The whole story remains incredible to anyone who has not experienced it first hand. Indeed, it seems to overshadow all the deeds of famous people in the past, no matter how heroic, and to silence all talk of other wonders of the world. – Bartolome de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, 1542
Having missed the series three times purposefully, so it wouldn’t spoil the book for me – I’m just that sort of person – I absolutely loved this and still do now that I flick through its pages, last opened in 2001 sometime. As I have probably said in a review somewhere before, the BBC may have many faults, mainly to do with its extremely top heavy management hierarchy and (mostly) terribly banal programmes but for all that, it does produce a good book.
Conquistadors has all the things you would expect in a book that accompanies a TV series, clear explanatory text that isn’t dumbed down, full colour, highly detailed pictures (I’m referring to the hardback edition here) and a wealth of information that makes you want to explore the world and its history all over again.
Starting with a brief bit on the discovery of the New World, Michael Wood’s lively narrative swiftly transports us to the action of conquering, greed, ignorance and general slaughter that all culminated in great civilisations being decimated to the eternal shame of history.
Set to the back drop of such wondrous places as lake Titicaca, Macchu Picchu, The Andes, Tenochtitlan et al it is easy to see why so many people still fall in love with the exotic and fascinating stories and rumours of lost cities still out there. Although a bit dated I derive the same pleasure from this wonderful cartoon The Mysterious Cities of Gold
for those who love an epic journey and feel like you have lost a little of the wonderment of a child, you can’t go far wrong with this. I’m still a little gutted whenever I finish the journey, no matter how many times I travel the road.
All the famous players are here of course, but what the book does well is to add the emotive use of eye-witness testimonies from the archives, the Spanish journeys down the Amazon are stand out moments for the sheer horror and depravity that was resorted to. These accounts from the time really allow the insanity and the confusion of the time to come to the fore. It makes a world changing event more intense in its retelling.
With such a huge topic to cover and a finite number of pages to do it in, Wood does a good job with not just the historical side but also the ramifications on the modern world of the actions showing how the fall out is still felt today and arguing that the actions of those few men were the start of the Globalisation that is, for good or bad, our world today.
As I read this back when I was circa 19, I’m not sure how much this will satisfy the lust of a big history buff, as being made for TV, it does just tell its story and sticks to the facts, with some emotive diversions into the eyes of the people of the time and brings the uncomfortable and harsh realities home to us. However to people looking for an overall view of the main players’ actions and what actually happened, the motivations of the Spaniards and the collapse of empires at the behest of a handful of men, this is a great book for getting a grounding.
For a fuller and more comprehensive history of the conquering of Mexico and a look at both the Aztec and Spanish cultures in-depth then I would suggest picking up a copy of this weighty tome, The Conquest of Mexico.