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.