Book Review: Conquistadors by Michael Wood.

Michael Wood: Conquistadors – The Spanish explorers and the discovery of the New World.
1st published: 2,000
Publisher: BBC Books
ISBN: 978 184 6079726
Paperback: 295 pages 3rd edition 2010
Language: English.
Available at Waterstoness, WHSmith and online at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Conquistadors-Michael-Wood/dp/1846079721

Appearence and handling.
Conquistadors is a handy sized single volume with an attractive cover. The overall colour is ochre, with a Rapier at the centre and burning temples rising out of a faded green jungle in the background. In terms of handling it is not big enough to buckle or ladder when read, leave it lying out flat and the air temperature will create a wave along the edge of pages and the cover has a tendency to peel at the edges as you use it. Inside you will find 8 pages black and white pictures printed onto ordinary paper, with 6 maps scattered through the book.

Review.
Written to accompany the 2000 BBC PBS series of the same name, Michael Wood tells the story of the Spanish Conquest of America with verve, wit and compassion . His wonderful imagery and story telling ability vividly recreates the lost worlds of the Aztecs, Inca’s and other conquered people’s with consummate skill that will fire the imagination of newcomers to the field with images of the dream city of Tenochtitlan and the glories of Cusco, and fuel them to discover more in dryer less literary tomes. For this purpose the reader will find an extensive further reading section, drawn from what Wood found helpful in writing the book and during the long filming expedition to the “New World” and Spain. The author weaves a progressive tale, starting with the great conquerors ambitious, power hungry and merciless Cortes, then the cruel, calculating and cunning Pizarro brothers, then graduating to the brave adventurers, the bold humane explorer of the Amazon Francisco Orellana, and then finally to the sweeping story of Cabeza de Vaca who put his life on the line to try and save the lives of the Indians he had befriended, all to tell a story of ruthless greed and self aggrandisement that destroyed whole cultures, and then as the excesses grew opened up the thorny moral question as to the ethical motives behind the conquest as Conquistador’s suddenly started realising a disturbing truth, that all the world is Human. The grand point behind the series and the book is the birth of Human rights and the appalling cost that had to be paid before someone started asking why they thought that Indians where not people like themselves and would the offences that had been carried out in Mexico and Peru have been tolerated against a European civilised nation.
Apart from the deeper, social philosophic questions raised, it is a great history book, to the newcomer it will not fail to inspire and inform facts like the word Inca does not actually indicate the race but the ruler, that they spoke a language called Qetchua still spoken today, what the Aztecs Called a throne that they spoke a language called Nahuatl, and many more enlightening titbits. For the experienced conquistador enthusiast I can only say that if an author has got a good point to make and tells a story well, then there is no such thing as what is unkindly slated on many an Amazon review as a rehash. This is the only popular history on the Conquest that is readily available in bookshops and is well worth the buy.

Josh

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