‘1491’ by Charles C. Mann

Disease casts a long shadow over the Americas. From North to South America the populations of Native Americans were wiped out with the introduction of diseases like Smallpox. This nonfiction book is an account of modern knowledge of the state of the Americas before the Conquistadors and Pilgrims brought disease to the Americas, what happened when those diseases came, and the fallout afterwards.

Before the European colonists arrived, Native Americans lived in some of the largest, cleanest cities in the entire world. As an example, Mexico City, (at the time Tenotchlan) might have been the largest city on the planet at the time when the Conquistadors and their native allies destroyed it.

Europeans might not have ever conquered the Western Hemisphere had disease not killed off between 50%-90% of the native population. The author of this book points out that when the natives were at the height of their power, the English and Spaniards were only able to gain military victories when they formed alliances with other natives and used infighting to their advantage. The Europeans leveraged their horses, steel and guns to win individual battles, but were gradually losing the war as they lost more soldiers than they could replace.

But disease did come. America’s natives had a twofold disadvantage to the coming of disease. First, the natives had never been exposed to the Eastern Hemisphere’s diseases, and thus had no immunity to them. Second, the author explains how the genetic bottleneck caused by the Western Hemisphere’s small founding population caused a reduced range of immune responses in the locals. These two disadvantages, when combined together, caused that 50%-90% mortality. Modern anthropological science suggests that the populations of Meso-America and parts of South America only rebounded to Pre-Columbus eras as late as the 1960’s.

And that’s only the first half of the book. The other half talks about daily life in pre-Columbian America, as much as the author could in such a short book about such an unknown topic. The author also talks about early American empires, like the Maya, the Aztec, Kohokia, Toltecs and more. It was really quite good.


STARS: 4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 stars=perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended)

GRADE: A Well-written account of the pre-Columbus era of the Americas. Highly readable and informative. I do suggest that you read this if you have even a passing interest.

Overall Rating: Highly Recommended (How I Rate Books)


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Genres/Tagwords: History, Nonfiction,

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