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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
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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 Tlaca¨¦lel, 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 Tenochtitl¨˘n, 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 Sahag¨˛n, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espa?a, 1547-77).

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 Tenochtitl¨˘n, the Aztec capital–were far greater in population than any contemporary European city. Furthermore, Tenochtitl¨˘n, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets.
• The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids.
• Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process so sophisticated that the journal Science recently described it as “man’s first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering.”
• Amazonian Indians learned how to farm the rain forest without destroying it–a process scientists are studying today in the hope of regaining this lost knowledge.
• Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively “landscaped” by human beings.

Mann sheds clarifying light on the methods used to arrive at these new visions of the pre-Columbian Americas and how they have affected our understanding of our history and our thinking about the environment. His book is an exciting and learned account of scientific inquiry and revelation.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Praise for 1491
    The book '1491" breaks new ground in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, it follows the books of Jared Diamond ('Guns, Germs and Steel"), in discussing how these factors led to the establishment of powerful cultures, particularly in Mexico and Peru before European conquest. Most revealing is Charles Mann's analysis of the impact of smallpox on native populations, arriving in lightening spread before these indigenous populations had even seen a Spaniard. Consequently, when the Spaniards did arrive, these populations had been devastated by smallpox and were ripe for conquest. Theocratic governments also led to their downfall, as their technology, advanced as it was, was tightly regulated and controlled by emperors and priests. ...more info
  • Man vs. Nature, again.....
    Mann's historical account of the Americas before the Europeans arrived remains a bit of a patchwork quilt. There is simply so much ground to cover that the material overwhelms even the most circumspect author. In California alone, there were as many as 100 different tongues upon the arrival of the Spanish. This kind of richness never reveals itself here. But how could it?

    What does fascinate, as Pirsig points out already in his follow up to Motorcycle Maintenance, Lila, is the impact from the American Indian culture on the western cultures in the United States, and thereby the rest of the world. It is the impact of the immunologically damned, but a stunning impact nonetheless.

    Finally, I can't help but notice the repetition of the man versus nature dichotomy, as if that is the only pedagogically shaping influence around. There is the constant drum beat of the impact of man on nature, as if such a separation existed. Are men not of nature? And nature not of men?

    How much have the birds affected the migration of seeds? And what of the impact of bees on pollen, the migration of microorganisms in the belly of the whale?

    Look, we are all in this earthly mixup together. Let's not re-create again and again the world of men and everything else. This homo-centric view tires....more info
  • Interesting Topic - But Waiting to Purchase!
    Interesting topic - but to purchase this book, I would want the Text-to-Speech to be enabled. Does the author know the T2S is not available for the blind and disabled? ...and for the rest of us, too?

    I am not going to be able to purchase this book. BUT! - I will go back in and change my review to reflect the positive move toward independance for the disabled (who own Kindles),when the publisher or author turns the T2S back on.
    ...more info
  • An amazing piece of history
    This is one of the best books I can remember ever reading! A history of the Americas at the time when Europeans began to arrive (including the author's ancestors). Mr Mann has a way of conveying complex information in an easy to grasp form that moves along briskly and keeps the reader glued to the page. The history he reveals is not only incredible, it is (was) almost entirely new to me!
    It is a scholarly work though, and he looses my interest when he gets into lengthy discussions of various versions of pre-European population counts. (a small price to pay for the richness of the overall experience this book provides). One way or another though, the populations were staggeringly large compared to what we may have been led to believe.
    For anyone even slightly curious about this era, I can't recommend the book too highly. It's like entering a magical world we didn't know existed.
    ...more info
  • Should be required reading
    This book will make you rethink everything you were taught about pre-Colombian history. It should be required reading in schools and would make a great gift for those who may need to rethink their comparisons of white European decendents with those decended from native North, Central and South Americans. ...more info
  • great read
    A fascinating review of little known history. This book is well written & contains some very recent archaeologic research. ...more info
  • A great read.
    I love to read about history but so many history books read like they were written by some curmudgeonly old scholarly who has no idea how to make anything interesting. This book is great. It has enough detail to please the most scholarly of readers, while at the same time its an enjoyable and easy read for the average Joe. I only wish more historians would learn to write books that read like a novel. I loved every chapter! ...more info
  • A random walk through the Americas
    I'm a fan of this subject. Mann's work has some interesting segments, and presents a variety of research that updated my knowledge about pre-Columbian America. On the downside I felt, overall, the work lacked clarity and cohesiveness as a book.

    There is much ebullient praise and vitriolic criticism of 1491 on this site. In my opinion, neither is warranted. In particular, I'd remind critics who feel he comes down in the middle of controversial topics that Mann is a journalist attempting to present multiple perspectives as reflected in the body of research. I did not get the sense he tried to present one argument as the truth vs another. Here, though, is where my own criticism kicks in.

    I enjoyed the book as a series of soundbites rather than as "a book". I felt this work rambled all over the place, and lacked a central theme. Now, I know the central theme is that pre-Columbian America was more populated and advanced than we may have been taught: home to complex societies, that the inhabitants shaped their environment, etc. That said, the wandering from location to location and time period to time period was distracting to me, forcing me to take the narrative in as a series of short stories rather than as many paths to a cohesive whole.

    As a result, 1491 is neither a scientific nor a taut journalistic piece of work. Mann is not a scientist, so I didn't expect depth of analysis. He is a journalist, though.
    ...more info
  • Correcting revisionist history...
    Charles C. Mann provides for us a thorough and enlightening look at the Americas before Columbus in 1491.

    In the past, historians wrote their history with a European slant. Most accounts show how when Europeans came to the New World, it was sparsely inhabited by Native Americans. According to traditional history, Europeans brought "civilization" to these savages. What Mann relates to us is how these "savages" actually lived in very populated, thriving and sophisticated societies. The author tries "to fill in one of the biggest blanks in history: the Western Hemisphere before 1492." His investigation covers the various Indian tribes from both North and South America and includes the Inka, Maya, Arawak, Aztec, Wampanoag, as well as other smaller societies and sub-groups. He also includes research into their DNA, their environments, architecture, agriculture, food sources, textiles, weaponry, language and religion. In many respects, they were far ahead of their European counterparts.

    The city of "Tenochtitlan dazzled its invaders--it was bigger than Paris, Europe's greatest metropolis." It consisted of wide, clean streets, ornate buildings, markets selling goods from miles away, grand causeways, botanical gardens and aqueducts that brought water from distant mountains. In addition to their remarkable cities, Indians also turned to intellectual pursuits. In a short time, Mesoamericans "invented their own writing, astronomy, and mathematics, including zero." Mann also claims that the development of maize was "arguably man's first, and perhaps greatest, feat of genetic engineering." What is especially comical is the Indians perception of the Europeans, whom they considered to be unintelligent, "weak, sexually untrustworthy, atrociously ugly, and just plain smelly." They couldn't understand the Indians great interest in personal cleanliness.

    Unfortunately, a combination of catastrophic diseases and invaders wiped away most of these Indian societies. In some cases, over 90% of their numbers were erased--and their history and accomplishments as well. Mann provides theories on how and why this occurred. While I found 1491 fascinating, I thought that some sections were a bit dry and too detailed. Still, Mann sets the record straight about this period of time better than any other modern source. In fact, he does much to rectify revisionist history.
    ...more info
  • Oddly interesting
    As previous reviewers have mentioned, this book is organized poorly (although the author notes this in the preface) but in the end it works (kind of). The book details how great civilizations existed in the Americas (focusing on South America, Central America, and the East Cost of the U.S.) prior to their "discovery." The book became frustrating simply due to the amount of material presented (numerous facts began to become blurred). The biggest disappointment of the book is the last chapter. The whole book details how these hierarchical civilizations existed in the Americas with Kings ruling over the people and then the last chapter states that Indians saw themselves equal with any other person. Mann goes on to state how Whites admired this equality and in fact had to make laws keeping Whites from fraternizing with Indians for fear that they would go live with the "heathens." I just don't get it. Mann spends this whole book dispelling all these myths about how Indians were really not sustainable and manipulated their environments (e.g., repeatedly burning the plains in the U.S.) and then concludes with a short chapter saying that Indians were to be admired. In the end, I found this long interesting dense book INCOMPLETE and frustrating. I gathered from the last chapter that the "myths" of Indians were true. Something that Mann does not mention which would provide a connection to his last chapter is this: Disease killed off these great civilizations and while Indians at first were blood-thirsty and greedy for land, once their numbers were reduced and they were subjected to second-class status by the Whites, they became sustainable and kind humans. Of course, this is B.S. but hey, at least I am attempting to explain the gap that Mann determined wasn't worth explaining. I will say that I learned a lot of neat facts from this book, but in the end, I was not satisfied....more info
  • A scholar's commentary
    A scholar's commentary is fine for scholars, however, for those who have explored a bit around the world, there are some tidbits that are useful to me that I had missed in my own journey. By the same token, there are some gross errors, only one or two, but they stand out like sore thumbs.

    Otherwise, the book is put together well, and has lots of information about the various cultures around his part of the world. It is a bit dull to read, but I do not like reading very much, so it is my fault here and not the author's. He really did an excellent job of tying all the information together....more info
  • Very good read
    I enjoyed this book very much. I recently read "The Eternal Frontier" by Tim Flannery and watched Ken Burns' series "The West" on DVDs from a local library. This book was a good next step. Although it did not cover every aspect and every group of the native people in the Americas before Columbus, what was presented was very well done and very interesting to read.

    I think the biggest thing I got out of the book was a new respect for the natives here in the Americas before Columbus. I think the author said something to the effect that, just because people don't have the most advanced technology of the day, doesn't make them stupid. Just because the people of the Americas before Columbus didn't have the metallurgical knowledge or resources available to them, or the domestic animals to help them like the rest of the world, it did not make them any less respectable or intelligent.

    I really liked how the author gathered so much information and did so much research, and then presented his findings and the findings of others without saying "This is how it was!". Sometimes, there isn't enough information available to be able to figure out things with certainty. But, some conclusions can be drawn and that is what the author does. It should also be pointed out that there is a lot of new research being done in the Americas to find out more about what took place here before Columbus. This story is not over.
    ...more info
  • Good book
    The book is very well written. Give yourself plenty of time - not a fast read....more info
  • 1491
    most readable history I have found. When many are dry and difficult to read, this was interesting. really enjoyed this book and the information I gained from it....more info
  • The book was one brilliant epiphany after another.
    I am a professional archaeologist, schooled in anthropology, the study of humans. With 37 years experience I had not expected the mind-altering material that Charles Mann synthesized for this book. The book deals with native cultures of the New World from before and after the arrival of Europeans. He gathers together the most recent discoveries and theories regarding how and why native cultures were essentially overthrown by the invaders from across the Atlantic. He brings in lessons wrought from archaeology, biology, epidemiology, horticulture, history, ethnography, geography, you name it. I blazed through this book and Mann left me wanting more when I was done. This is truly a magnificent work from a leading science journalist....more info
  • Fascinating, clearly written
    Mann writes clearly, even about technical subjects that sometimes need to be introduced. He explains how we know things, and what the controversies are, and what is still very much unresolved although the reader may have felt otherwise (like why the large mammals disappeared in North America, and just when the Indians migrated into the America's). While he wants to give the reader a more positive view of Indian culture and achievements, he does not ignore the bad, but puts it into context. For example, he compares estimates of the number of Triple Alliance (Aztec) sacrificial victims to the number of English executions in 16th century England. He does include more dynastic politics than is necessary (I find them interesting, but ultimately not very valuable to read about, kind of like historical gossip), while not including as much as he could about Indian philosophy and technology. Still, this is a truly fascinating book.

    --------------------Summary -----------------------

    By 2005, when this book was written, there had been dramatic changes in the view of pre-Columbian Indian societies. Population in the America's likely exceeded European population, and farming was widespread, having originated independently in 3 separate areas. In fact the majority of food crops planted today originated in the America's. Life was better for New England Indians than for most Europeans, and certainly they had a much greater sense of individual liberty. Cotton Indian clothing was more comfortable than European clothing, and their armor, in Central and South America, was more functional. It was textile based, and much lighter, if not quite as protective. In the Triple Alliance there was a good deal of philosophical thinking, and rudimentary education was mandatory. South American Indians had frigate sized boats.

    Indians dramatically altered the landscape for farming in various ways. Irrigation and terracing were widespread practices. Artificial mounds and more extensive built up areas were used in floodplains. Fire was used extensively in North America to clear underbrush, and thin out or eliminate trees, and charcoal was used to enrich Amazon soils and prevent loss of water and leaching of minerals. In fact, this recent rediscovery means that the Amazon basin could be used extensively for farming. Indians also controlled populations of such animals as passenger pigeons and buffalo, which is why their numbers increased dramatically when the Indian population of North America declined dramatically.

    European disease wiped out most of the Indians, often preceding the advent of colonists, as the disease was introduced by European traders and spread by Indian traders and war parties. It wasn't just that the Indians had never been subject to these diseases before. Because there had been a population bottleneck (i.e. Indians were descended from a limited number of ancestors who made it to North America), Indians had very similar HLA profiles. HLA's carry viral and bacterial particles to cell surfaces where they are presented to roaming white cells which then destroy the infected cells. However, HLA's can do this only if the particles "fit", and when there is limited HLA variability, it is more likely that no one in the population will have an HLA which will be useful against a new particle.
    ...more info
  • A Masterpiece!
    Way back in 2005, I set out to study American History all over again -- from the beginning, chronologically that is. I launched the effort with 'big history' 65 million years ago with the outstanding "The Eternal Frontier" by Tim Flannery, then followed with another winner, "Facing East from Indian Country" by Daniel Richter. The next one was still another superlative title, "American Colonies" by Alan Taylor. I was all set to move on to the French & Indian Wars when I stumbled upon "1491" by Charles Mann.

    Everything suddenly came to a screeching halt as I literally inhaled this masterpiece of multi-disciplinary scholarship on the pre-Columbian Americas, and I realized I needed a long pause and lot more study before I abandoned the early period of American history and moved on.

    Mann successfully integrates and synthesizes all the latest research and findings from historical sources as well a wide range of archaeological, anthropological, linguistic and -- well, you pick a field and Mann has consulted it -- and successfully wraps his narrative around it. Mann virtually rediscovers the lost world of Mesoamerican, Andean and other pre-Columbian societies, bringing a new and crisper focus to the more familiar "high civilizations" of the Aztecs and the Incas, and -- more critically -- rescuing from the dustbin of pre-history less well-known and perhaps less advanced cultures that were nonetheless more than the equal in many ways to their European counterparts who supplanted them. He challenges the customary assumptions that most of the pre-contact population beyond the golden cities was primitive and made little impact upon their respective environments.

    With a narrative gift that is never tedious despite the complexity and detail of the material he discusses, Mann delivers nothing less than a tour-de-force of history told from a perspective long overlooked, a fascinating account of a thriving and successful population much larger than once assumed, decimated primarily by devastating plagues from across the sea they could never have anticipated or countered.

    Readers will walk away from this book breathless from what they have encountered and absorbed. I award "1491" five stars because it is unique - like such other masterworks as Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs & Steel" and Nicholas Wade's "Before the Dawn" - in literally provoking entirely new perspectives in otherwise familiar territory. I award "1491" my very highest recommendation for all students of history, especially those who seek to better understand the Americas prior to European contact.
    ...more info
  • Great Writing, and Great Science
    Charles C. Mann does a beautiful job of discussing all the latest scientific discoveries and debates relating to the Americas before the arrival of Europeans. Reading this book has completely changed my understand of American history and the way scientists deal with new information and formulate new theories....more info
  • A piece of Historical REALITY!
    Critics can, "shoot thier cannons from a canoe"! Fact is, this book comes closer to anything most U.S. High Schools have taught and still teach! Yes, sad and condecending to "Native Americans"! A book that's fascinating and yet not so detailed as to bore the general reader. Thanks Charles;Judging by many of the artifacts found throughout North and South America, Copper, Stone spearpoints, (Hixton solicified sandstone), Effigy Mounds, Red Ocher sand,Cahokia, Aztalan, to the evidence of wide spread trading, etc etc. I myself always knew. If someone would have "parachuted" and landed in my area of where I live (Central Wisconsin), 2000 yrs. ago. That "someone" would have been seen. The only thing that gets me wondering is. Why didn't the population from a metallargical point of view, advance further. They went from stone to copper and back to stone again.......?...more info
  • New Ideas New Data
    You should read this book in conjunction with German Arcineagas' "America in Europe"; Tom Dillehay's "Settlement of the Americas"; Kirkpatrick Sale's "Conquest of Paradise"; Barry Fell's "America BC"; Wm. McNeill's "Plagues and Peoples".

    Mr Mann's "1491" takes a place among these references. Read it and get up to date.

    P.S. What happened to the "insert product" link? ...more info
  • The Essence of Jared Diamond Strictly for the Americas
    Mann's purpose of writing 1491, is to refute the "Pristine Myth." This is basically the belief that the Americas were a virgin, sparsely inhabited land, in which its few inhabitants had little effect on the environment. Mann tremendously argues against this with impervious evidence.

    Mann walks the reader through a time in the Americas that was free from European monstrosities. The Hopewell Culture, the Inca, Maya, Aztec, Clovis Culture, the Olmec, and many more Indian cultures are discussed by Mann in grave detail. Mann also entertains the reader by describing different explorers such as Pizarro, De Soto, and John Smith and the devastating effects they caused. Mann also writes of interesting facts that are a joy to share with friends, such as the purpose of the wheel in Mesoamerica (can be found in Guns, Germs, and Steel) or the destruction passenger pigeons can cause.

    I do suggest that you take your time reading this book. At times I had difficulty keeping things straight. Other than that, this is an amazing read that contains priceless knowledge....more info
  • Very good read
    I enjoyed this book very much. I recently read "The Eternal Frontier" by Tim Flannery and watched Ken Burns' series "The West" on DVDs from a local library. This book was a good next step. Although it did not cover every aspect and every group of the native people in the Americas before Columbus, what was presented was very well done and very interesting to read.

    I think the biggest thing I got out of the book was a new respect for the natives here in the Americas before Columbus. I think the author said something to the effect that, just because people don't have the most advanced technology of the day, doesn't make them stupid. Just because the people of the Americas before Columbus didn't have the metallurgical knowledge or resources available to them, or the domestic animals to help them like the rest of the world, it did not make them any less respectable or intelligent.

    I really liked how the author gathered so much information and did so much research, and then presented his findings and the findings of others without saying "This is how it was!". Sometimes, there isn't enough information available to be able to figure out things with certainty. But, some conclusions can be drawn and that is what the author does. It should also be pointed out that there is a lot of new research being done in the Americas to find out more about what took place here before Columbus. This story is not over.
    ...more info
  • text book
    This is a text book for a history class I'm taking in college. Good price....more info
  • Intriguing but very disorganized
    I experienced this book in audio format and had quite a bit of difficulty following any sort of logical thread; so much so that I wondered about the viability of audio (something I've only recently started dealing with). It was therefore comforting to see so many other reviewers commenting on disorganization. Apparently, it's the work itself, not the format.

    That's a shame. The topic is a fascinating one. I wish it had been more cogently presented. At this point in time, I would say Jared Diamond is still the author to read if you are interested in this field. It appears that 1491 aspires to stand next to it, and might have succeeded with better editing. But as it stands now, it doesn't work....more info
  • 1421 or 1491, Which to Read?
    Having just recently completed 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, I decided to compare it to 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies. The main point of 1491 is that the Americas, North, Central and South, were settled much earlier than we have been led to believe and that there was a very significant population of advanced cultures spread across the Americas. The author, Charles Mann, relies on various recent findings in archaeology, paleontology and genetics along with his own personal travels and historical first hand accounts to establish that there was a very large population of indigenous Americans present before the Europeans. These cultures had languages, complex agriculture, calendars and massive public works projects developed independently of Euro-Asian influences. His premise is that the very first contacts with Europeans led to the transfer of diseases such as small pox, measles and yellow fever to native americans, with devastating effects. The result, the sparsely populated continents the latter waves of European settlers experienced was actually the result of their own contact. By comparison, 1421 has its premise that a great Chinese fleet that sailed in the early 1400's actually covered all of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, making contact with many different cultures and establishing colonies. Unfortunately, and conveniently for Menzies, nearly all of the records of these accomplishments were destroyed during subsequent politcal upheaval. The difference between 1421 and 1491 is that Menzies spins a very good, even interesting tail, but provides very little in the way of scientific citations to backup his claims. For those who find 1491 interesting additional reading should include Genes, Peoples, and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavali-Sforza, The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes and The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey by Spencer Wells. ...more info
  • Illuminating
    I have read through many of the reviews that others have left, and come to the decision that this book is probably more for the amateur historian. That being said, I found it absolutely illuminating. If your main source of information about the Americas, is from your high school years or earlier (like me), this book should be quite interesting. It throws all the old teachings out the window for the most part. It does jump around quite a bit. I need to read it again, to get a better grasp of it. Imagine trying to cram, a comprehensive summary of all the Egyptian dynasties, Roman rulers, and all the European nations rulers for a couple thousand years, into one little book. Then add to that, an all encompassing account of their cultures, communities, sociology, politics, technology, etc. Very educated people spend lifetimes on these subjects, and can not know it all. Don't expect this book to have it all. But it is entertaining. It does cause a lay person to question the old and want to explore more information! As others have pointed out, it is not strictly pre-Columbus landing. As a matter of a fact there is a lot of information about Indian/English interaction. It doesn't detract from the book in my opinion. Especially if you're tired of being force fed the "winners" version of history, and want a different take on things. If you want a "text book" cronological, layout of pre-columbian history, this will probably be disappointing. If you want a "good read" that you can learn something from, give it a try. History books shouldn't put people to sleep....they should inspire them to want to learn more ! I really enjoyed this book!...more info
  • Great History
    If you have not researched Western Hemisphere history in decades, as I had not, this is an EXCELLENT start. It made me continue to look into other sources and introduced me to many things I was not aware of. Having studied American Archeology in college a few decades back, I was surprised at the new information....more info