Charles C. Mann
Under the deceptively simple title of 1491, Charles Mann has probably done more than anyone to raise awareness of the rich and surprising cultures that existed in the Western Hemisphere on the eve of the voyages of Columbus. (Since then, he’s written 1493. But more on that another time.) Far from being a primitive land populated by isolated groups of Aztecs and Incas, Mann—a science journalist by profession—shows convincingly that the peoples of North and South America were culturally diverse, technologically sophisticated, socially astute. This is history on the grand scale, challenging conventional wisdom at every point, including how the Native Americans got here in the first place.