1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Razib Khan | May 23, 2011 12:05 am

For obvious reasons I don’t usually post about material I haven’t read, but Tyler Cowen points me to the fact that Charles C. Mann has a new book coming out this summer. If you haven’t, I would highly recommend his previous book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. I think it is correct that Mann probably skewed his narrative a bit too much to the revisionist side, but it is a genuinely revelatory work.* I was aware of the broad outlines already, so it wasn’t surprising, but he marshals the data in a fascinating and engaging manner. The new book is apparently a sequel of sorts, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. Cowen says “I am spellbound reading it, it will be one of the best books of this year, and, although I know this area somewhat, I am learning fascinating information on literally every page.” I suspect that what occurred in the New World after 1492 is actually an amplified version of what occurred across much of the Old World over the past 10,000 years, with the rise of massive agglomerations of humanity due to agriculture.

In other news, malnourished children apparently had mortality rates of 40% due to measles!.

* There is a lot of politics you have to navigate on this topic, from all directions.

  • http://infoproc.blogspot.com steve hsu

    I haven’t read 1491 but your post and Cowen’s piqued my interest.

    However, these 1 star Amazon reviews seem to be written by well-informed people:


  • dave chamberlin

    Amazon reviews are often helpful, but it needs to be pointed out that there are 157 five star reviews to only 12 one star reviews. I loved his first book and will snap this one up. Sometimes Charles Mann leans a bit too heavy on we are all completely equal propaganda, but I think he is a top notch writer and historian. Books as good as 1491 are far and few between.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #1, i didn’t get that from the book. but then again, i have a tendency to focus on facts and notations. i might not recommend mann’s work if you’ve *never* read a book in this area…but it’s a great bibliography.

  • Ian

    Then I will have to look up 1491 (and probably 1493, once it comes out).

  • syon

    Michael Coe on some of the deficiencies of 1491:

    “It must be remembered that Mann is a journalist, and an advocate journalist at that. This leads him to make claims that may be overenthusiastic, for surely the South American forest that we see now (or what remains of it) cannot have been totally managed by humans, nor were Indians of the hemisphere always winners in managing their environment—there are abundant data to show that the Classic Maya greatly overexploited theirs, leading to the great collapse of the 9th century a.d. Mann also has a tendency to believe the last scholar he interviewed. Regarding Mesoamerica, he entirely accepts the downgrading of the Olmec from their status as the earliest civilization and mother culture of Mesoamerica to being just one of a number of “sister cultures.” But few specialists who have actually excavated Olmec sites (including me) would agree with this. Likewise, he uncritically believes that the so-called “epi-Olmec” script of southern Veracruz has been deciphered, a view that most Mesoamerican epigraphers have, in fact, rejected.”

  • syon

    Re: Michael Coe’s review 1491

    Should add that these criticisms were surrounded by a lot of praise as well.

  • http://charlesmann.org Charles Mann

    Hi, this is from Charles Mann. Thanks for the kind words.

    I wanted to add something about Michael Coe, a wonderful scholar and a good guy, to put his criticism into context. There’s a dispute among Mesoamerican scholars about whether the Olmec (the people whom Coe studied most and did pathbreaking work on) were the wellspring of all the complex societies there that followed, or if they were merely the most important of a group of mutually interacting societies. These are known respectively as the “mother culture” (an argument associated prominently with Coe) and “sister cultures” (associated prominently with Joyce Marcus) hypotheses. In my book, I described both hypotheses — I think Michael would say I did so fairly — but plumped, towards the end, for the sister-cultures view for reasons that I explain in the book. Then I wrote, “By making this argument, … as one mother-culture advocate put it, I am ‘swallowing Marcus’s [nonsense] whole.’ He may be right.”

    Anyway: this is what Coe was talking about the end of his review — he was criticizing me (maybe rightly!) for taking up the other side in a debate in which he had played a big part.

    While I’m at it, the rest of the review was very fair, I thought, although I guess I would disagree that I said that native people are were “always winners in managing their environment”. I devoted a lot of time (it seemed to me) to case studies like Cahokia, in which they blew it.

    Charles Mann

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    although I guess I would disagree that I said that native people are were “always winners in managing their environment”

    yeah. i didn’t get that at all. if it’s an impression, it isn’t what i got (other amazon low star reviewers said the same, so who knows)?

  • Pingback: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created – Discover Magazine (blog)()

  • http://ecophysio.fieldofscience.com/ EcoPhysioMichelle

    yes yes yes yes yes


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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