Book Report

Conquistadors, by Michael Wood, filmmaker, journalist, broadcaster. University of California Press, Berkeley an L.A. 2000. 288 pp., 31.95. This is a companion to a PBS. Series

The discovery of the  New World has been said to be one of the world's greatest historical events and here is how it was described or attempted to be described.

 " ...I do not know how to describe the first glimpse of things never heard of, never seen, never dreamed of before."

But, of course, the cultures found in the New World were as old or older and just as sophisticated, as anything found in Europe of that day.

The six chapters in this book give us still another view of the man who had such an impact  on Mexican history; Hernon Cortez, the times in which the conquest happened, and the impact on both old and new worlds.

Chapter I, Cortes (his name is sometimes spelled with a z at the end, and sometimes with an s), prepared to attack Mexico in the name of King Charles. His motivation was glory for the king, glory to his God, and, of course,  the lure of gold. He had already sent many treasures and art back. His entry and interests in the new land perplexed and disgusted the natives. But soon  there were precious few natives left to perplex and disgust..

It was a trade.  Cortes gained slaves, new exotic food, plants, and animals (among other golden treasures). And what did that trade gain for Montezuma and his country, that would become known as Mexico? Violence, death, and destruction. Also, many diseases unknown before Cortes; small pox, measles, and malaria, and many other diseases for which the natives had no immunity. Great numbers of them died of disease.

I wondered, who was Cortes the man? On page 104, he's described as dark, handsome, a true gambler, a puzzle and an enigma, but certainly a man with charisma. He was also a seducer (of Malinche), and he came up with ambitious, creative, and heroic ideas.

We read of the glory and the violence of the conquistadors and question, was the conquest of the new world, in any sense, just? The Maya and Aztec cultures, so old and sophisticated, were ignored, the natives called by the padres, "Indians, natives, and savages. Did they deserve human rights? Are not Indians no less fully human? They wondered.  (It was argued by some at that time, that Indians were natural slaves).

 This was a disturbing book to read. How much have humans evolved since then?

The Houston chronicle calls the conquest, "... a triumph of greed, brutality, and blood...but of all these wonders... today all is overthrown and lost and nothing is left standing."

This book describes a meeting and collision of two very different worlds and two very different world views. What did we gain? What did we lose?

I think you will find this a thought provoking book, great for book club discussions.


You can find copies of this large and beautiful book at my book store, El Caballo Blanco, in downtown Loreto,