I'm rather suspicious of the new trend of "adapting" popular adult nonfiction for younger readers. In the case of James Swanson's Manhunt, cut down to Chasing Lincoln's Killer, although I did read through the whole book I found it very choppy.
Before Columbus, cut down from 1491, however, I found to be very well done. The book flows seemlessly and is very well-designed to catch the eye and maintain interest, with different type, boxes with interesting facts, etc.
Charles Mann's basic premise is that the Americas before Columbus and other Europeans arrived, was very different than students have been taught - and archeologists have thought. He talks about how the Spanish conquerors were able to destroy ancient and powerful civilization, human sculpting of the rain forest, and more. The chapters I found most interesting were on the natives of North America and how they shaped the "wilderness"; as well as the ideas of wilderness came to be firmly lodged in the American mind.
Verdict: This is a challenging but accessible history for middle grade readers and up. Of course, it always helps to be able to hand over a book and say "everything they're teaching you in school is wrong. read this to find out why!" but you'll need someone who's at least mildly interested in history, Native Americans, or archaeology to successfully booktalk this.
ISBN: 978-1416949008; Published September 2009 by Atheneum; Borrowed from the library