Review: Before Columbus

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491Before Columbus
by Charles C. Mann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before Columbus / 978-1-4169-4900-8

I am a huge fan of Mann's "1491", and I thought for the longest time that "1491" really needed a companion text - with pictures - to distill a lot of the wonderful material in his superb history book to a more reachable format. I was therefore delighted when this book became available on Vine, but I am a little disappointed that this feels more like a child's history text than a straight-up companion to "1491".

Not that a child's history book isn't phenomenally welcome - as Mann pointed out in "1491", a good deal of incorrect information is still being taught to school children, and it is distressing to realize that inertia will probably ensure that misinformation will continue to be taught for years to come, without pioneers like Mann leading the way. So in that regard, "Before Columbus" is welcome and necessary.

As a child's textbook, then, "Before Columbus" is superb - the full page color pictures are beautiful, the text is informative and engaging, and all the little side-bar informative sections that you may remember fondly from your childhood textbooks are here. Mann has done a wonderful job of teaching at a child's level - the information here is carefully laid out, with all the necessary details, but not so many as to be distracting or confusing. I would definitely recommend this book as instructional material to any child or young adult.

However, as a caveat, I would say that teenagers and adults will probably benefit more from the original "1491" rather than from this book. This text isn't really a supplement to "1491" in the way I had hoped - it's more of a stand-alone book for children. The 'written-for-children' prose style and textbook format will probably not appeal to older readers, if only because the textbook format can have the unconscious effect of turning off the reading-for-pleasure sectors in your brain after years in the school system.

In all seriousness, this is a superb instruction material for young readers, and I highly recommend it as such, but if you're an adult fan of "1491" and are looking at this book as a sequel or supplement, you may want to check it out in a library before you commit to buying. I do hope that Mann will be allowed in the near future to put out a new edition of "1491" with color photos like this gorgeous textbook, because that would definitely be the best of both worlds for older readers.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.

~ Ana Mardoll

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