The Inka were largely ignored because the entire continent of South America was largely ignored.

14911491 : New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

By Charles C. Mann


541 Pages


In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.

Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.


Did you ever sit in a history class and wonder why everything happened in Europe or Asia? Why civilizations grew there, why all of the most ancient of things seemed to come from there? What about the Americas? Were they really a backwater wilderness until Europeans arrived? Why were the natives so primitive in comparison?

This book tries to answer all of those questions and more, and not in the direct way that you might think. You see, many of those assumptions are themselves wrong, because for centuries the Americas were ignored by archaeology almost completely. When at last a scholarly eye turned to the western hemisphere, it was discovered that the landmasses were anything but uncivilized. In a comprehensive look at both North and South America, Charles C. Mann describes the massive city centers that grew from Cahokia to Qosqo, the trade networks and cultural empires that history books have ignored, and the elaborate technologies and innovations that early Americans used to shape the world around them. It also explains the theories on why they did not last, most notably the spread of disease due to isolation and genetic bottlenecks.

I could make this review nothing but a gigantic bullet-pointed list of everything I found particularly interesting, but that would ruin the fun for you! If you’ve ever had questions about the Inka, the Maya, about the Indians of the American Northeast, take a look at this book. It summarizes, based on decades worth of research from scholars around the world, that the Americas were far from an empty, untouched wilderness. They were home to some of the largest, and oldest city centers in the world, responsible for terraforming the wilderness around them. It filled in so many blanks for me, and answered questions that I had never even though to ask.

My only complaints are that the writing can be a tad scattered at times. Additionally, some of that claims are (as the author even admits) disputed, and may likely never been indisputably confirmed. At any rate, this was a fascinating read, and I fully intend on picking up the follow up, 1493.