1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, a little while ago and then put it down, assuming that it was going to be a little dry. That was a mistake.
Charles C. Mann is writer of research. He studies things and then writes about them. Magazines, books, etc. He describes some of the early research he did for this book as research for smaller projects: articles about newer discoveries about earlier Central and South American Indians. He describes how some of these newer discoveries were at odds with what he learned (we all learned) in high school. Information printed in our textbooks based on the prominent theories of the time, taken as fact, but without a lot corroborating evidence. What Mann was finding, as that in many cases, that corroborating evidence is only recently being discovered, and a lot of what we used to think was true was based on the only evidence available, 50 or even 100 years ago, in the form of journal and log entries by Europeans who visited the Americas and documented what they saw, in some cases incorrectly either from a lack of understanding, and lack of investigation, or simply exaggerated to please whomever was footing the bill for their trip.
Mann compiles the most recent archeological evidence and compares and contrasts the current theories on early American Indian populations and their civilizations and they way the may have lived before the Europeans arrived. Its a fascinating look at cultures that now appear to have been much more complex, advanced, and populace then I thought. Mann discusses how even now, theories based on new data still contrast with one another. The science is still very much in process, so this makes for an extremely informative snapshot of what the current thinking is on the myriad cultures that inhabited these lands for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. And the language he uses really helps translate the scientific theses into terms I could get my head around.
Mann wrote a follow-up, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, in 2011, so I'll have to keep my eye out for that one.
Read this book.