My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was dense in detail but fascinating. Mann surveys traditional views of pre-contact Americas and shows how recent scholarship has undermined some and challenged others. Several are still unresolved, giving scholars more research to do.
It begins quite slowly, but for me became fascinating in the later 2/3 with the discussion of when and how the first peoples entered via the Bering Straits. Among other things, research has challenged there ever being a narrow window when there was a path between glaciers for them to traverse. Also the date has been pushed back and the three migrations questioned.
The biggest revision is the shift from natives who didn’t disturb nature to natives who farmed and tamed nature to their needs, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Another revision is the sophistication of civilization achieved. I was also interested in discussions of writing, especially the group who used knots on string, not as mnemonics, but as stories, in a binary system.
The first time history is given, the traditional view was stated more or less as fact with a “gotcha” and introduction of challenges to follow. Gradually the cues that a view was going to be questioned improved.
And the ending sets up the follow-up book, 1493, which I have requested from the library.