Book Recommendation: 1491, Charles C. Mann, Part 2

A part of the Amazon rainforest; possibly a man-made environment.
A part of the Amazon rainforest; possibly a man-made environment.

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be the second part of the earlier recommendation for 1491, by Charles C. Mann. Having now finished the book, I can state with certainty that it is very enjoyable; not only does it cover aspects of history which do not often get their due share of attention, but many of the theories it discusses are eye-opening in their nature and scope. The second half of the book deals primarily with the impact Native American societies had on the continents which they inhabited, and devotes a good deal of its energy to debunking the idea that they were living in an eternal state, in tune with nature and exercising as little of an effect as possible on their environment. Instead, Mann states (through the army of anthropologists, historians, archeologists, biologists, and others who he has interviewed for this book) that societies from the Amazon to New Hampshire had spent millennia perfecting the environment in which they lived; what the early European visitors to the continents believed was untouched nature was more of a “vast garden”, in the words of Mann, meticulously sculpted over the centuries. These theories form a wonderful tapestry which ties together the secondĀ  half of Mann’s work.

The Amazon is one of the key settings for the theories on which Mann expounds. Rather than the untouched Eden it is commonly perceived as, Mann states, it was systematically terraformed by its Native American inhabitants; every aspect of the forest, from the common species of trees to the soil itself, was touched by their influence. Much of the forest became, in this way, one vast orchard; fruit can today be plucked easily from trees not because this was the natural state of the forest, but rather because a great deal of effort was taken to ensure it wound up this way. Taken together, Mann points out that these theories may mean the Amazon had a much larger population than is often believed to have been the case; some areas in the Western Amazon, Mann states, may have supported among the largest populations in the world in the centuries before the arrival of Columbus. But Mann’s research isn’t limited to South America in the second half of the book; he also examines the “keystone” role played by the Native Americans in North America, and discusses the possibility that many of the populous species reported by the early settlers- from passenger pigeons to bison- exploded in population only after the disintegration of the Native American societies which had previously kept them in check. Such theories have fascinating repercussions for a variety of topics, not least among them our relation with nature today.

These are just some examples of the fascinating theories contained in the second half of this book, but hopefully the point has been made. 1491 is a thoroughly interesting read, and one that I cannot recommend strongly enough; particularly if you have no previous knowledge of the history of the Americas, this book will be of immense benefit. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a wonderful day.

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