
New revlations of the Americas before Columbus.
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... ( )
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  Tutter | Feb 20, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
Mann has written an impressive and highly readable book. Even though one can disagree with some of his inferences from the data, he does give both sides of the most important arguments. 1491 is a fitting tribute to those Indians, present and past, whose cause he is championing.
Mann has chronicled an important shift in our vision of world development, one our young children could end up studying in their textbooks when they reach junior high.

Mann does not present his thesis as an argument for unrestrained development. It is an argument, though, for human management of natural lands and against what he calls the "ecological nihilism" of insisting that forests be wholly untouched.
Mann's style is journalistic, employing the vivid (and sometimes mixed) metaphors of popular science writing: "Peru is the cow-catcher on the train of continental drift. . . . its coastline hits the ocean floor and crumples up like a carpet shoved into a chairleg." Similarly, the book is not a comprehensive history, but a series of reporter's tales: He describes personal encounters with scientists in their labs, archaeologists at their digs, historians in their studies and Indian activists in their frustrations. Readers vicariously share Mann's exposure to fire ants and the tension as his guide's plane runs low on fuel over Mayan ruins. These episodes introduce readers to the debates between older and newer scholars. Initially fresh, the journalistic approach eventually falters as his disorganized narrative rambles forward and backward through the centuries and across vast continents and back again, producing repetition and contradiction. The resulting blur unwittingly conveys a new sort of the old timelessness that Mann so wisely wishes to defeat.
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The seeds of this book date back, at least in part, to 1983, when I wrote an article for 'Science' about a NASA program that was monitoring atmospheric ozone levels.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 140004006X, Hardcover)

1491 is not so much the story of a year, as of what that year stands for: the long-debated (and often-dismissed) question of what human civilization in the Americas was like before the Europeans crashed the party. The history books most Americans were (and still are) raised on describe the continents before Columbus as a vast, underused territory, sparsely populated by primitives whose cultures would inevitably bow before the advanced technologies of the Europeans. For decades, though, among the archaeologists, anthropologists, paleolinguists, and others whose discoveries Charles C. Mann brings together in 1491, different stories have been emerging. Among the revelations: the first Americans may not have come over the Bering land bridge around 12,000 B.C. but by boat along the Pacific coast 10 or even 20 thousand years earlier; the Americas were a far more urban, more populated, and more technologically advanced region than generally assumed; and the Indians, rather than living in static harmony with nature, radically engineered the landscape across the continents, to the point that even "timeless" natural features like the Amazon rainforest can be seen as products of human intervention.

Mann is well aware that much of the history he relates is necessarily speculative, the product of pot-shard interpretation and precise scientific measurements that often end up being radically revised in later decades. But the most compelling of his eye-opening revisionist stories are among the best-founded: the stories of early American-European contact. To many of those who were there, the earliest encounters felt more like a meeting of equals than one of natural domination. And those who came later and found an emptied landscape that seemed ripe for the taking, Mann argues convincingly, encountered not the natural and unchanging state of the native American, but the evidence of a sudden calamity: the ravages of what was likely the greatest epidemic in human history, the smallpox and other diseases introduced inadvertently by Europeans to a population without immunity, which swept through the Americas faster than the explorers who brought it, and left behind for their discovery a land that held only a shadow of the thriving cultures that it had sustained for centuries before. --Tom Nissley

A 1491 Timeline

Europe and Asia

Dates The Americas

25000-35000 B.C. Time of paleo-Indian migration to Americas from Siberia, according to genetic evidence. Groups likely traveled across the Pacific in boats.

Wheat and barley grown from wild ancestors in Sumer.


5000 In what many scientists regard as humankind's first and greatest feat of genetic engineering, Indians in southern Mexico systematically breed maize (corn) from dissimilar ancestor species.

First cities established in Sumer.


3000 The Americas' first urban complex, in coastal Peru, of at least 30 closely packed cities, each centered around large pyramid-like structures

Great Pyramid at Giza


32 First clear evidence of Olmec use of zero--an invention, widely described as the most important mathematical discovery ever made, which did not occur in Eurasia until about 600 A.D., in India (zero was not introduced to Europe until the 1200s and not widely used until the 1700s)

800-840 A.D. Sudden collapse of most central Maya cities in the face of severe drought and lengthy war

Vikings briefly establish first European settlements in North America.

1000 Reconstruction of Cahokia, c. 1250 A.D.* Abrupt rise of Cahokia, near modern St. Louis, the largest city north of the Rio Grande. Population estimates vary from at least 15,000 to 100,000.

Black Death devastates Europe.


1398 Birth of Tlacaélel, the brilliant Mexican strategist behind the Triple Alliance (also known as the Aztec empire), which within decades controls central Mexico, then the most densely settled place on Earth.

The Encounter: Columbus sails from Europe to the Caribbean.

1492 The Encounter: Columbus sails from Europe to the Caribbean.

Syphilis apparently brought to Europe by Columbus's returning crew.


Ferdinand Magellan departs from Spain on around-the-world voyage.

1519 Sixteenth-century Mexica drawing of the effects of smallpox** Cortes driven from Tenochtitlán, capital of the Triple Alliance, and then gains victory as smallpox, a European disease never before seen in the Americas, kills at least one of three in the empire.

1525-1533 The smallpox epidemic sweeps into Peru, killing as much as half the population of the Inka empire and opening the door to conquest by Spanish forces led by Pizarro.

1617 Huge areas of New England nearly depopulated by epidemic brought by shipwrecked French sailors.

English Pilgrims arrive at Patuxet, an Indian village emptied by disease, and survive on stored Indian food, renaming the village Plymouth.

1620 *Courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Collinsville, Ill., painting by Michael Hampshire. **Courtesy Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, N.M. (Bernardino de Sahagún, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, 1547-77).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Mann shows how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques have come to previously unheard-of conclusions about the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans: In 1491 there were probably more people living in the Americas than in Europe. Certain cities--such as Tenochtitlâan, the Aztec capital--were greater in population than any European city. Tenochtitlâan, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets. The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids. Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively "landscaped" by human beings. Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process that the journal Science recently described as "man's first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering."--From publisher description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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