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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 1 July 2003
This book presents a vivid and enthralling description of the conquest of South and Central America, focusing on four of the key stories. Wood's writing is always clear and his lyrical descriptions really bring the scene alive. The book is lavishly illustrated and the text is frequently interspersed with quotations from the memoirs of the conquistadors and, more interestingly, the writings of the peoples they conquered. The book is rounded off by a discussion of the issue of human rights in relation to the conquest. "Conquistadors" will leave you thirsting to find out more, and I am grateful to the author for providing lots of suggestions for further reading, which I am just beginning to explore. Highly recommended reading for anyone with an interest in South American culture, or the history of the world in general.
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on 11 October 2016
I don't often get around to writing reviews but this one is a must. Ah Michael Wood....I don't know when I've read a non-fiction book that has touched me more than this. This is a tale of humanity stripped back, beautifully written and connects on many levels not least emotionally as we with Michael follow in the footsteps of the conquistadors. This period of history is incredibly fascinating and often upsetting. That adage...are we not more similar than we are different is a double edged sword that cuts deeply as you read this account.
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on 22 May 2010
Hard not to give this book five stars, to be honest. It's an easily accessible read that details the fall of the Aztecs, the Incas, the search for Eldorado (that ended up being a voyage down the Amazon) and some other ventures made by the Spanish in and around the 1500s.

The initial impression you get is of a simple and thorough rape of the New World by the Spanish, and it is only later you can dwell on the fact that this was the course of settlement both before and after by many civilizations (even in the UK we had Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans........). Even the Aztecs and the Incas took over lands in their continents.

One issue that does hit you hard, and Wood dwells on it too, is the question 'What if?'. What if the Incas and Aztecs had come through. What if we had examples of the wonderful gold art they made - too bad it was all melted down by the Spanish. The greed of the Spanish is frighteningly portrayed - as one Inca said 'Even if all the snow on the mountains was Gold they would not be satisfied'. The fact that the rape was literal, too, shows a horrendous trail of destruction.

However one thing Wood firmly states is this was no conquest without resistance as often portrayed. The Aztecs would live sacrifice Spanish captives in full view of their fellow soldiers.

Have to agree that the book drags on the 'let's follow the trail' bits. It does not sit well with the history and might be better suited to a 'Follow the Conquistadors' trail book than plopped in here and there as it is. There was a similar book on Genghis Khan I read a while back that tried to do the same, and it simply does not work. Be a history book or a travel book. In this case Wood's 'travels' are sparingly detailed, but still hinder.

Almost fours stars as I felt this could have been a longer tome with more detail, but as said, this is a pointer for future reading.

Looking forward to some of his other books.
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on 7 July 2001
While Wood describes the Incas as an illiterate society (despite their many other achievements), he has clearly had access to some form of documentation which allow him throughout this series to present the indigenous people's own reaction to the Spanish invaders. His ability to explore the emotional as well as historic aspect to the conquests - of bewilderment, extraordinary courage, horror and an utter lack of compassion - give an absorbing depth to his account.
My only criticism is more of a frustration that he has not produced a sequel to answer the questions that this audiobook raises. What of the Portuguese and the collonisation of Brazil? Of the conflicts between the Portuguese and the Spanish?
Perhaps the greatest history books leave you thirsty to know more, though. This once certainly achieves that. Hugely recommended.
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on 17 January 2016
Released on the back of a major BBC series, at a time before such things were hidden away on BBC4, the lavish production of both book and film tends to obscure the fact that this is little more than a retelling of earlier accounts, with the odd sententious observation thrown in by Wood to remind you that he's there. There is absolutely no attempt to substantiate numbers, for example - whether of armies, populations, or casualties - and the probably much-inflated figures in the sources are taken at face value. The text is full of vague 'could have been', 'must surely have been' assertions.

As is now usual in such cases, Wood affects an objective relativism which tends if anything to extenuate the faults of the conquered peoples, play up those of the Europeans and minimise the incredible daring which, for better or worse, was needed to pull this thing off (if we think that a couple of cannon and a few horses guaranteed the Spanish victory we are misusing hindsight). But an arrogantly Eurocentric comment like 'our post-religious age' gives the game away. What purports to be relativism is usually just an equal disdain for the attitudes of both parties concerned; it's certainly not a genuine belief that they have equal validity with those of the writer. We can sympathise now with the Aztecs and their horrifying ways, dishonestly making the Spanish look bad by comparison (for example by talking as if they deliberately introduced the diseases which devastated native populations), because they have been comfortably consigned to history's scrap heap.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2004
As you read this book, you can imagine it being Michael Wood's speaking script for his TV program.
As well as the stories you would expect about Cortes & Pizarro, I was pleasantly surprised to read of 2 explorers I'd never heard of - Orellana & de Vaca - which made this different to many other books of the same theme.
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on 10 November 2015
This book reads well, and gives a broad overview of the period of the conquest of the Americas. It does, though, suffer from a tendency to over-romanticise both sides. Wood's Aztecs, for example, are a tragically chivalrous and noble people who essentially lose through being too nice. The Spaniards, conversely, are snarling, cackling pantomime villains. The result is a fairly one-dimensional view of things which gives very little clue of how either civilisation lived and what their thoughts and motivations were. For the Aztec Empire, at least, Hugh Thomas give a more rounded and complete view, and gives a warts-and-all view of Aztec and Spaniard alike.

Where this book is good, however, is that unlike many others on the subject it considers lesser-known conquistadors such as Panfilo Narvaez and Cabeza de Vaca, as well as staples such as Cortes and Pizarro.
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on 9 August 2001
I have always been interested in the natives of mexico and their conquest by the spanish .This book has further fascinated my interest. It has many detailed accounts and clearly outlines key factors and events. Michael wood and his enthusiasm only further adds to a great book.
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on 5 December 2000
'We come in peace...shoot to kill' appears to be the message throughout most of this book. Michael Wood's book contains stories to make a Star Trek scriptwriter extremely jealous and he tells the stories with tremendous enthusiasm passionately retracing the footsteps of first, Hernan Cortes, then the Pizarro brothers, Orellana and Cabeza de Vaca. The book is well written and researched and all of the accounts are complimented by magnificent photographs and numerous period illustrations. Anyone who has watched the recent t.v. series cannot fail to be impressed and the book only adds further detail and makes exciting reading. Unputdownable, a must read for anyone with a fair sense of history.
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on 15 June 2012
This book was published to accompany the BBC television series of the same name, broadcast in 2000. In it, the ever-engaging Michael Wood attempted to retrace the astonishing journeys of four 16th century Spanish adventurers - Cortes, Pizarro, Orellana and Cabeza de Vaca - whilst simultaneously telling their stories.

There are two ways of turning a TV series like this into a book: 1) luxuriate in the journeys past and present and include lots and lots of glossy colour photos, or 2) drop the travelogue stuff and focus on the history. We may assume this paperback is not attempting the former, as it provides a meagre 8 pages of black-and-white pictures, the photos amongst which are so dark as to be barely discernible. Perhaps rd99 and LXIX were describing a different edition when they wrote of the "lavish" illustrations; in this one they're a waste of space.

Neither does Wood give us a history of the conquest of the New World - just four more or less separate stories accompanied by the author's views and descriptions of the scenery. Sort of a Conquista sampler.

On the plus side, Wood never misses an opportunity to relate the Aztec and Inca view of events, which is so often ignored. And his writing exudes charm. As you read, you can almost hear his amiable, comforting drawl - something that always sends my wife straight to sleep when we watch him on the telly. So this book is a pleasant way to pass the time, but with a bit of effort it could have been so much better.
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