Thursday, April 21, 2011

Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford

iconiconI've always had a fascination with Native Americans, so when I saw Indian Givers, I was immediately interested.  I don't remember where I first spotted the book — on Barnes & Noble's website, maybe? — but my library didn't have it available in ebook, so I requested it.  A few days later, they added it to their catalog.  I really love that about my library!

Anyway, it quickly became clear to me that although Indian Givers was chock-full of fascinating information, it was also a fairly scholarly work — the kind of book that you really need to focus on in order to get anything out of it.  Because I can't read this kind of book for hours and hours without tiring, like I can less scholarly books, I decided to read more than one book at once.  While I was reading Indian Givers, I started and finished both Willow and Fireflies in December, which gave me just enough "down time" with my reading that I was able to do a better job of absorbing all the information in Indian Givers.

The message of Indian Givers can be summed up in a short sentence: When America was discovered in 1492, the Indians were far superior to Europeans and Asians.  Most of us don't realize how extensively Indian culture impacted European and Asian culture.  Everything from their methods of government to their food was absorbed into our culture, almost without us even realizing what was going on.  Other things, such as their more advanced medical knowledge, was flat-out ignored, leaving Europeans to "discover" or "invent" the same thing the Indians already knew, decades (or in some cases centuries) later.

For instance, the natives had cures for malaria and scurvy.  The cure for malaria was absorbed into European culture, but the Indian cure for scurvy was ignored, leaving sailors to keep dying of it for years before some European discovered vitamin C.  The book also reports that Indians in South America were doing complex surgeries with obsidian blades and drilling holes in patients' skulls to relieve the pressure from trauma to the head (successfully!) long before Europeans even understood the circulatory system.

The book was organized into chapters — the food of the New World, culinary techniques, medical knowledge and medicines, drugs (e.g., cocaine and chocolate), government, etc.  Everything is well-supported with evidence, explanations, and citations.  It's really a fascinating book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in history or Native American culture.

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