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Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire [Paperback]

Hugh Thomas
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Nov 2010

The first part of his trilogy on the Spanish Empire, Hugh Thomas's Rivers of Gold brings the rise of Spain's global empire vividly to life, capturing the spirit of an ebullient age.

Inspired by hopes of both riches and of converting native people to Christianity, the Spanish adventurers of the fifteenth century convinced themselves that an Earthly Paradise existed in the Caribbean. This is the story of the hundreds of conquistadors who set sail on the precarious journey across the Atlantic - taking with them wheat, the horse, the guitar and the wheel as well as guns, malaria and slaves - to create an empire that made Spain the envy of the world.

'Affirms Hugh Thomas's record as one of the most productive and wide-ranging historians of modern times'
  The New York Times

'Splendid ... bold and strong in its outlines, rich in fasinating details'
  Paul Johnson, Literary Review

'So steeped is he in the spirit of the time, so familiar with its people and places that we almost feel he must have been there at the time'
  Sunday Telegraph

'A vivid, dramatic and compelling narrative'
  Arthur Schlesinger, Jr

'As a historian, Thomas is master of the big picture ... Rivers of Gold sweeps us restlessly on'
  Jonathan Keates, Spectator

'An epic history of an extraordinary age'
  Michael Kerrigan, Scotsman

Hugh Thomas is the author of, among other books, The Spanish Civil War (1962) which won the Somerset Maugham Award, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés and the Fall of Old Mexico (1994), An Unfinished History of the World (1979) and The Slave Trade (1997). The second volume of his planned trilogy on the Spanish Empire, The Golden Age: The Spanish Empire of Charles V was published in 2011.


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Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire + The Golden Age: The Spanish Empire of Charles V + World Without End: The Global Empire of Philip II
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Product details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (25 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141034483
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141034485
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"As a historian, Thomas is master of the big picture ! Rivers of Gold sweeps us restlessly on" - Jonathan Keates, Spectator 'As an intelligent and incisive narrative the book would be hard to better... It is unusual to finish so long a book wishing for more' Sunday Telegraph

About the Author

Hugh Thomas is the author of, among other books, The Spanish Civil War (1962) which won the Somerset Maugham Award, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés and the Fall of Old Mexico (1994), An Unfinished History of the World (1979) and The Slave Trade (1997). From 1966 to 1975 he was Professor of History at the University of Reading. He was Director of the Centre for Policy Studies in London from 1979 to 1991, and he became a life peer as Baron Thomas of Swynnerton in 1981.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This book has an odd mix of excessive detail, lack of analysis, and engaging stories that never quite add up to a coherent narrative. I started it with the greatest enthusiasm, as I was reading about a dazzling array of personalities I dimly remembered from middle school texts, but towards the middle of the book felt lost in all the aristocratic titles, complete cargo lists (!), painstakingly twisted theological disputes, and gruesome skirmishes with doomed Indian chiefs. The reader, or at least I, simply could not see quite where the author was intending to go with all the facts and figures. It was like he was not just mistaking the forest for the trees, but for individual leaves.

Indeed, this is really two books. In the first 450 pages, in my reading, the author paints a tableau of the how the politics of a newly united Spain impacted first the explorers and then the conquistadors of the Americas. Fernando and Isabel not only united Aragon and Castille in a uniquely successful joint monarchy as sovereigns of their respective kingdoms as well as brought a highly independent aristocracy under tighter control, but they expelled the last Moslems as well as all non-converted Jews from southern Spain in 1492. These issues left them little time to pay attention to the explorers, though they (or Isabel) did seem to favor Columbus, who was granted unusually extensive rights. Their stories are successfully intermingled.

Isabel's motives for authorizing Columbus' explorations were complex: spread the faith, open a new trade route, and find gold.
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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History that needed to be known 14 Dec 2003
Format:Hardcover
The Spanish Empire is one of history’s turning points, which makes the significant lack of information available to the English reader inexplicable. We know it existed, but we know very little of its nature and compositions, indeed, I’ve met people who believe that the Spanish only ever held Cuba and the Philippines, which they lost to America in 1898.
Recently, however, there has been an upsurge in books dedicated to that period of history. Spain’s Road to Empire is one such book – and now Hugh Thomas has added his own book on the subject. In doing so he provides background to ‘The Conquest of Mexico’, which he wrote several years before and is still the definite (if long-winded) word on the subject.
Thomas begins by examining the victory of the two monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, perhaps the ablest monarchs in an outstanding generation of European rulers, over the Muslims. This victory completed their quest to unify Spain under their banner. He then discusses the processes and politics that led to Spain (and Portugal) becoming involved in the New World and the development of what we, in later years, would call the ‘white mans burden’. Not unlike the British, the Spanish monarchy would consider the native Americans their responsibility, while adopting an attitude of complete unconcern over the fate of Jews, Muslims and Conversos, who were Jews who had embraced Christianity.
There is frustratingly little detail on the problems in Spain that resulted from Charles becoming Holy Roman Emperor. The Commeros revolt looks a little like the Nomonhan incident – we know its important, but how many sources are there on it?
There is ample ground for alternate history speculations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars golden words 8 July 2011
By Juanita
Format:Paperback
This amazing work by Hugh Thomas deserves a standing ovation. The immense detail given on the Golden Age of Spain, envigorates every page. The conquest of Granada, Columbus's lengthy efforts to get his expedition sanctoned, the consequences of his first and following voyages to the New World, are all covered as are subsequent European events affecting Spain and its possessions. Tou can even discover why Columbus dared ask whether his young son should be created a cardinal!!!

The coloured plates, together with the appended comprehensive notes - which include some interesting mini Spanish quotes from original sources - is written in a captivating manner which carries the reader's interest forward at a wonderous rate, making it very hard to break away to other tasks! A 'bible' of Spanish history - something any keen 'aficionado' of Spain and Spanish should treasure for pleasure and reference purposes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars new world to old 25 Mar 2011
Format:Paperback
Rivers of Gold is an outstanding work of its kind . The biographical detail of the main players in the expansion of Western Culture therein bespeaks a major work of research. Likely to be the work of record on the subject.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great empire! 9 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback
After his `Conquest of Mexico', Hugh Thomas produces another gem of a book with this, the story of the rise of the Spanish Empire. A book that covers the most amazing events of the time; the discovery of the new world, the Pacific via Panama, the conquest of Mexico and of course the first world circumnavigation. All through a book that is an easy read but thoroughly detailed in every way.

To discover, often conquer, then colonise and to administer so many countries in such a short period of time in the era of sail is simply amazing. More so when the era in question for Spain was punctuated with a certain amount of intrinsic turmoil with the inquisition in full flow, the ongoing battle against the Moors and internal unrest. In addition Spain was also coming to terms with a foreigner on the throne in the form of Flemish born Charles the first after the deaths of Isabel and Fernando.

Discover they did though and the book unfolds to tell us of the vision and determination of the great men who went forth and found a new world and thus created for Spain an Empire that was second to none for several hundred years. Columbus, Balboa, Ponce de Leon, Cortes and Magellan are just a few of those legends that have now enshrined themselves in history. These pioneers of the day eventually prompted thousands of their countrymen to make the leap to live in the new world, to find new riches and to serve god. They believed that the rivers in the new world flowed with gold and in the end Spain found riches in vast quantities and used it's conquistadores to bleed the new world of its wealth.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy Going
The sudden rise of early modern Spain and its world changing discoveries and conquests is arguably the most gripping,inspiring and shocking story in all of history. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Constantius10
2.0 out of 5 stars too many names, this muddles the story
"Rivers of gold" starts off well, with a lively history of the Columbus first voyage. Once the Spanish are established in Hispaniola, though, the narration slows down to a... Read more
Published 17 months ago by antonello musiani
2.0 out of 5 stars an epic story clouded by excessive detail
This book suffers from an excess of irrelevant detail that all but stifles the narrative. You would think it would be hard to make this story dull, but somehow the author has... Read more
Published on 11 Feb 2012 by James Mitchell
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Solid Story
Full of info that was unknown to me. Still deep in it Can only take serious non fiction in small doses but good book.will plough on to the end
Published on 7 Aug 2011 by Persis Gretna
3.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read
I agree with the other reviews and in particular that this is a work rich in detail. However, for anyone who wants a narrative of the early days of the discovery of the Indies and... Read more
Published on 6 May 2011 by B. Cain
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed history of the discovery and conquest of the New World
Hugh Thomas is a respected historian who has produced a number of good books including his outstanding work "The Conquest of Mexico"; the comprehensive "Slave Trade" as well as... Read more
Published on 30 Jan 2011 by Christy2002
4.0 out of 5 stars riveting read, but mistakes
I read Hugh Thomas's books about the Spanish Civil War and Cuba, and this is on par with those earlier works: detailed, informing, insighful. Read more
Published on 11 May 2006 by Antonio Lino
3.0 out of 5 stars Good history marred by the subconscious...
I have great respect in Hugh Thomas as a historian. His THE CONQUEST OF MEXICO is one of the best narrative histories I have ever read, still highly recommended. Read more
Published on 4 Feb 2004
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