America in 1492

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

AMERICA IN 1492: THE WORLD OF THE INDIAN PEOPLES BEFORE THE ARRIVAL OF COLUMBUS, edited and with an introduction by Alvin Josephy, is likely to become the standard from which any future discussion of American cultural history will have to begin. It is refreshing— indeed, it is a joy—to come upon an important historical work that is eminently scholarly and, at the same time, delightfully readable.

The essays, by Josephy, N. Scott Momaday, Robin Ridington, Richard D. Daugherty, Peter Iverson, Peter Nabokov with Dean Snow, Miguel Leon-Portilla, Louis C. Faron, Alan Kolata, Joel Sherzer, Sam D. Gill, Jay Miller, Francis Jennings, Clara Sue Kidwell, Christian F. Feest, and Vine Deloria, Jr., provide a fresh and unhurried examination or retelling of Native American cultural life prior to contact—a retelling that points to the extraordinary achievements of peoples who have long been characterized (when they have been characterized at all) as primitive cannibals at worst and noble savages at best. This book is richly illustrated, and the maps and charts are a wonder to behold. Moreover, the range of its scholarly apparatus—the appendices and the suggestions for further reading along with the index—is up-to-date and valuable.

It is worth noting that it apparently took the occasion of the Columbus Quincentenary—that is, the marking of the passing of five hundred years since Columbus’ landfall in the Caribbean—to generate sufficient interest on the part of a major publishing house to undertake the publication of such an important volume, a work that would be remarkable if only for the fact that it explodes tired myths and racist stereotypes that have long needed discarding. And it is worth remarking, too, that the bulk of the royalties from the sale of AMERICA IN 1492 will go to the D’Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian at the Newberry Library, in support of the Center’s fellowship programs for Native Americans.