Charles C. Mann has released a version of his adult book, 1491, for younger readers, and in doing so has made his remarkable research accessible to an even wider audience. Never talking down to his reader, Mann discusses many of the civilizations living in the Americas long before the European explorers arrived.
In the first of three sections, he relates recent archeological findings indicating that people were thriving in complex societies, building enormous structures, and genetically modifying grain to become maize, up to 13,000 years ago or more. The second section explores the mystery of how so few Europeans could have conquered the large indigenous populations they encountered. Finally, Mann blasts the romantic myth that Native Americans lived in harmony with nature; in fact, they manipulated their environment to suit their needs. Slash-and-burn methods cleared the way for fields of maize, man-made canals brought needed water to those fields, and nut and fruit trees were deliberately planted in groves for easy harvesting.
Mann deftly inserts little-known facts in the text and in sidebars on nearly every page. For instance, on page 47 he notes “More writings survive in Nahuatl, the language of the Triple Alliance [Aztec], than in the language of the famous Greek thinkers of the ancient world” thanks to a mandatory education program for every male citizen.
Not only is this book a writing triumph, it is a visual treat as well. Page layouts are attractive, with wide white space bordering the text, colorful sidebars with eye-catching fonts and textural backgrounds, breathtaking photos of landscape and artifacts, reproductions of historical drawings and photos, and plenty of clutter-free maps to help readers orient themselves.
Although Mann intended this book for a younger audience, adults may find it hard to pass up. Recommend this to middle and high school students who love archeology and history, or to their teachers! 117 pages
Reviewed by Jane BehrensTeacher, Librarian, Iowa