Review: 1491 by Charles C. Mann

December 30, 2006 at 2:21 pm Leave a comment

I had some memorable semi-epic lines laid out for my review of Charles C. Mann’s 1491, but as someone who has only recently discovered xenophobia and it’s joys reading a book about a distant culture and it’s achievements naturally made me feel great. While my inner xenophobia has generally not been taken fearful of American Indians 1491, at the very least, points to what’s wrong with the assumptions of those often in control, we forget that the other has a life too. 1491 consists of a series of semi-histories intended to summarize research on the North American Indians, The South American groups of Mexico and Peru and finally the Amazonian folks. What it shows is what we should naturally assume about any group, that were using their environment and pursuing pathways that often showed quite a bit of ingenuity. Perhaps most impressively, Amazonian Natives developed a form of fertilizer from charcoal and silt that managed to turn rainforest’s clay into farm able land while supplanting the rainforest’s natural plants orchards of cultivated trees and the occasional forest pathway. The multiple cultures of upper Amazonian to Middle America I was already familiar with their invention of zero, pyramids, and other things, but still reading about bolos and other things does make you aware of just how quickly folks have developed different strategies and employed them to good use. What Mann suggests towards the end is inline with contemporary academias ideas over the past 50 or so years, that the world doesn’t work in linear lines of developments, but clusters of blossoming that ultimately lead up to innovations. Hence it is possible the Native Americans didn’t lose their lands to technological unsophistication or cultural “backwardness” but instead of a lack of immunity to diseases and perhaps more likely a feeling that perhaps they could get along with the Europeans coming over the seas. Every story is more compliacted than it first appears, but Manns book isn’t one intended to counter racism (after all I’ve never even heard a genetic arguement about native americans floated in the U.S.)  but to make us aware of the realities of current anthropology and to remind us of the remarkable additions they made to world culture as a whole (corn, beans, and squash) and finally to point to their own innovations (the great alliance of North American Indians was a somewhat democratic enterprise). Perhaps if I wasn’t terribly xenophobic these days, I would have read this as a summary of anthropology these days, but as it stands it’s a good book and a rather interesting taken on what were some truly interesting cultures.

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Entry filed under: media.

Koki Tanaka Everything is Everything links for 2007-01-01

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