Wednesday, January 22, 2014

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (review by Andrew R. '17)

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

1491 is not for everyone. An ambitious outline of Native American history and accomplishments before Columbus’s landing, it intentionally lacks any hint of characters or plot. Instead, sandwiched between 200 pages of introductions, conclusions, and appendices is a dense pile of evidence and analysis, all supporting a single thesis: that Native American societies were bigger, older, and more complex than historians once thought. And Mann proves his point beyond a shadow of a doubt, citing legions of professors, archaeologists, anthropologists, and even a few botanists whose opinions match his own. So 1491’s problem is not one of credibility—the challenge with this book is that very few readers will feel interested enough to slog all the way through it. Occasional anecdotes about historical figures like Tisquantum, the so-called “Friendly Indian” from the Pilgrim legends, add some engaging material, but these are so few and far between that there can’t be more than six or seven of them in the entire tome. I would only recommend 1491 to readers with lots of free time and long attention spans. Although I can’t deny the educational value of this book, I don’t intend to take on Mann’s companion work, 1493. – Andrew R. ‘17

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