Wednesday, May 22, 2013

1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, by Charles Mann

Until the Spanish (or perhaps the Vikings?) brought infectious diseases that decimated the native population, America was home to sophisticated urban centers that stretched from the Mississippi south to the Amazon River. At their peak, the population of some of the larger cities, such as Cahokia, located near present day St. Louis, may have reached upwards of 40,000 people. It wasn't until after the near total depopulation of the Americas that the land became the "uninhabited wilderness" that European colonists found when they landed centuries later. 

With 1491, historian Charles Mann reveals a dynamic culture stopped dead in its tracks. Gone were the irrigation systems and grain storage facilities that fed multitudes. Gone was the complex web of trade routes that supplied Gulf of Mexico salt to northern plains tribes and volcanic glass to the Iroquois. And gone, too, was a people’s ability to fend off the relentless physical and cultural assault that eventually robbed them of all they possessed.

1491 is a fascinating and controversial look at the land and cultures of the New World on the eve of Columbus' "discovery" of the New World.  This book opened my eyes to a millennia of history I never knew, and was never taught, about my own country. And you can reserve it here.

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