Strong opinions, weakly held

Great reads of 2013: 1491

I’m going through some of my favorite long reads from 2013 that I didn’t get around to blogging at the time I read them.

My first pick is actually not from 2013, it’s from 2002, but I happened to read it this year. Furthermore, it was later expanded into a book that was published in 2006. I plan to read it in 2014. The book and the article, written by Charles C. Mann, are both entitled 1491. Mann’s argument is revisionist history at its best, and I mean that as a compliment.

From both school and popular culture, I learned that the Americas were a sparsely populated pristine wilderness, largely unsullied by human impact. Mann sets out to demolish that narrative. His argument is that the evidence points to pre-Columbian America being far more densely populated than we’ve been taught, and the landscape having been heavily shaped by human habitation. The America encountered by later colonists had been depopulated thanks to pathogens carried by earlier European voyages, and was in transition due to the near-extinction of its keystone species–native Americans.

1491 is probably the most interesting thing I read in 2013.


  1. fascinating read, and a usefull pushback against the set of engrained assumptions that underpin most the western education system’s coverage of the settling of the americas

  2. Great choice – one of my favorite history books, both for the content itself and the reminder to be skeptical about simple narratives which portray people in the past as simpler than now.

    1493 is also great, although for different reasons: it explains how our world came to be and how the different paths various nations went down were connected.

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