Those seeking brief but useful syntheses of Mesoamerican and South American prehistory should consider this book. Three noted scholars wrote its six chapters, and, in view of the brevity of each chapter, have created admirable and thoughtful summaries. Following an introduction by Shirley Gorenstein, which seems unnecessary, the region’s early inhabitants are covered in the chapter by Richard Forbis. Paul Tolstoy’s discussion of Mesoamerica is excellent, but readers interested in the Maya will find the stress is on central Mexico. Edward Lanning’s fine chapter on Peru and western South America is complimented by his chapter on eastern South America, an area too often ignored in books of this nature; yet it appears to have been an important cultural hearth area. Two bonus chapters complete the book. Lanning’s “The Transformation to Civilization” considers possible processes in the development of native American civilizations, while “Transoceanic Diffusion and Nuclear America” by Tolstoy presents a reasoned and scholarly appraisal of possible contacts with other cultures (primarily Asian).

The book’s greatest drawbacks are its brevity and bibliography. The brevity forces the authors to limit their coverage and discussion. This makes the book difficult to use as a text except in general survey courses where other books (including possibly others from the same series) are also used. The brevity may send the reader to the bibliography for further information, only to meet with frustration. Most of the books cited are themselves only larger secondary summaries.