Monday, January 07, 2008


As part of the Back to History Challenge, I am reading Charles Mann's 1491. His goal is to popularize new ideas about pre-Columbian America, including how many people lived here, the extent of cultural depth and diversity, when people got here and how they interacted with the environment. So far (50% through) he succeeds wonderfully.

I think people stay away from new subjects, especially history, because they don't want to feel stupid. Any new subject is difficult, but when you are asked to learn about different political, economic and political systems and the various key personalities, it can be daunting. Mann avoids this pitfall by writing about themes and global concepts. He doesn't ignore particular information, but he doesn't overload it either, making it easy to digest.

If you would like a taste of this excellent book, read the Atlantic article that served as the launching point for it. He lays out his major ideas here. You can see if they interest you and if you like his prose style, which I suspect you will.

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