RIVERS OF GOLD: The Rise of the Spanish Empire from Columbus to Magellan

Hugh Thomas, Author . Random $35 (720p) ISBN 978-0-375-50204-0

Thomas has long belonged to the elite of Spanish studies. His popular reputation was made in 1961 by a sweeping history of the Spanish Civil War, strongly sympathetic to the Second Republic and smuggled across the Pyrenees during Franco's dictatorship. But by the '80s he was an adviser to Margaret Thatcher (who made him a lord), and over time unfolded an increasingly conservative vision of the Spanish past. In his new book, Thomas returns to the conquest of the Caribbean islands and Mexico in the first two generations after Columbus, relating a sequence of events he has described as the most important phase of world history. He does so with narrative vigor, informed by personal familiarity with two continents. In his insistence on accidental imperialism and on the multinational dimensions of the enterprise of conquest, his interpretation bears some similarity to recent work by Henry Kamen (Empire ). However, the ideological underpinnings will be controversial. Indigenous cultures less concerned with street-cleaning than the Aztecs are described as "savages" who would have destroyed each other had the Spanish not shown up. The demographic catastrophes resulting from conquest are treated as minor details in the chivalric adventure that helped ensure Spanish greatness, a tale in which the "savages" are mere backdrop. Indeed, readers free from colonial prejudice will be surprised to find themselves also written out of history: "Who can doubt now," Thomas asks rhetorically, "that [the Spanish] were right to denounce the idea of religion based on human sacrifice or the simple worship of the sun or the rain?"). 32 pages of illus., maps. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (On sale June 1)

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 604 pages - 978-0-297-64563-4
Paperback - 720 pages - 978-0-8129-7055-5
Paperback - 764 pages - 978-0-14-103448-5
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