Book Review -- What is America?

I read this a month ago, so if America changed in some way in the meantime, forgive me.

This is not a book about the present, per se. It's not a discussion of Nixon going to China or Obama rising from Chicago. It begins in 1492 and neatly describes the relationship between the Americas and the rise of Europe.

In 1492, I recall from a Lonely Planet book, Isabella and her husband completed the reconquest of Spain. Oh, and Columbus landed at a Breezes resort.

Ronald Wright makes an original argument that begins as follows:
  • Incan and Mayan societies were among the most advanced on Earth at 1492.
  • They compared well with China. Europe was a backwater.
  • Columbus' Spanish followers were inferior warriors, technologically speaking, to New World societies, and had they not indelicately sneezed while losing battle after battle, we would not get Telemundo today.
  • Yes, a few European airborne diseases all but wiped out several civilizations.
Much of that is well known by high school students. But where Wright gets pioneering is his two-fold argument that:
  1. Europeans did not establish societies in the Americas so much as they inherited some of the world's most advanced cities from civilizations that had accidentally fallen to plagues. Key among this was the U.S.; the image of nomadic tribes being attacked by Kevin Costner bears little relationship to the large cities built along the east. There is no Machu Picchu because Atlanta ended up on top of it.
  2. Newly enriched New Worlders shipped their wealth all mercantile-like back to Europe, which went on a 500-year nouveau-bling shopping spree and took over Earth. But Europe's rise at a time when Arab North Africa was more technologically advanced was a result of New World wealth, not larger foreheads or something.
Very easy read. Very mind-changing.