When Columbus first landed as many as 100 million people lived in the Western hemisphere, more than lived in Europe, and as much as two thirds of North America may have been farmed. So what happened? Between the 16th and 18th century epidemics of diseases like smallpox decimated the native American population, killing perhaps 90 percent, making it impossible for Indian cultures to continue to control their environment. When the Europeans started heading west the miles of wilderness and the vast herds of buffalo were relatively new. Not everyone agrees with this vision and Mann gives time for dissenting views as well.
- Certain cities-such as Tenochtitl the Aztec capital-were far greater in population than any contemporary European city. Furthermore, Tenochtitl unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets.
- Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process so sophisticated that the journal Science recently described it as "man's first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering." Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids.
- Amazonian Indians learned how to farm the rain forest without destroying it-a process scientists are studying today in the hope of regaining this lost knowledge.
- Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively "landscaped" by human beings.
A must read is found at the end of the book, The Great Law of Peace. An alliance of five native American tribes in the Northeast. Mann and many others think this is the real origin of American Libertarianism and had more of an impact on the direction of the United States than any European political philosophy.
Now this book is educated speculation and much of it may not be accurate or much of it may be. We will of course never know. It's not always the most readable book but it certainly supplies an alternate view of history and presents us with a lot to think about.. For that reason I highly recommend it.