The rather grandiose idea of writing a summary book on American prehistory first occurred to me in 1980. I was then teaching an introductory course on this subject for undergraduates, and neither I nor the students were satisfied with the few books that were available for their use. Despite the fact that I had begun my academic career as a specialist in Old World, not New World archaeology, I thought I would be able to write a concise, accurate, and readable book that would trace the development of prehistoric cultures in the Americas. The work I envisioned would focus on several questions concerning cultural processes, e.g., when and how did people first colonize the Americas? How did village life and agriculture arise? Why did complex societies develop in certain regions? Within this overall framework, I would present detailed descriptions of important and relevant sites, cultures, and artifacts. As my work progressed, I realized that in such a synthesis, the author must always strive for a balance between general theoretical discussions on one hand, and descriptive minutiae on the other. I fear that I may not have struck the ideal balance in every instance. Some readers will wish that more pages had been devoted to a theoretical issue, or to some specific data, that they regard as particularly interesting. I can only point out that the literature is vast, and I do not pretend to have written the last word on any subject. If the reader is stimulated to pursue some matter more intensively, so much the better.