This was pleasant, informative, scholarly reading on the pre-Spanish cultures and peoples of the New World. There is no fluff in this great volume of ancient real-life adventure. But it flows with readable excitement as this skilled writer takes you back into the reconstructed life of these ancient peoples of the Americas before they became the "New World" of the Europeans in search of new treasures to plunder.
I was surprised to find that this book is still available, though written in 1961. I happened upon my copy in a library sale of an excellent cultural library of a world mission agency that was updating its collection. I found that the remaining new copies of Von Hagen's 1961 Cultural history classic demand a retail price of $250, while used copies may be found for a cheap as $2.50 on Amazon.com. This was a thrilling and fascinating find!
Von Hagen's believable analysis of all the ancient American peoples of North and South reads like an action thriller. As he reconstructs the military movements of warrior peoples, we see the waves of warriors pour into the local areas as ancient conquerors come in to take over the even more ancient residents of one area of the old continents or another, before they are in their turn overrun by newcomers in their turn.
Von Hagen documents the internal struggles as one imperial faction overthrows another in the great Empires that long predated the European barbarians who had lately come to master the seas and discover the cultural challenges of a world that thrived without even knowing of Europe. He presents the few clues we have on some who disappeared suddenly and mysteriously from history, like the great Incas on the eve of the Spanish invasion, leaving behind their marvels of land engineering, commerce networks and architectural marvels.
Likewise we review the sad story of Spanish treachery that destroyed the proud Aztec Empire. We feel renewed agony at the loss Mayan cultural treasures of untold ages and eras, destroyed by a misguided religious zealot. When Von Hagen focuses on as the Spanish destruction of the accumulated science, math, astronomy and history of the Maya nation, we feel the weight of this onerous burden of modern history, realizing we are all poorer as a race, along with the immediate Mayan heirs to that great human treasure.
Von Hagen's detailed recreation of the daily lives, activities, economies, commerce and religions of these ancient peoples captured my interest and produced a mental video of sight and sound that was entrancing and rewarding. His illustrations and maps are very helpful in orienting the reader to the events and characteristics of each civilisation in its own place and time.
Very entertaining and time-conscious, Von Hagen tells us what else was happening in the comparable spheres of life in the classical world at the time of developments he mentions among the historical and prehistorical peoples of the New World. Such rich volumes are hard to find in current literature.
The author reports on social and culinary aspects of life, social roles and marriage patterns lineage, medicines and mystical beliefs. And he does all this without losing the eager movement of anticipation as these ancient lives come to life before us. He references all the archaeological finds available at the time of writing in 1961, and the deciphered records on stone and cave as well as parchment, where they were available.