Cortes: The Great Adventurer and the Fate of Aztec Mexico

Richard Lee Marks, Author Alfred A. Knopf $27.5 (347p) ISBN 978-0-679-40609-9
Hernan Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, was a puny, sickly baby and a dropout law student who, in Marks's vivid biography, enjoyed a long, carousing youth that lasted into his 30s. As captain of Spain's expeditionary force to subjugate the Aztec empire, this gadabout transformed himself into a resolute, ambitious adventurer. Tapping firsthand accounts by Indians and Spaniards as well as historical chronicles, Marks ( Three Men of the Beagle ) disputes the conventional notion that Aztec emperor Montezuma was terrified by a prophecy that his rule was coming to an end--a view promulgated by accommodating Aztec priests who testified to Franciscans after the conquest. It's more likely, claims Marks, that Montezuma saw himself in a trial partnership with Cortes and his men and was happy to regard them as descendants of Quetzalcoatl, the bearded white god and quasi-historical Toltec chief. Instead of the image of Cortes as a ruthless, bloodthirsty conqueror, Marks portrays a stubborn man who tried to succeed by guile rather than by armed combat, and who, by imposing Catholic ritual and Spanish law, ushered in 300 years of stability and peace in Mexico. Photos. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/02/1993
Release date: 08/01/1993
Genre: Nonfiction
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