Rarely have two books had such an influence on my understanding of the New World prior to 1492 and my understanding of the world post 1492. OK, I’m a history geek, but these two books, 1491 and 1493, both written by Charles C. Mann, a journalist, not a historian, are readable, captivating and will expand the boundaries of how you think about many “assumed truths”.
Here are the complete titles:
1491: New Revelations of the America before Columbus
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
Don’t purchase or read these books on an electronic reader. They are heavily annotated, have maps and photos, none of which do well on an electronic reader. You need to be able to flip around in the books at will. 1491 has a revised paperback edition published by Vintage in 2006. This is the one to read as Mann was able to make corrections and add newer research to this edition.
Ed and I were fortunate to travel to Peru in 2013. I knew virtually nothing about Peru’s history except Incas, Pizarro, guano, pisco and rape of the jungle. Oh, does 1491 fill in the gaps of the Indian civilizations. Not just in Peru, but Cahokia, IL, the eastern seaboard of North America, and, most amazingly the many thriving civilization in MesoAmerica, the lower part of Mexico. The images that we have from our history books are of Indian cultures that were initially passive, static, easily enslaved or just pushed out of the way. By going back in archeological history, long before we were taught there were settlements in North and South America, Mann constructs portraits of highly civilized, vibrant cultures with huge cities (Teotihuacan, aka Mexico City, may have been the largest city in the world at its height of power.) He reconstructs the agriculture necessary to feed the citizens and the agricultural acumen necessary to develop maize, the most influential crop in the world. The skills needed to develop strains of potatoes and grain that would grow in high and low altitudes, etc. etc.
And what decimated the Indian cultures was a combination of wars among various groups, climate changes that led to drought and starvation and ultimately the diseases brought by the Europeans. But, the Indians as a whole were in a severe population decline before the advent of Columbus.
1493 illustrates the impact of Columbus’ landing and introduction of New World crops to Europe and beyond as the seminal event in the redevelopment of the Old World and the East. Moreover, the looting of Indian wealth brought to Europe untold riches that enabled them to prosper beyond their wildest imaginations – and with practically no investment of labor or capital. I could go on and on, but read for yourself and enjoy a much more comprehensive understanding of the impact of Christopher Columbus on the world.