Book Review – 1491, Charles C. Mann

“New revelations of the Americas before Columbus”.

A most, most excellent book, full of interesting and little appreciated facts. It does an excellent job of presenting all the sides of the various controversies related to the history of the Americas and allows room for one to decide on their own.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the book is the reconstruction of the population in the Americas….which turns out to have rivaled the population of Europe and Asia combined. This leads to a couple of interesting issues:

The defenders of the European invaders like to portray the continents as open and uninhabited and where inhabited, the indigenous people were unskilled and ignorant. This is used as justification for their taking over the place. If, as it seems much more likely, that the population was in fact decimated by the diseases that came with the invaders, this puts that idea in the trash. Estimates are that as many as 95% of the population was killed off by the imported diseases.

The “green folks” like to say, especially with the Amazon, that the land was pristine and untouched by the hand of man and should remain that way. The fact is that the land was shaped extensively by the Indian population and the rain forests are an artifact of what they created for themselves.

The truth is a lot messier than the ideology would like.There are a lot more records that I was aware of that record the experiences and observations of the Europeans who visited. These are the principal sources for much of the newer information. Of course, as usual, these were dismissed as “foolish” or some such by earlier historians whose belief systems were at variance with the facts.

There is a thorough treatment of the issue of who first entered the Americas and, especially, when. Turns out the older dates are more likely to be true. He omits any of the speculation of the “lost tribes of Israel” and other assorted thoughts. Other books I have read do however, provide some interesting facts that should have been included for the sake of completeness.