1491 by Charles C. Mann and Why Does the World Exist?
I have been dabbling in some non-fiction reading:
I believe this to be true: non-fiction reading fuels the imagination. And in the depths of this winter I needed my imagination to be poked and prodded some. So I randomly selected some non-fiction books and read with a frenzy. I just have not taken time to write about the books I waded through / ran through for most of the winter. But I am going to start.
In your mind’s eye think of things I describe below and tell me if these bits of information aren’t more colorful, mind-numbing, awesome, frightening, awful, or smelly than any book of fiction you now or in the past have had lying on your dusty bedroom floor.
1491 by Charles C. Mann : The latest thinking is that the Indian population in the Americas in 1491 was between 90 and 112 million. That’s people. That’s not jaguars and bison. Think of this: when Columbus set sail for our side of the earth more people lived in the Americas than in Europe. It was packed here.
But by the start of the 16th century about 80 to 100 million people had been wiped out by disease. Say these words: influenza, smallpox, diphtheria, and measles (repeat and repeat again because those little pretties didn’t come flying through the Americas just once). I contend that those 4 words are scarier than any pages horror writers have ever penned.
In the late 1700s George Vancouver explored the Puget Sound and found heaps and heaps of dead bodies lying along the water’s edge – smallpox had just preceded them. There were only a handful of survivors which the explorer described as ‘pitted’ and as having ‘lost their Eyes’. This was The Walking Dead – 18th century style.
More quick facts:
- The pilgrims were thieves
- Soto’s army in 1539 killed, raped, tortured and enslaved Indians with wild abandon but the worst thing they did was to bring pigs. These Spanish puercos turned out to be mighty effective biological weapons (if you were rooting for the Spanish)
- More than half the crops grown today were developed in the Americas
- It is smart to live at the foot of mountains because that means you have some pretty significant eco-system diversity is in your backyard which is a good thing when eking out survival in a hand to mouth society.
Charles C. Mann has written a follow up book entitled: 1493. I don’t have the courage to read it.
Why Does the World Exist? An existential Detective Story by Jim Holt
- Best question in the book: Why is there something rather than nothing?
- The question that most sounds like a stoned college freshman: Is the universe and life anything more than a short interlude between two vast nothings?
- Most vivid description in the book: Universes may be “as plentiful as blackberries”
- 2nd best description in the book: The big bang was like “a party girl jumping out of a cake.”
- There were endless sentences and sections in the book that baffled me even after re-reads or rereads of rereads and so it is hard to pick just one. But here is a sample of one: “Nothingness is a closed spherical spacetime of zero radius.” There is not one part of my brain that understands that string of 9 simple words.
- Spoiler Alert: You never really get an answer to the question posed in the title. But its still a mind blowing read.