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 purposes, still a vast wilderness. But as Charles C. Mann now makes clear, archaeologists and anthropologists have spent the last thirty years proving these and many other long-held assumptions wrong. In a book that startles and persuades, Mann reveals how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques came to previously unheard-of conclusions. Among them: - In 1491 there were probably more people living in the Americas than in Europe. - Certain cities-such as Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital-were far greater in population than any contemporary European city. Furthermore, Tenochtitlán, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
This production is-as most nonfiction audios ought to be-a "reading" as distinct from a "performance." Johnson renders this thoroughly researched, well-written history of early North and South American Indian populations in a strong, clear voice, with excellent intonation. His diction is almost too perfect-one occasionally focuses on pronunciation rather than content. Most of the book is written in narrative form that sweeps listeners through an exciting rethinking of all we ever learned about when so-called Indians first inhabited the American continents and how they may have come here, about their numbers, religions, cultures, inventions, social structures and their relations to European invaders and settlers. When Mann relates the internecine battles among schools of anthropologists and archeologists, however, the listener might wish he had the book in hand for clarity. It might be wise from the start to make a list of the numerous Indian and European individuals and groupings. This audiobook is well worth the trouble. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, June 20). (August) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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1 . Good Read, Interesting Perspective
Posted December 31, 2008 by Mookie Kong , San Jose, CAThis was a very interesting read and I enjoyed it. The author knows how to make the subject alive -- even if it happened centuries ago. Some of it is repetitive and sometimes he gets off track. But, overall, it was a good read.
October 08, 2006
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Excerpt from 1491 (Second Edition) by Charles C. Mann
The plane took off in weather that was surprisingly cool for central Bolivia and flew east, toward the Brazilian border. In a few minutes the roads and houses disappeared, and the only traces of human settlement were the cattle scattered over the savanna like sprinkles on ice cream. Then they, too, disappeared. By that time the archaeologists had their cameras out and were clicking away in delight.
Below us lay the Beni, a Bolivian province about the size of Illinois and Indiana put together, and nearly as flat. For almost half the year rain and snowmelt from the mountains to the south and west cover the land with an irregular, slowly moving skin of water that eventually ends up in the province's northern rivers, which are upper tributaries of the Amazon. The rest of the year the water dries up and the bright green vastness turns into something that resembles a desert. This peculiar, remote, often watery plain was what had drawn the researchers' attention, and not just because it was one of the few places on earth inhabited by some people who might never have seen Westerners with cameras.
Clark Erickson and William Bal ' e, the archaeologists, sat up front. Erickson, based at the University of Pennsylvania, worked in concert with a Bolivian archaeologist, who that day was elsewhere, freeing up a seat in the plane for me. Bal ' e, of Tulane, is actually an anthropologist, but as scientists have come to appreciate the ways in which past and present inform each other, the distinction between anthropologists and archaeologists has blurred. The two men differ in build, temperament, and scholarly proclivity, but they pressed their faces to the windows with identical enthusiasm.
Scattered across the landscape below were countless islands of forest, many of them almost-perfect circles ' heaps of green in a sea of yellow grass. Each island rose as much as sixty feet above the floodplain, allowing trees to grow that otherwise could not endure the water. The forests were bridged by raised berms, as straight as a rifle shot and up to three miles long. It is Erickson's belief that this entire landscape ' thirty thousand square miles or more of forest islands and mounds linked by causeways ' was constructed by a technologically advanced, populous society more than a thousand years ago. Bal ' e, newer to the Beni, leaned toward this view but was not yet ready to commit himself.
Erickson and Bal ' e belong to a cohort of scholars that in recent years has radically challenged conventional notions of what the Western Hemisphere was like before Columbus. When I went to high school, in the 1970s, I was taught that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about thirteen thousand years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation the continents remained mostly wilderness. Schools still impart the same ideas today. One way to summarize the views of people like Erickson and Bal ' e would be to say that they regard this picture of Indian life as wrong in almost every aspect. Indians were here far longer than previously thought, these researchers believe, and in much greater numbers. And they were so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly marked by humankind.