Okay, I don't usually write about the books I'm reading. I don't like to write reviews: usually I think that I may read in too idiosyncratic a way to appeal to others, or that if I like a book/author I overlook terribly obvious flaws, or that I just can't summarize in a way that does justice to the material. And probably a hundred other reasons.
The book sets out to apprise us lay readers of all the surprising finds about the pre-Columbus New World. Many of the finds remain controversial, as Mann points out, but all are extremely provocative and evocative.
Old narratives about the conquest of the Incas are challenged. New evidence is presented that it was not armor, horses, and guns that defeated the Inca, but epidemics (and certain social forces). There is evidence that the population of the Americas was far, far higher than previously thought. Technologies dismissed as being not as sophisticated as European technology are shown to be otherwise. Pocohontas and Squanto weren't their real names. And that's just in the first 100 pages!
The auther does not claim that all of the newly unearthed and debated evidence is agreed upon. But to me, that makes the book all the more compelling. The reader is forced to confront his or her own prejudices about native peoples--prejuduces surely validated and promoted by public schooling--and to examine previously held beliefs about pre-Columbian (and that's a damned Eurocentric label itself) societies in the light of recent decades of excavation, analysis, and interpretation of those who inhabited North, Central, and South America before Europeans invaded.
This is a must for anyone curious about the lay of the land in the Americas prior to the advent of European colonization. I have been delighted and surprised so far, and I bet most of those who read this blog would be as well. (If any readers have read or started this book, I would love your comments!)