Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Charles C. Mann

From a Q & A with Charles C. Mann about his book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus:

Q: Although this book had its origins in an Atlantic Monthly cover story, what was it that first drew you to the subject?

A: Two things, I think. More than twenty years ago, I wrote an article for Science (I’m a correspondent for the journal's news division) that involved going to the Yucatan peninsula. I visited some of the Maya ruins there and like so many other people was absolutely fascinated. I’d just spent two years living in Rome, and I was struck by how much more extensive—but equally finely built—the Maya ruins were. I also was astonished by how different the aesthetic system was—the vertiginous staircases, the corbel arches, the huge reliefs, etc.

This dovetailed with something else. The summer before seventh grade, my parents moved from the suburbs of Detroit to the Pacific Northwest, an area where the presence of Native Americans seemed much more evident. I was fascinated by the idea that very different peoples had lived in the area in the not too distant past, and that their descendants were still living nearby. But it wasn’t until I got to Yucatan that the penny dropped and I grasped, really and truly, that when Columbus landed he had stumbled across an entire **hemisphere** full of people whose cultures had nothing to do with Europe or Asia. Half the world!

It was kind of a Homer Simpson-ish “d’oh!” moment for me. So was realizing that I knew practically nothing about this entire half of the world, and my teachers in school had known practically nothing about it. I decided I would try to find out more when I could.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue