Archive for October 8th, 2012

1491In honor of Columbus Day, I am presenting a special edition of my “Weekly Read” series to talk about two of the best books on the history of the continental Americas I have ever read. The books, both by author Charles C. Mann, focus on what the “New World” was like before Columbus (1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus) and after Columbus (1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created) respectively.

In these two stunning books, Mr. Mann covers the territory that you think you know – like the introduction of European diseases to the Americas to the introduction of native American plants to Europe and then some. The picture painted of the pre-Columbian Americas is truly a revelation allowing the full extent of the impact of exploration of the New World by Europeans can be appreciated anew.

About 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann: “In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this is a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.”

1493As great as 1491 is, Mr. Mann’s follow-up, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, is even more riveting as the case is made for the roots of a true global economy that we are still coming to terms with today.

About 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann: “A deeply engaging new history of how European settlements in the post-Colombian Americas shaped the world, from the bestselling author of 1491. Presenting the latest research by biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians, Mann shows how the post-Columbian network of ecological and economic exchange fostered the rise of Europe, devastated imperial China, convulsed Africa, and for two centuries made Mexico City—where Asia, Europe, and the new frontier of the Americas dynamically interacted—the center of the world. In this history, Mann uncovers the germ of today’s fiercest political disputes, from immigration to trade policy to culture wars. In 1493, Mann has again given readers an eye-opening scientific interpretation of our past, unequaled in its authority and fascination.”

These two books are great reads and Mr. Mann presents the materials in an accessible and informational manner. After reading these books back-to-back, I am left in awe of what has changed in the past 500 years by the travels of mankind – a relatively short period of time. The exchange of animals, vegetables and minerals from one side of the earth to the other over time has changed the entire course of our existence in ways that took millennia before. That’s not a political statement, just an observation and it is through great works like these two books by Mr. Mann that help us process and contextualize it all – like good books can do.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann is also available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

Thanks for discovering us Mr. Columbus!