I’m almost finished with this book.
It’s been an interesting read. This post is by no means meant as a review of the book1, though.
Instead, I’ll try to answer the question I’ve asked myself more than a few times while sometimes-struggling my way through this book:
Why am I reading this book?
If it wasn’t obvious from the subtitle, this is a book about the pre-Columbus history of the Americas. I picked it up because Luke thought it would be a good read for our book club. It also just looks like it will be interesting.
History! Interesting stuff! Words I’ve never seen and don’t know how to pronounce!
And I think that’s it. That’s why I’m reading this book.
I’m a firm believer in the Knowing-Doing Interesting Cycle:
So that’s one reason. I can’t know when — let alone, if — I’ll ever need the interesting stuff I’ve learned from this book. But when I do, I might have the opportunity to do some interesting stuff with it.
But that’s all right, because there are two other important benefits to my reading this book.
First, it was a struggle. In reading instruction we talk about three levels of readability: independent, instructional, and frustration. This book flowed between instructional and frustration for me. I never read more than 10 pages in one sitting. It’s heavy stuff. Every single section introduced words I had never seen before, most of which were translations from languages I’ve never heard of. Even worse, any of the background knowledge I already had was unconnectable as what I had learned either wasn’t true at all or wasn’t the whole story. Take this footnote as an example:
The Inka sovereign had the title of “Inka” — he was the Inka — but he could also include “Inka” in his name. In addition, Inka elites changed their names as they went through their lives. Each Inka was thus known by several names, any of which might include “Inka.”
Reading this book was a sobering reminder of what happens when students choose “the wrong books.” But it’s not the reminder you might be thinking of. It’s not Don’t let them read books that are above their level! No.
The reminder is If a student wants to be challenged, my role is in supporting that challenge. I found myself using some of the strategies I’ve helped my students with over the years: skim and “pre-read” a section looking for words you don’t know. Define them so when you read them it won’t be the first time you’ve seen them.2 Take notes in the margins of places and people who are important. Draw maps or timelines to help see lineages.
Second, my students knew I had this book on my reading list. When I would read it during independent reading time, they’d ask questions.
"Still reading that book, G?"
"What’s it about?"
"How long is that book?”
And now, I can bring it in on Monday and ceremoniously cross it off my list. And then we can talk about how much of a struggle it was for me, but how it was worth it in the end.
Oh, and I just found out there’s a sequel, titled, appropriately enough: 1493.
Here’s the review I do plan on leaving at Amazon, though:
Without commenting on the quality of the content, this is by far the most poorly bound book I’ve ever owned. Multiple 40+ page sections simply fall out of the book if I don’t hold it carefully. I don’t know if I got a bad batch of glue in my binding or what, but if I had any intention on coming back to this book time and again — if I were a History major, for example — I’d ask for a refund to get a new copy.
Time intensive? Yes. ↩