This is a marvelous book. Charles Mann is a journalist who writes with extreme care for his subject matter: the emerging histories of north and south American Indians. This is the sort of book everyone will enjoy and would make a very good text for teaching an introduction to precontact indian history at the high school level. Everything we thought we knew is reviewed and often shattered by recent research into these cultures. Mann limits himself to several prominent peoples and their influence on the rise of complex societies in the new world. It will open your eyes and provide for much heated and interesting discussion....Continua
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....Continua
Charles Mann summarises the current (2005) state of our knowledge of pre-Columbian societies in the Americas. He does so very much in the style of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, including as many items from biology and ecology, as from archeology or written records....Continua