1491

1491

New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Book - 2011
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The author 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 Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, were greater in population than any European city. Tenochtitlan, 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."--Publisher description.
Publisher: New York : Vintage, 2011
Edition: Second Vintage books edition
ISBN: 9781400032051
1400032059
Branch Call Number: 970.011 M3152F 2011
Characteristics: xiv, 553 pages : illustrations, maps, portraits ; 21 cm
Alternative Title: Fourteen ninety-one

Opinion

From Library Staff

Synthesizing insights from recent research in science, history and archaeology, Mann presents a portrait of a more advanced and bustling world in the pre-Columbian Americas than the one found in most traditional histories.


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l
leejerry
May 24, 2020

A fascinating read.

a
ABou1391
Dec 20, 2019

Seriously a great book full of shockingly new research (up to 2010) that is presented in its context and in a fair manner. His style is fully devoid of polemics and rhetoric, which I think have their place but can be tiresome when reading about topics like these. I particularly appreciated the way he presented old scientific consensus (i.e. The Clovis Culture, Bering Strait), and then deconstructed it and its biases while presenting the newer emerging consensus (Monte Verde, Norte Chico, Coastal migration theories etc). In the epilogue he discusses the participatory democracy of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is also incredibly interesting.

j
jim14green98
Dec 16, 2019

As someone hoping to get into archeology, this was an absolute tour de force that will change whatever notion you had of the first peoples of the Americas in a way any course or class would fail do to so far. How this isn't being taught in schools is sadly unsurprising considering what went down.

c
chrisshanley
Sep 17, 2019

Excellent anthropological account of the Americas before extensive European contact.

Soon you will be enraptured by stories of competing Mayan city states, Incan dynastic civil wars, and expansive empires whose histories were mostly erased by the diseases and conquests brought with Columbus in 1492.
Excellent bridge between popular history and scholarly history, as Mann cites researchers and their institutions when espousing historical claims. But he is a skilled journalist and knows how to weave a convincing narrative, while supporting it credibly.

I only wish it was longer and more detailed.

v
viking95
Sep 25, 2018

Could not take seriously after the claims were made:

Bows are superior to guns
English have no knowledge of the proficiency of bows in warfare
Copper and gold metallurgy is as sophisticated as steel
Cloth armor is better then steel armor

d
dnk
Feb 04, 2018

1491 paints a three-part picture of the American continents before the Europeans arrived: it was settled earlier than is generally believed, there were more people and, most importantly, the populations here controlled their environment. Any other person who has ever had to sit through someone describing Native Americans as, essentially, timeless hippies in constant commune with Nature will particularly enjoy Part Three: Landscape with Figures. This may be the hardest chapter for a lot of people to take. In it, Mann shares the theory that the Amazon forest is really a giant man made orchard. Hard to believe- unless one considers it more likely that human beings would have inhabited a region for thousands of years and not changed their environment, or that those people would have discovered a group of tree species growing in abundance that just happened to provide food and medicine for them.

The book's opening anecdote is "Holmberg's Mistake". Mann briefly explains the conclusions Allan Holmberg drew after meeting the Siriono people. He described them as being the most culturally backward people on the planet. True, they couldn't count past three, they had no clothing and they couldn't make fire. However, what Holmberg saw was what they were in the 1940s- after they had been devastated by infectious diseases and battles for land with cattle ranchers. It's not that Holmberg inaccurately described them as they were at that moment in time; it's that he assumed that because he was looking at them in that state, they had always been in that state.

That criticism is at the core of the book: most of our histories assert that the people of North and South America lived in small populations and were surrounded by plenty before the Europeans arrived. This is because this is what many settlers saw. This myth persists despite the fact that it has been shown repeatedly how devastating European diseases were to Early American populations. Mann quotes accounts from early explorers who reported "cheek to jowl" populations when they first visited. Four decades later, many of those accounts could not be verified; follow on explorers found sparser populations. What they could not have known at the time was that the diseases they brought with them lingered long enough after they left to wipe out up to 95% of the original population. With fewer among them, they would have been less likely to control their environments as they had before; thus New England forests were lush, 60 million bison roamed the plain states and it would have been all too easy- and convenient- to interpret the Americas as relatively uninhabited and thus ripe for colonization.

Understandably, it's difficult to make any clear assertions about when the earliest Americans arrived and settled- and that is also part of Mann's criticism. The popular theory- that people crossed the Bering Strait from Asia to North America- was something that people were hoping would be true almost as soon as people were seen in the Americas because then it wouldn't invalidate the biblical timeline that had been established in the 17th century. While almost undoubtedly people did use that passage, there is evidence that they came through other avenues as well. There is also strong evidence that they have been here longer than is generally assumed. This is perhaps the most disturbing part of the story: though known in scholarly circles, this is not shared in schools or popular books.

mvkramer Sep 01, 2016

When people say nonfiction can't move you - they are liars. This book opened my mind and broke my heart. Long story short - indigenous societies were more advanced, complex and prosperous than your high school history teacher told you. Sadly, about 90% of the people were wiped out by disease after contact with Europeans. Their works were largely forgotten, replaced by the image of the timeless, simple, "savage" Native American. This book is amazing. I highly recommend it to anyone with even the vaguest interest in history.

j
jaybird443
Feb 20, 2016

A very educational read that explores the great mystery of American indigenous civilizations. The author makes some startling points and raises some intersecting questions. This book is a must read if you have interest in this fascinating topic.

v
VictoriaS2
Sep 16, 2013

Revelatory!

s
shelleysf
Aug 18, 2012

There are many new revelations in this book, but unfortunately they are announced over and over again with little concern for the pacing and impact of the information. It's important reading for anyone that wants to get a better sense of just what the Europeans destroyed when they invaded this continent, but it's the information, and not the writing that will keep you reading through the entire book.

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Jan 22, 2019

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