Conquistadores: A New History of Spanish Discovery and Conquest

Fernando Cervantes. Viking, $35 (496p) ISBN 978-1-101-98126-9
The founders of the Spanish Empire brought a “powerful spirit of humanist and religious reform” to their subjugation of the New World, according to this probing history. Cervantes (The Devil in the New World), a professor of early modern studies at the University of Bristol, recounts the great expeditions of Spain’s 16th-century conquest of the Americas, including Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the Caribbean, Hernán Cortés’s overthrow of the Aztec Empire, Francisco Pizarro’s destruction of Peru’s Inca Empire, and Hernando de Soto’s yearslong trek through the southeastern U.S. looking for cities of gold that never materialized. It’s a swashbuckling narrative, full of bold exploits against long odds, intrigues among rival conquistadors, and much brutality and bloodshed (though Cervantes contends that Bartolomé de las Casas’s contemporaneous and influential accounts of Spanish atrocities were exaggerated). Departing from the harshly condemnatory tone of modern treatments of the period, Cervantes highlights instead the Spaniards’ legal and religious self-justifications, the serious though inadequate attempts by the Spanish government to remedy abuses of conquered peoples, and the Spaniards’ success in creating a stable regime that accorded some security and autonomy to Indigenous communities. The result is an entertaining yet nuanced account of one of history’s most earth-shaking military adventures. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell Management. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 07/07/2021
Release date: 10/20/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 1 pages - 978-1-101-98128-3
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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