1491 by Charles C. Mann


In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan ha...

Details 1491

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

Reviews 1491

  • Rick Riordan
    My favorite recent history book, Mann surveys the breadth and complexity of indigenous cultures in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Some of this research was familiar to me. When I taught American history in the 2000s, I would start with such 'snapshots' of Cahokia, the Olmecs, the Serpent Mound, the Maya, the great trade networks that connected the continent. But even that information was hard to find. Good luck finding even a mentio...
  • 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...
  • Trevor
    You know – in fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue. So, 1491 was a particularly interesting year for the inhabitants of the Americas. This is a remarkably similar story to that told in Dark Emu. It is almost as if everything I’ve ever known about pre-European settlement in Australia and the Americas has been, well, utter rubbish. Which is more than a little annoying.What is very interesting here is that we seem to ha...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~ ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣
    I'm astonished at how many people mention in their reviews that they are surprised at how rich and varied and impressive the cultures of the Americas were until a certain point. Many of them actually live on the said continents. How do you even live on a continent and know little about its history? What, did anyone think the Aztec were a bunch of barbarians? Did anyone think Columbus arrived to find an unpopulated part of the world? Maybe because...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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 ...
  • 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...
  • Ted
    Outstanding. Amazing.
  • 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 ...
  • Adam
    Review of the audiobook narrated by Darrell Dennis.I find pre-Columbian history of the Americas fascinating so this book was right up my alley. It did jump around a little more than I liked, but overall this is a great presentation of all of the contemporary findings and generally accepted conclusions (as of 2005) on both the state of culture in the Americas before 1492 and the affect that European settlement/conquering had on said culture beginn...
  • Ian
    This book has already been widely reviewed. Many other reviewers have outlined the basic 3 premises that the book advances. The book is extremely well-researched. The author has spoken with numerous experts and covered an enormous amount of territory, and on the whole he presents fairly convincing arguments. Most people do I think accept that the Indian population of the Americas experienced a catastrophic crash after 1492, due primarily to the i...
  • 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...
  • Joe
    As Mann “suggests” in his preface many of us have been taught that prior to Christopher Columbus showing up, North and South America were pristine lands, sparsely populated by primitive Indians with unsophisticated cultures, who lived at the mercy of Mother Nature. Combining archaeology, history, science and even some psychology/sociology – and as the subtitle suggests – The author paints a very different picture of the “New World” be...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • Ash
    (Note: I’ve learned from 1492 and multiple Indian writers and activists that most prefer the terms “American Indian” and “Indian” to “Native American.” For that reason, I will use those terms in this review.)It’s been a while since I’ve read a work of nonfiction, and I don’t think I’ve ever read one for pleasure and not as a school requirement. I chose this as my first because I’ve always wanted to learn more about America...
  • Mehrsa
    So much eye-opening research. I know that some of these findings are still being elaborated, but wow. So much devastation by disease, such large populations and complex civilizations. And the thesis at the end was so interesting: that it was Native American political structure that informed the founding fathers in creating our unique constitution that was based on liberty and equality.
  • Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
    This is an important book. The author compiles historical and archaeological research to provide a history of the Americas before (and shortly after) the arrival of Europeans. And it’s a legit history, in ways I didn’t realize were even lacking in my previous acquaintance with early American history before reading the book. Compared to most other parts of the world, we know relatively little about the early Americas, but there’s a lot more ...
  • GoldGato
    Fantastic. Non-fiction books of 500+ pages usually make me antsy but this terrific re-rendering of New World history had me glued to the pages. I learned so much that it was, for me, quite mind-boggling.Maize is terribly promiscuous.Northern America, Central America, and South America all had tremendous histories of advanced cultures before Europeans ever knew about these lands. But whereas there was knowledge of the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas, th...
  • Lois
    Sigh, Holmberg didn't 'make a mistake' he used scientific racism. His scientific determinations about Native Americans aren't mistakes. Racism is a form of control and therefore ALWAYS intentional.If an author is unprepared to deal with white folks behaving badly because of racism, he should've picked another continent on which to set this. As it stands this stance is disrespectful to the very people who's history he's supposed to be providing. R...
  • 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...
  • 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...