Following in the footsteps of the greatest Spanish adventurers, Michael Wood retraces the path of the conquistadors from Amazonia to Lake Titicaca, and from the deserts of North Mexico to the heights of Machu Picchu. As he travels the same routes as Hernán Cortés, Francisco, and Gonzalo Pizarro, Wood describes the dramatic events that accompanied the epic sixteenth-century Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires. He also follows parts of Orellana’s extraordinary voyage of discovery down the Amazon and of Cabeza de Vaca’s arduous journey across America to the Pacific. Few stories in history match these conquests for sheer drama, endurance, and distances covered, and Wood’s gripping narrative brings them fully to life.
Wood reconstructs both sides of the conquest, drawing from sources such as Bernal Diaz’s eyewitness account, Cortés’s own letters, and the Aztec texts recorded not long after the fall of Mexico. Wood’s evocative story of his own journey makes a compelling connection with the sixteenth-century world as he relates the present-day customs, rituals, and oral traditions of the people he meets. He offers powerful descriptions of the rivers, mountains, and ruins he encounters on his trip, comparing what he has seen and experienced with the historical record.
As well as being one of the pivotal events in history, the Spanish conquest of the Americas was one of the most cruel and devastating. Wood grapples with the moral legacy of the European invasion and with the implications of an episode in history that swept away civilizations, religions, and ways of life. The stories in Conquistadors are not only of conquest, heroism, and greed but of changes in the way we see the world, history and civilization, justice and human rights.
“[An] accessible, literate, and lively book.” (Amazon.com, editorial review)
“The digestible narrative provides a provocative overview of a historical episode that was both magnificent and shameful.” (Booklist)
“A handsome, lucidly written narrative of events that were, for the most part, a triumph of greed, brutality, and blood.” (Houston Chronicle)
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Maybe not again, but it has inspired me to learn more about the Inca's Aztecs and Mesa-American cultures. Fascinating.
In the later part of the book the author describes the yearlong trek of several ship wrecked Conquistadors that were the archetype of "going native". I found this particularly interesting and provided a lot of insight into the daily lives of native people.
I thought he did a great job, and he added to the story in many ways. His British accent was well suited to the primary material and his Spanish affectations were helpful in distinguishing Incas rules in particular. Well done.
I am not really a movie fan. This book is broken into 3 primary stories, all of which are well known through historical documentation. the author travels to these areas and brings the stories to life through his first person account of the terrain and people he encounters. I have a novice interest in anthropology and this provided a great introduction and overview into this subject.
This book is not revisionist history, nor does it attempt to rationalize European colonialism. It is a fair account of a difficult period in world history, but one that had some level of inevitability. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding more about how the Americas were formed. Very well done.
Masterpiece of Unexpected Detail
- Ian O'Neill