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Denis Benchimol Minev "Amazonia" (Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil)

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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Vintage)
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Vintage)
by Charles C. Mann
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.21

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WELL WRITTEN SUMMARY OF RECENT SCHOLARSHIP ON OCCUPATION OF THE AMERICAS BEFORE COLUMBUS, 2 Oct 2006
There has been much scholarly discussion over the years about pre-Columbian societies in the Americas. How many were there? What technologies did they develop? Did they have writing? What destroyed them? Where is the evidence?

In this book, Charles Mann brought together much of the recent scholarly knowledge, piecing together evidence from across North, Central and South America, to come up with a cohesive image of what the Americas looked like in terms of human occupation before Columbus.

The book's main arguemnt is that the Americas were already heavily populated with as many as 20 million people when Columbus arrived. These people possessed technology very advanced that was not, as much of history tells, puny and weak compared to what Europeans had developed. Agricultural methods were advanced and very productive, providing the basis for the establishment of large sedentary populations, much larger than previously thought. These large populations were mainly destroyed by disease. What we see today are in fact the remaining population after the equivalent of a holocaust, which is hardly a good basis to judge their capabilities and one time glory.

To demonstrate this theory, evidence is gathered from archeology and ancient reports from travellers. From most 16th century explorers, we get a picture of a heavily populated landscape, both in the southeastern US and in the Amazon. However, explorers through the same regions roughtly a century later describe a landscape of peaceful nature without large human interventions. The archeological evidence, as more is discovered, points in the direction of large populations and many characteristics (such as religion and art) of sedentary populations.

Particularly interesting is the section on the Amazon forest, in which the author describes the Amazon not as virginal forest but rather an a human construct, a large garden manipulated by ancient inhabitants, now abandoned. Evidence of these people's technology can be found in unlikely places, such as in the formation of terra preta, a highly fertile soil in a land well known for poor soils for agriculture. Additionally, the raised fields of the Bolivian Amazon also point to a highly sophisticated and organized society that would need to be surplus producing in order to spare the manpower for such great public works.

An interesting addendum to his argument is about the freedom enjoyed by antive americans, which is much more similar to the freedom we enjoy today and seek to expand, than the Europeans at the time enjoyed. The author does a superb job of piecing together evidence from across the continent to come to interesting conclusions about our ancestors.

I highly recommend this book not only to anyone interested in the history of the Americas before Columbus, but to anyone looking for an interesting read about our history as humans.


The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale Of Love, Murder And Survival In The Amazon
The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale Of Love, Murder And Survival In The Amazon
by Robert Whitaker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.66

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TALE OF HISTORY, ADVENTURE, LOVE AND SCIENCE, 2 Oct 2006
This book is actually a collection of different topics weaved together with the background of the love story between a lowly French scientist and an upperclass Ecuadorian lady.

The book starts with a historical science controversy, between Cassini and Newton, regarding the actual shape of the earth. Cassini thought the world was elongated and Newton argued it was fat at the Equator. In order to reach a conclusion, a team is put together to make physical experiments at the Equator to define the shape of the Earth. That is when La Condamine and Louis Godin come in, two top French scientists, who embark on this years long trip. What should have lasted two years takes more than ten. A large group is put together to support the scientist in their journey.

The author also describes in great detail the society into which they are initially welcomed in Ecuador. However difficulties with clergy and governors arise, culminating in the public lynching of the doctor of the expedition.

All this occurs before we get to the story of Jean Godin and Isabel Grameson. Jean is the nephew of the scientist Louis Godin and Isabel is the daghter of a rich landowner in Ecuador. They begin their life together in Ecuador during the expedition and then decide to stay on for a while, but when Jean's business enterprises go bankrupt he decides to go back to France with his wife and now large family of four children. He heads through the Amazon, a dangerous journey, in the hopes of figuring out the way and then coming back to get his wife. For a number of reasons, once he is done and safely at the mouth of the Amazon, he does not go back. So, after her four children die of various diseases, Izabel gets tired of waiting and heads on her own journey across the Amazon. And that is when the story happens, which I will not ruin by telling here.

This book mixed history, science, adventure and love quite well. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in South American history, history of science, love and adventure stories. It is a timeless classic, a story that enthralled people in the 18th century and continues to do so today.


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