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Product Details

  • Paperback: 541 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (October 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032051
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 3.2 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (571 customer reviews)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 AsiaDates 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.6000
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.4000
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 Giza2650
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.1347-1351
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.1493
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).
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 flourishing with a high degree of sophistication. The new researchers have turned received wisdom on its head. For example, it has long been believed the Inca fell to Pizarro because they had no metallurgy to produce steel for weapons. In fact, scholars say, the Inca had a highly refined metallurgy, but valued plasticity over strength. What defeated the Inca was not steel but smallpox and resulting internecine warfare. Mann also shows that the Maya constructed huge cities and governed them with a cohesive set of political ideals. Most notably, according to Mann, the Haudenosaunee, in what is now the Northeast U.S., constructed a loose confederation of tribes governed by the principles of individual liberty and social equality. The author also weighs the evidence that Native populations were far larger than previously calculated. Mann, a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly and Science, masterfully assembles a diverse body of scholarship into a first-rate history of Native America and its inhabitants. 56 b&w photos, 15 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Charles C. Mann is the author of 1493, a New York Times best-seller, and 1491, which won the U.S. National Academy of Sciences' Keck award for the best book of the year. A correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, Science, and Wired, he has covered the intersection of science, technology, and commerce for many newspapers and magazines here and abroad, including National Geographic, the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and the Washington Post. In addition to 1491 and 1493, he is the co-author of five other books, one of which is a young person's version of 1491 called Before Columbus. His website is www.charlesmann.org.

Customer Reviews

I highly recommend doing the same excursions while reading this book!
cassdog
This is a great overview of recent findings regarding the history of the native populations of North and South America before the arrival of Europeans.
James J. Anderson
This book was very interesting, obviously well researched, and extremely readable.
J. Huff

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

237 of 248 people found the following review helpful By From the Oregon Country on October 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mann gives the reader a comprehensive overview of the new theories concerning native American societies before the colonial period. The story is intriguing, and the fascinating narrative will hold the reader's complete attention. The assertions made are too numerous and complex to go into in any detail here, but in brief: we are told that the Western Hemisphere was actually much more populous than anyone had imagined previously. Most of the inhabitants were wiped out by plagues brought by the Europeans. Far from being either brutal and child-like, or "noble savages", the native Americans had established sophisticated societies which served large and growing populations, and which had great impact on their natural environments. No small Indian tribes living in a vast, untamed wilderness! To the contrary, fire was used repeatedly to burn off weeds and undergrowth, extensive mounds and other structures were raised to provide crop land and ponds for fish breeding, and cultivation was widespread. Indeed, Mann asserts that the Amazon, far from being the quintessential wilderness most regard it as, is actually a garden gone wild!
The tale is breathtaking in its scope. But is it true? The author of 1491 acknowledges that the new theories are controversial. For example: everyone agrees the Europeans brought diseases which wiped out large numbers of Indians. But not all agree that the original population was anywhere near the levels claimed. And many researchers contend that structures claimed to be of human origin, such as the Beni causeways in Bolivia, are actually of natural origin. This reader withholds judgement until a lot more evidence is forthcoming. However, everyone interested in history owes it to themselves to read this spellbinding story of an America that just might have been, and then watch as it is either confirmed or refuted by continuing, widely based research.
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506 of 553 people found the following review helpful By Ursiform TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although recent years have yielded significant progress in understanding how "Indians" lived throughout the Americas before 1492 and Columbus, only isolated bits of the story have reached the popular press. Far too many people still hold to one of two myths of the Indians, or have little conception at all of pre-Columbian America.

The first popular myth is that the Indians were a bunch of primitive savages just keeping the land warm until superior Europeans showed up. It's sad to read reviews here that assert that because Indians used stone tools they were therefore "stone age", with the implication that their culture was no further advanced than that early period.

The second myth makes the Indians into proto-flower-children, naively and simply in tune with their environment.

Both myths are based on stereotyping and are condescending to the pre-Colombians. How could people spread over two continents and many millennia be briefly summarized? They can't be! The Americas saw the development of a broad range of cultures, just like every other inhabited area of the world. Some cultures overstressed their environment and soon collapsed. Others created stable conditions under which they could survive for generations. (Which is not the same as saying they didn't impact nature.) But even the latter could be brought down by climate change, political instability, disease (especially European), or contact with outsiders (Indian or European).

Great cities arose in mesoamerica and the Andes, and also in other areas when the right conditions prevailed. And sophisticated cultures existed even where city building wasn't favored.

This book takes the reader through a vibrant overview of centuries of Indian culture both before and shortly after Columbus landed.
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152 of 169 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Charles C. Mann has taken much of what we thought we knew about the Native Americans and their world and thrown it out the window. In a pleasantly informal yet highly professional style, Mann recounts tales of his own studies and travels, as well as those of many archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists past and present throughout the Americas.

If your knowledge of the Native Americans begins and ends with what you learned in school years ago, or with the stereotypes perpetuated by Hollywood, you are in for quite a shock. To begin with, the Native Americans have been "natives" here for far longer than any one suspected. Next, their cultures were heterogeneous and quite advanced, in many ways far outdoing their counterparts in Europe. And in what may be the most controversial sections, Mann maintains that the Native Americans were neither primitive savages who left no mark on their world, nor dreamy proto-environmentalists who lived as one with nature, but rather people who throughly altered and shaped their landscapes.

This is not a book which will please many with an agenda on either the pro-development or pro-environment side, but it will be found invaluable by those who seek a better understanding of the "New World" before the Europeans "discovered" it.
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66 of 73 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on October 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a highly readable and informative compendium of current knowledge on the Americas prior to Columbian contact. Charles Mann has gathered modern research into an engaging narrative that offers updates on old theories, bold new theories that often contradict the old ones, and a fair amount of useful speculation on what was really happening in the ancient Americas. The speculative parts of this book will turn off serious historians (plus those with political, academic, or ethnic agendas, as can be seen in some of the more condescending reviews here), but the speculation offers plenty of food for thought, and Mann has mostly just channeled the exploratory ideas of his sources. In any case, such explorations are grounded in at least partially corroborated findings by modern archeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and experts in other fields, and Mann has made extensive use of legitimate sources both old and new. In fact, his bibliography will provide the enthusiast with reading material for years to come.

In addition to increasing the reader's knowledge of little-covered Native American societies such as the Cahokians and several pre-Inka South American kingdoms, the main running contention in this book is not necessarily historical but ecological. There is growing evidence that Indians throughout the hemisphere did not live in a timeless and static communion with nature, which is a common "green" stereotype. Instead, the majority of native populations actively engineered their landscapes and altered their local ecologies to better suit human needs, though this usually (but not always) resulted in long-term mutual benefits for nature and man, rather than the dead-end destruction resulting from Western methods.
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