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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (Knopf hardback). Here is that rarest of books: a scholarly look at deep history that reads like a page-turner. Mann, whose accessible, witty style is part of the reason 1491 has become a surprise bestseller, collects the latest research into American Indian origins, demography and ecology, revealing that traditional views of pre-Columbian America have been turned upside down. Research from the past 30 years shows that the Americas were populated much earlier than previously believed, the people came here a lot earlier, and the levels of architectural and artistic achievement, as well as social organization, were much more sophisticated than previously believed. Perhaps most startling is the revelation that Indians, rather than living in passive harmony with nature, changed the landscape regularly for their own purposes -- to the extent that a "primeval" feature like the Amazon rainforest can be viewed as largely a human invention. -- John Grooms

Zanesville by Kris Saknussemm (Villard Original paperback). Elijah Clearfather, an amnesiac who can drive his enemies crazy by chanting tongue twisters, travels through an America wrecked by earthquakes and holy wars, and in which holographic creations have replaced many familiar sights, personal mutilation is considered a religious ritual, and the government has been outsourced to a drug company. Unlike most sci-fi novels of dystopia, Zanesville works as both commentary and a "real novel" as Saknussemm takes life in the present and gives it a funhouse mirror, black comedy treatment. -- Dana Renaldi

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