Turning the dial on the kaleidoscope
I recently read 1491 by Charles Mann and have been browsing through the author’s interaction with reviewers on the Amazon forum for his book. It’s fascinating and deals with many questions I had. I haven’t used this resource much in the past, but will try to remember to check into these forums more in future. Here is one comment that provides a great metaphor for this book,
I have few criticisms to pass on to you, but I wanted to tell you (in case you check back in here) that I just finished the book and have been telling everyone I know to read it. I think you have admirably presented all sides of some of the more controversial material, and you’ve synthesized the specialist research and literature in a very readable fashion. I am a teacher, and I sometimes use the metaphor of a tube kaleidescope with my students, telling them to not get stuck in looking at a set of data only one way, but to turn the dial on the kaleidescope to see a completely different set of possiblities. That is the effect your book had on me, and I thank you for writing it. My only possible complaint is that it’s not a few hundred pages longer to go into more detail on the U.S. Southwest Indian cultures, the Pacific Northwest, and the puzzle of original immigrations to the hemisphere. But perhaps that’s for another book.
It’s important to read books that turn the kaleidoscope, shift us out of our presuppositions, and offer a new perspective. We don’t have to swallow every detail uncritically, but a book like this points to information that the lay person is not usually exposed to. I was familiar with some of the material, but it was certainly worth reading. Mann’s thesis is that pre-Columbian America was a) more populated that we used to think (this changed about 30-40 years ago, I believe, so not that relevant), b) possibly populated 30,000 years ago, and not 12,000 years ago, c) was more technologically advanced that we previously believed, and d) inhabitants altered their ecosystems in significant ways, both for better and worse.
I am having some technical difficulty accessing Amazon.com as I am constantly being redirected to Amazon.ca. On the former there are over 300 reviews and on the latter 11. The author forum is also on Amazon.com.