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The Aztecs: A Very Short Introduction

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  174 ratings  ·  31 reviews
This Very Short Introduction employs the disciplines of history, religious studies, and anthropology as it illuminates the complexities of Aztec life. Readers meet a people highly skilled in sculpture, astronomy, city planning, poetry, and philosophy, who were also profoundly committed to cosmic regeneration through the thrust of the ceremonial knife and through warfare. D ...more
Paperback, 138 pages
Published December 14th 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published October 23rd 2011)
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Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is what the Very Short Introductions are intended to be: a short but balanced introduction to the topic, with plenty of jumping off points to follow for more in depth treatments elsewhere. Carrasco does a solid job presenting the background of the Mexica people and governance structures, placing human sacrifice in context, and describing the society’s cultural accomplishments. He discusses the fall of the empire and - briefly - the persistance and reemergence of cultural traditions.

I really
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
May 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nf-history
This book delivers exactly what its title promises, a brief introduction on Aztec (or rather Mexica) history and culture. The information here is just enough to whet one’s appetite, I will definitely look for more books on this subject.
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: america, 2008
I do dearly love these little gems from Oxford University Press. In this case, I happen to admire the author, too, having taken one of his classes at Harvard in 2015. Davíd Carrasco is a gifted teacher, a warm human being, and, of course, a great expert in this subject.
I read this book as part of a tear I'm on to read histories of Mexico and particularly of the Mexican-American border. As expected, I learned some things from this slim volume: For one, the Aztecs were preceded by even older civi
Stephen Clare
Aug 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
If you always carry a book on you it's surprising how much time you can find to read throughout the day. On public transit, in queues, or while waiting for friends to arrive, you can get through a dozen pages or more. Oxford's "Very Short Introduction"s are great for this purpose because they're small enough to fit in my pocket, and short enough to be digested in bite-sized chunks.

Some interesting facts from "The Aztecs" that I think will stick with me:

-English words with Aztec origins include t
Andrew Fear
Jan 13, 2019 rated it liked it
This was a bit of a curate's egg. The political history part was very good, albeit the part on Cortes is caught up in some contradictions. Surprisingly, given the author's PhD was on mesoamerican religion, the section on religion and the "cosmovision" of the Aztecs was a little disappointing. This is a notoriously tricky subject, but here there was no real attempt to try to link things together. There was no sense of how the female deities related to the male, remarkably little on Tlaloc, or on ...more
Daniel Wright
It's slightly irritating that introductions about the Aztecs always end up as historical accounts of the Spanish invasion and take over of Mexico. Unfortunately, this is an inevitable result of the fact that we only know anything about the Aztecs through the distorting lens of the Spanish accounts, as well as a few physical remains recovered by archaeologists. Another result is that the Aztecs have a disproportionately large and mostly undeserved place in popular consciousness about the peoples ...more
Mar 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
There are a lot of details for a short introduction (maybe too many?), but overall it's quite readable and interesting. I read this partly out of personal interest and partly because I've started teaching a short section on Aztec philosophy in my World Philosophy course and thought I could use a bit more historical background. It was good on both counts as the Oxford Very Short Introductions tend to be.

(See also my blog review:
Ethusiastic short history of the Aztecs. Lots of quotes from primary sources. Highly readable, although the names can get confusing if you're unfamiliar with Aztec history. (Still, if you have to start getting familiar somewhere, this seems like a good place to start!) I enjoyed it! ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting insight into the religion and the history, but I would have liked to have had more on everyday life. Organization is a little difficult to follow.
Ronit Konch
Jan 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Pretty balanced viewpoint. Gives quick summary of Aztec history. Discusses the Aztecs as successors of a broader urban civilization which emerged in Mesoamerica (According to Paul Kirchhoff, geographically it comprised of the southern two-thirds of Mexico plus Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and parts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica). Begins with a historiography of how Aztec culture has been seen since its encounter with Europeans. Gives account of the warfare between Aztecs and other co ...more
Elias Helfer
Dec 30, 2019 rated it liked it
I went into this book expecting "Aztecs for dummies" - a brief overview of their history, their society, their daily life, their cosmology, their gods. That's not what this is, however. Instead, this is more of a sampling of topics for further study: the role of language and riddles in their philosophy, the place of women in the Aztec world, their enduring legacy. That's not bad, as such - as a jumping off point for further study, I'd say it's a good book.

On the other hand, it left me wanting f
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Informative and short, the book is divided into different subjects about the Aztecs: General history, human sacrifice, mythology, poetry and philosophy and Spanish conquest. I've been often told that the Aztecs had been an amazingly anvanced and sofisticated culture with their cities which population sizes even surpassed the ones of the biggest cities in Europe, Paris and London, at that time. But I never quite knew exactly what the Aztecs were about and now I feel a little bit more enlightened. ...more
Religion Year
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author's enthusiasm for the topic is evident throughout the book and the book excels at vivid descriptions of Aztec rituals, beliefs, and cosmology. But it's easy to get lost in the details. I would recommend looking for something else if you want a linear chronology.
Dec 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very well done and engaging introduction to the Aztecs. Reading this book helped me understand how and why Aztec culture had, and continues to have, such a big impact on Mexican culture. It wasn't until I read this book that I realized that some of my great aunts and uncles have Nahuatl ("Aztec") names. ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
No está mal, es un buen resumen. Sin embargo, he echado de menos que se desarrollasen más las secciones sobre religión, idioma o vida diaria. Es una pena que se haya dedicado gran parte del libro a la conquista española.
Corinna Bechko
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting overview of the Aztec culture. The sections on family life were particularly enlightening.
Jun 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Really well executed.
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
Parts were interesting but there were almost too many details for a book that is supposed to be a very short introduction.
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A well done very short history on the Aztecs.
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A good introduction to the world and culture of the Aztecs. Doesn't go too deep into anything, but gives the reader plenty of room to explore. ...more
Nov 12, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this for a class, and unfortunately I didn't feel it covered a lot that fit in the theme of the course. Some elements were related, some chapters focused on history and conquest that was possibly useful background, but ultimately didn't contribute a lot to the core. It was also just not a great read (for *most* chapters, some were more enlightening and engaging). ...more
Bojan Tunguz
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
When the Spaniards landed in Mexico at the beginning of the sixteenth century they encountered an advanced culture and civilization that was on par with some of the most sophisticated civilizations of the “Old World.” The center of that civilization (or rather civilizations) was located at the place of today’s Mexico City, and the people who had ruled in this place were known as Aztecs. Aztecs were fierce warriors, and their entire culture was permeated with

This books aims to give a fairly comp
Dec 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Generally an interesting and informative introduction to Aztec history and culture. However, there were a few areas that made me wonder about the accuracy of the information, at least in parts. For one, there is a description of the Aztec conception of divine powers as being almost intrusions from another reality, inhabiting physical objects as though they were shells, and accessing our reality through double-helix-shaped portals called malinalli. This sounds really interesting, and I feel like ...more
I only studied the Aztecs briefly at Primary School and with a passing glance during a Uni module on 16th Century European colonialism/globalisation, so most of what I remember is from Horrible Histories. As such I really appreciated the long view taken by this VSI, from historical interpretations of foundation myth to a continuing cultural presence in Mexico and beyond. Although there was the requisite space dedicated to human sacrifice and the surrounding historiography I was pleased to find ...more
C. Varn
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
A brief and extremely readable summary of various aspects do the history and culture of the Mexica. It does have to achieve a broad overview of the cultural and religious history of the Mexica, but it is so broad that the reader may have a hard time connecting. That said, the further reading section is excellent to build on knowledge gained and the liberal use of primary sources in translation largely compensate for the breadth of the material covered.
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
VSI at its finest - this was a great introduction into who the Aztecs really were, and their abiding influence on Mexican life and culture. It made me want to hop on to next flight to Mexico City to explore the ruins and museums.
Feb 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Wonderful, concise overview of Aztec history and culture.
John Eliade
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The VSI series can be very hit and miss. This one is definitely a hit. Really comprensive. Really well written. Really enjoyable.
Creo que ahora sé un poco más sobre los aztecas. Debería tomar un examen.
Laura  (Reading is a Doing Word)
Does exactly what it says on the tin! Great, informative and concise intro to Aztec history and culture.
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Davíd L. Carrasco is currently Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of Latin America Studies at Harvard. He is a Mexican-American academic historian of religion, anthropologist, and a Mesoamericanist scholar who has published widely on the Aztecs.

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