1491 by Charles C. Mann


A groundbreaking study that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans in 1492.Traditionally, Americans learned in school that the ancestors of the people who inhabited the Western Hemisphere at the time of Columbus’s landing had crossed the Bering Strait twelve thousand years ago; existed mainly in small, nomadic bands; and lived so lightly on the land that the Americas was, for all practical purpose...

Details 1491

Release DateOct 10th, 2006
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Anthropology, North American Hi..., American History, Science, Historical

Reviews 1491

  • Brendan
    The survey of current thinking on the population of the americas via that Beringia land bridge and the subsequent summary of the evolutions of early american society is interesting.But the repeated comparisons between american society and eurasian society are really fraught and often belabored. The comparisons between the two hemisphere's agriculture and domesticable animals are fine, but the assertion that Aztec (apparently it's more politically...
  • Jason Koivu
    This was like a coloring book of pre-Pilgrim North America for me in that it filled in a lot of unanswered questions and brilliantly illuminated some areas of my knowledge that were mere outlines. It stays within the lines and makes my early attempts at coloring in the past look like spidery, seizure-induced scrawlings.Being originally from New England, I'm well aware that there were inhabitants here long before the Europeans arrived. Early on in...
  • Douglas Hunter
    As someone who writes professionally in this area (unabashed plug: watch for God's Mercies, Doubleday Canada, in October 07) I have high praise for this title, a long-overdue assessment of native culture and civilization before (and at) contact with Europeans. I'm still reading it, but I've been impressed so far.[I've now finished, see below.] Anyone who enjoyed it should also consider Elaine Dewar's Bones, which explores the archaeological contr...
  • Jason
    Very well written, a good mixture of factual evidence and narrative. The main take home point here should be known to everyone, especially Americans. There is a reason why there was a period of 128 years between Colombus' landing and a permanent European settlement in North America. Namely, there were millions of Native Americans there who thought Europeans were dirty, amusing creatures who had interesting objects but were not fit for being neigh...
  • Saleh MoonWalker
    Onvan : 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus - Nevisande : Charles C. Mann - ISBN : 1400032059 - ISBN13 : 9781400032051 - Dar 541 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2005
  • Ken-ichi
    In brief: I felt this was an adequate, often fascinating summary of human habitation of the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans as understood by present-day historians and scientists. I was happy to see that Mann highlighted controversial areas without simply adopting one side of any given controversy, and in general it seemed like a balanced, well-researched book. That said, there were numerous peccadillos.Mann starts with the basic asser...
  • Felicia
    Fascinating exploration of what we know of the "New World" before Columbus arrived. I knew pretty much nothing about the Incas, the Mayans, the Aztecs, and all the other societies that actually were possibly BIGGER than Europe in 1492, and dwarfed it in centuries before. It's also an interesting survey of these societies and their environments, of how the Indians and the "pristine" environments are a bit of a myth. The scope of the book covers so...
  • Hana
    See updated alternative reading recommendations below.Well, I finally finished it. There were some interesting factoids, such as the theory that much of the Amazon rainforest was planted by humans, but even then the data were not marshaled in a convincing, coherent fashion. Over all, the book was badly organized, the chapter and section headings provided no clue to their purpose, the text jumped wildly across continents and thousands of years for...
  • Tripp
    Author Charles Mann's purpose is to debunk three commonly held ideas about the Americas before Columbus: that the continents were sparsely populated, that the social and technical development was limited and that the locals left the environment untouched.In discussing scholarly debates on these subjects, he convincingly argues that the population, before the decimation of disease, was quite high. The debate is just how many people there were rath...
  • Bruce
    Let me start by noting that Mann is a journalist, rather than a historian or cultural anthropologist. This results in a work that is extremely accessible to the non specialist reader and lacking in jargon. So much of our notions of what North America was like before Europeans arrived are the result of our own impact on the continent. The notion of an empty continent populated by either "noble savages" or aborigines comes from the fact that the po...
  • Stefan
    This book could be good. Unfortunately the author seems determined in every part of his "research" to interject his own opinion without duly backing it up. I stopped reading it somewhere around page 100, where the author makes the comparison between ritual human sacrifice by the Aztecs and executions in European countries. By taking the executions in England for a 100 year period, then adjusting for the size of the English population compared to ...
  • Nick
    Confession: I never finished this, leaving about 50 pages (about 15%)on the table. With non-fiction books that are based around a particular theory I feel like as long as I read enough to internalize the argument and really understand some of the evidence I can stop reading when I get bored. If I missed some revelation on page 420 somebody let me know.The key takeaway here: American societies were almost certainly older, larger, more technically ...
  • N.K. Jemisin
    Mindblowing. Everyone should read this book. It's amazing to me how much historians got wrong -- and what this book illuminates is why historians get such things wrong. Some of it is flat-out racism and ethnocentrism -- historians' tendency to dismiss oral tradition as crap, for example, when it turns out most Indian groups have done a good job of keeping track of their own past. Some of it, however, was simply lost knowledge that's only now bein...
  • Hadrian
    A necessary and interesting corrective to popular perceptions on the 'pre-Columbian' eras of the American continent. Many may have already doubted the old narrative of Natives being 'uncivilized' and the stereotype of being 'communal with nature' and the 'noble savage', when they have already built pre-existing complex societies.The author does scatter from topic to topic, but he paints a broad overview of some of the various trends in Native Stu...
  • John
    I am rethinking my review and giving this the highest rating. This book has really stayed with me in the months since I read it. I'm always a sucker for prehistory stuff, people speculating on history and social structure and motivations for doing things when all you have to go on are oral history and some artifacts but nothing written down. And there is so much we don't know about the Native Americans, even though we act as if we do. This book r...
  • Aili
    So the major thing to note here is that this is a history of the inhabitants of pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere... written by a feature journalist. It has a lot of straight history, but also a lot of information gleaned from non-standard or new techniques, such as archaeology, forensic science, and linguistics. Oh, and actually talking to folks who identify as indigenous -- who are, lots of them, still around.A fair amount of the material was fa...
  • Ian
    Mann is not a historian, but rather is a journalist. And for that reason, this book does read like a history text (like Guns, Germs, and Steel). But it is exceptionally researched and fantastic.Mann describes North and South America in a way that traditional textbooks and contemporary rhetoric never acknowledges. He combats the old-fashioned and anti-academic beliefs that pervade our Eurocentric version of world history (summed up in what he call...
  • Gordon
    Every now and again a book comes along that fundamentally changes my perspective about something big, and this is one of them. Theres a reason why the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620 and found the forests nicely felled, the fields already cleared, and caches of food ready to be stolen. The reason: a huge population of Indians had already done the work on their behalf. The reason why hardly any of them were left is that ...
  • Erik Graff
    Tom Miley told me to read his copy of this book while I was visiting him and his family in San Francisco. It was an excellent suggestion. Rarely have I read a book filled with so much information contrary to what I thought I knew.1491 basically summarizes recent researches suggesting that the Americas were populated earlier than previously believed, more densely populated than commonly estimated and more widely civilized.One of the more interesti...
  • David
    This is an excellent book that describes the civilizations in North, Central, and South America before (and shortly after) the arrival of Columbus. Many facets of these civilizations are quite impressive. For example, the agricultural method of inter-planting different species of crops in a plot of land was a wonderful approach for keeping farms fertile over long periods of time, even millennia. This farming method was much better--and more effic...
  • Kenny
    As a result of decades of revisionist history (as well as flat-out incorrect but sincere assumptions by scientists), most people have come to see pre-Columbian America as an Edenic wilderness inhabited by pure-hearted indigenous folk living lightly on the land, leaving nary a footprint outside their biodegradable sweatlodges.Yet Mann shows us a densely populated, fiercely impacted hemisphere where no one was indigenous (they all came from somewhe...
  • Paige
    This book is a fascinating window into the cultures of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Author Charles Mann, an award-winning writer for Science and The Atlantic Monthly, debunks many widely held notions about the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere. With a contagious excitement, Mann shares recent discoveries of archeologists, historians and geographers, many of which up-end previously accepted beliefs. Mann presents new research s...
  • Alex
    I didn't know any of this shit! There were, like, tons and tons of Native Americans,in huge, modern cities, all over the place! They were making huge monuments at Cahokia that are still there! The Aztecs had running water! They were farming the Amazon! Everything you learned about Native Americans in school was totally wrong - like, not just a little wrong but way, way wrong - and here is what was actually going on, all in one well-written and we...
  • Ryan Moulton
    Everyone who lives in the Americas ought to read this book, particularly during Thanksgiving when schools impart our mythology to the next generation.In writing this, Charles Mann intended to simply summarize the consensus opinion of modern researchers about what the Americas were like before Columbus. Sounds pretty dry right? What he produced is mind blowing, and for two reasons. Firstly because the facts themselves are both nearly unbelievable ...
  • Patrick Gibson
    Glyptodonts, caliche and zoonotic. Sounds like a law firm hell doesn’t it? Alas, it is only some of the terms Charles Mann digs up discussing pre-Columbian agriculture. (Digs up, get it? Never mind.)I’ve done my share of wandering the Yucatan. Unlike the civilizations of Rome or Egypt, you just know there is a much more profound mystery surrounding the Maya, Inca and even the North American cultures pre-invasion. Vast cities, astounding archi...
  • Avis Black
    I lost patience with this book with the section entitled Holmberg's Mistake. Charles Mann's contention is that the native indians of the Beni, an area in Bolivia, deliberately created a surprisingly complex region of plant biodiversitiy. So far, so good. Then Mann complains about the anthropological work of Allan Holmberg, conducted in the 1940s. Holmberg, in his ethnography Nomads of the Longbow, portrayed the indians of the Beni as being, in es...
  • Relstuart
    Popular history has been that America before Columbus was sparsely populated with the tribes here living in harmony with nature with little impact on the land. Archeology in the last several decades has raised significant challenges to this view. There is evidence that the population was much higher than previously thought and that many tribes had significant impact on the land around them through farming, building, or other means. Particularly i...
  • Todd N
    I was blown away by the Terry Gross interview with the author about his other book, 1493. (Earthworms went extinct in North America during the Ice Age???) So I figured I should start with 1491 and get the full pre-Columbian experience.I was engrossed by this book to the point where my Kindle 2's failing battery became an issue. (I wound up installing an aftermarket battery, which instantly increased my quality of life by 15%)The main thing I lear...
  • Fredösphere
    Very interesting and nearly always enjoyable. Mann builds on the Guns Germs & Steel thesis, and adds descriptions of the widely varied cultures of Pre-Columbian America.Mann, summarizing and popularizing the latest archeological and anthropological work, concludes that the American population in 1491 really was in the tens of millions, with complex and (mostly) very sophisticated societies with dense populations filling places like Mesoamerica an...
  • Cynda
    Charles C Mann attempts to publish information not widely available before, such as higher population counts of the natives of the New World than previously considered. Mann admits he is no professional historian. He respects his readers may giving them explanations and appendices. All his respect made his writing a bit tedious. Dare to make an argument and to be corrected by further research. I could tell Mann is more than an amateur and less th...