Monday, December 17, 2018

Ancient Civilizations of North America (The Great Courses), by Edwin Barnhart (author, narrator)

The Great Courses, June 2018

Many of us grow up with the impression that there were no significant Native American civilizations north of Mexico prior to European colonization. That's not correct. Much of what we usually think we know about North America prior to European contact is in fact a result of European contact. Europeans brought Eurasian diseases even when they weren't violent and destructive on their own--as they so often were. Die-offs due to diseases the inhabitants had no prior exposure to and hence no resistance to, destructively violent raids and burning of cities and towns, changes created due to the horses and the pigs Europeans brought--all caused major changes, and in multiple ways wiped out much of what was here before, usually with few good records.

Barnhart is a very good lecturer, lively, interesting, informative. He has a self-deprecating humor about areas where he disagrees with his colleagues, and is respectful when talking about others' ideas that he is not wholly convinced of. This is an absolutely engrossing tour of pre-European North America, from what we've been able to learn of the earliest arrivals, to the nations and ways of life that existed when Europeans reached the various parts of North America. Farmers, astronomers, urban planners, engineers, all created great works only some of which survive even as ruins today.

I'd have loved to see more in-depth discussion of the bio-engineering of maize (corn) out of far less useful plants, or of the Iroquois Confederation, its formation, growth, and influence on the design of the US Constitution, but this is not that book. This is a tour, a survey, an introduction, and it's a fascinating one. The points on which you want to go chase down more information may be different from mine, but you will have them.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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