Stolen Continents; A Spirited Resistance; & Marvellous Possessions

John Hemming reviews three publications on the New World

John Hemming | Published in
  • Stolen Continents. The Indian Story
    Ronald Wright - John Murray, 1992 - xii+424 pp. - £19.95
  • A Spirited Resistance. The North American Indian Struggle, 1745-1815
    Gregory Evans Dowd - The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991 - xxiv+261 pp. - $24.95
  • Marvellous Possessions. The Wonder Of The New World
    Stephen Greenblatt - Clarendon Press, 1992 - 202 pp. - £33.50

There has been a veritable flotilla of conferences, seminars, documentary films and publications to mark this fifth centenary year of Columbus' voyage. Their organisers have invariably sought to avoid glorification of the Genoan sailor, but to present his 'discovery' from the point of view of its American Indian victims. Now, at last, a book has triumphantly achieved this.

Ronald Wright examines the European impact on the five best-organised native American empires or federations: from north to south, Iroquois, Cherokee, Aztec, Maya and Inca. He reminds us of the size and sophistication of native American societies; and then describes their decimation by imported diseases. It is impossible to exaggerate either the speed and scale of this great demographic catastrophe, or its physical and psychological effect on the afflicted.

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