One of the more eye opening books I have read in years is 1491 by Charles Mann. It is the history of pre-Columbian America that tells a story of advanced cultures and technologies unique to the Native American nations.
The insight that caught my attention was the fact that the time between the first European contacts and the first permanent European settlements was over 100 years (roughly 6 generations). During that time anywhere from 50 to 90% of the native population had been killed or, more commonly, died of European diseases. The peoples that the earliest colonist encountered were but a pale shadow of the nations of people that had populated the Americas a mere 100 years earlier.
Those encounters indelibly etched the Euro-American’s image of the Native Americans. The portrait was that of a primitive people with only the beginnings of culture and an uneventful history rather than the frayed remnants of once strong nations with highly developed, well organised cultures and a rich history.
The book is extremely well documented with an extensive bibliography and it covers not just culture and history but also geology, biology, medicine, agriculture and more – all relevant to the understanding to the pre-Columbian peoples.
This is a history you never got in American History classes – I highly recommend it – 5 stars out of 5.

Tags: American, Native, history

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Thanks for the great report. I'll check it out.
Winter reading!
Nano told me about this book, I believe. I just listened to it on CD last month. Of course, listening to a book like that on CD means I miss bits and pieces here and there, but I got most of it. It is somewhat bland in writing style (as most academic books are), but it was very comprehensive. Over the years I have especially liked learning about Meso-American history: the Aztecs, the Maya, the Toltecs, and the Inca in South America, too. I probably paid closer attention to these parts of the book, and less attention to the chapters on North American history, I will have to confess. But like Carver, I will recommend this book, too. This is not the history you learned in school. The peoples of North, Central, and South America were much more advanced and populous than history recorded.
Dallas,
I’m fascinated by the Meso-American and So. American cultures as well, despite the brutality of some of their practices. It was no more extreme than that of the Europeans of the time and the fact that both cultures practiced their brutality in the name of their gods gives them a sort of moral equivalency – equally disgusting.
We know more about the Aztec (or Mextica, Triple Alliance) and Inca cultures, of course, as the height of their culture coincided with first European contact (lucky them). We know less about the Mayan and very little of the Toltec, Olmec and early South American cultures.
Contributing the paucity of knowledge about Meso-America was the destruction of almost the entire codex of the Mayans and Aztecs by the Catholic Church (they couldn’t understand them so they were obviously the work of Satan) – another triumph for Jeebus.
The codex was written in one of the 5 or 6 original written languages, originating in: Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, The Levant, Meso-America and, possibly, Easter Island. More conservative views contend there were only 3 origins: Mesopotamia, China and Meso-America.
One of the funnier episodes was when the Aztec delegation first met with Cortez; the Spaniards thought they were honoring them because they used incense braziers like the Catholic priests did. Except the incense was used because the Spaniards reeked like billy goats as they believed bathing foiled their soul (or some such religious bullshit), where as the Aztecs bathed daily and placed a high value on cleanliness - they found the Spaniards to be disgusting.
One 'American' nation I'd like to know more about are the Tlaxcalan. When I was young I read an account of Cortés' Mexican conquest, that referred to them as 'the Republic of Tlaxcala'. The first republic in the New World ever? I find that fascinating.

Yet, compared to the Aztecs, Toltecs, Olmecs, Mayas, and Incas they seem to have faded into near-complete obscurity. Most think that Cortés single-handedly defeated Moctezuma 100,000-strong army at Tenochtitlan with about 100 times less men, supplemented with a few cannons and horses. They seem to completely ignore the Tlaxcalan, who sent enough support to match the Aztecs in sheer numbers.
I’m fascinated by the Meso-American and So. American cultures as well, despite the brutality of some of their practices.

But that is what makes it interesting. It they were peace-loving farmers they wouldn't be quite so interesting. I have no difficulty distinguishing bad from good in most cases, but let's face it, bad is more interesting than good. Sure, it was barbaric, and they victimized a lot of people, but that is what captivates the worlds imagination. It's schadenfreude.

We know less about the Mayan and very little of the Toltec, Olmec and early South American cultures.

Watch the four-part DVD, In Pursuit of the Jaguar. I found it interesting.

...was the destruction of almost the entire codex of the Mayans and Aztecs by the Catholic Church

Makes me so damn mad! Another reason to hate the xtians.

The codex was written in one of the 5 or 6 original written languages...

Are you sure about that? Also, see this.

...where as the Aztecs bathed daily and placed a high value on cleanliness - they found the Spaniards to be disgusting.

Same with the Japanese. They were very clean compared to the Portuguese imperialists.
And let's not forget that the Muslims said the same about European crusaders.
I guess the whole world thought the Europeans stank.
'cept the Mongols. Both Pian del Carpine and Rubruck reported the hideous stench of their hosts in Karakorum.
That was probably due to all the yak milk or something. Didn't they drink yak milk? Or was it horse milk?
Mare milk (kumiss or airak). They used to place big jars of milk near the entrance of their tents, and visitors were expected to spit in them to help with the milk's fermentation. It was considered an offence not to spit voluntarily (I can't remember where I got these details from, maybe it's only a legend).
The codex was written in one of the 5 or 6 original written languages... Are you sure about that?
Not being an expert in the field I can only comment on what I read or got out my ancient history notes (which are themselves ancient). Jared Diamond said there are 5 and possible 6 origins, (Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, The Levant, Meso-America and possibly Easter Island) whereas, my notes claim only 3 (Mesopotamia, China and Meso-America.) Egyptian hieroglyphics were influenced by the Sumerian hieroglyphics and Proto-Canaanite (Phoenician) was directly influenced by latter forms of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Easter Island hieroglyphics, called Rongo Rongo have not been translated and the origin is unknown.
The Meso-American written languages all derived from Tzapotecan which evolved independently.
Well, if anyone would know, it would be Diamond. However, what strikes me as odd is that these cultures--if they did diverge from one another--diverged so long ago that is seems improbable to me that much of anything shared any common origins. Does that make sense?

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