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Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes and the Fall of Old Mexico

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  780 ratings  ·  77 reviews
Drawing on newly discovered sources and writing with brilliance, drama, and profound historical insight, Hugh Thomas presents an engrossing narrative of one of the most significant events of Western history.

Ringing with the fury of two great empires locked in an epic battle, Conquest captures in extraordinary detail the Mexican and Spanish civilizations and offers unpreced
Paperback, First Touchstone Edition, 812 pages
Published April 7th 1995 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1993)
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Average rating 4.31  · 
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Mar 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books I'd seen on the shelves of my library and bookstore for years. The thickness of the book was the most intimidating factor which prevented me from ever picking it up. Its really silly to admit this, but the girth and title of the book reminded me of those dull volumns proped up in a dusty scholar's office.
The kind of book you pick up to enduce yawning.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I lost count of the nights I lost sleep because I could not put the book down t
Pablo Glatz
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
One of the things I like the most about traveling to other countries is being able to learn new things (even though I’ll probably forget most of them). More specifically I like to go on history museums or historical places to learn about the historic background of the locations I visit. I’m not the kind of person that gets fascinated by architecture or art. I mean, I can tell when something pleases me visually, but that’s about it. But when it comes to history I can get entertained.
So, I knew I
May 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a solid, well-documented and researched book about a topic that is intriguing and something I had always been interested in reading. The writing is a little 'old' and the english grammar can throw you off if you aren't used to it. I loved the clarity of the history and the way the author goes through the motion to explain what happened, how it happened and as many motives as possible behind the decisions of the Spanish and the Mexica.

Anyone interested in the discovery of new civilizatio
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So good!!
Feb 28, 2008 rated it liked it
From watching The Hunt for Red October I knew that Cortez burned his ships when he got to the new world. And since they speak Spanish in Mexico, I figured the Spanish won out in the end. But I was a little short on the details. I read this book to try and learn what happened. And I did!

As far as narrative histories goes, this one is pretty impressive. The first 100 pages or so introduce the Aztec and Spanish civilizations as the existed before they discovered one another. And then it's off to th
Ed Mestre
May 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Since the age of 12 I've devoured whatever I could about the Mayans & Aztecs. Naturally this included fantastic tale of Cortes & his conquest of Mexico. From Bernal Diaz' eyewitness account to Prescott's classic 19th century tome it was a story well worth revisiting. But was there anything really new to learn? The cover of this book said there was. The research of this book, including newly discovered documents, is simply awesome. The Shakespearean like drama of the fall of the Mexica (Thomas re ...more
Steve Bennett
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating history of the destruction (or more accurately sharp decline)of the Aztec culture brought on by Cortes' invasion. Fortunately the book depicts all persons involved (whether Aztecs, Spanish or Tlaxcalian)as fully human, with both good and bad attributes. The book just as powerfully depicts the beauty that was lost with the downfall of the Aztecs. I absolutely loved this book--one of my favorite history books ever. To be honest though, the book is very long and loses its compass (and i ...more
Kyle Sullivan
Oct 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Exceptional. Easily one of the greatest accounts of the conquest of old Mexico ever written. Not only are there newly discovered sources shining an unexpected light on centuries-old accounts, not only does the author display a finely tuned sensitivity towards both the bias of past historians and the massive cultural gulf between the Mexica and the Castilians, but the author is also a damn fine writer. This book is a riveting tale, a page-turner. Hugh Thomas has done humanity a great justice here ...more
Dec 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: old-mexico
Thomas’ book is a blow by blow, day by day account of the fall of the Aztec Empire. The author has thoroughly researched every detail on both the Spanish and Mexican side of the conflict. Apparently it took Hernan Cortes two years and about 2,000 dead Spaniards to defeat the Aztecs. Cortes' complicated era of the 1520's saw the election of Charles V to the Spanish Empire, Martin Luther challenging the Catholic Church at the Cathedral of Worms, and Magellan's expedition had just circumnavigated t ...more
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a monument of a book, both literally — it’s a rather auspicious bookshelf space hog — and figuratively. My first foray in to any Spanish history at all, my overriding feeling is that Cortés comes off rather well, princely even, which isn’t quite what I expected given Hernan’s rep in the ‘new’ world. The title, CONQUEST, probably betrays Hugh Thomas’s slight sympathies towards the whole European colonialism project, despite his valiant attempts at balance, but it would be interesting to r ...more
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
It's not hard to imagine a more enthralling writing of this history, but I can't imagine a more thorough and well-documented one. A wonderful job of recounting the history of Cortez's campaign nearly day-by-day, the backgrounds (in Spain, the Caribbean islands, but also of the Native Americans in both the Yucatan and Old Mexico) of the events and personages, and educated surmises as to the motivations of these peoples and the reasons things turned out as they did. I confess that the detail, espe ...more
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is a gripping account of the conquest of the new world by the adventurer known as Cortes. It provides narrative exploring the clash of two civilisations and the birth of modern Mexico. It gives no opinion expect on the gripping journey that would forever change the continents of America and Europe. Hence anyone seeking to find the origins of the European and American empires should surely read this!
Mark Davis
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Hugh Thomas captures the riveting story of Cortes and Montezuma, the fall of the Mexica, and the birth of a new nation, with elegant prose and fine historical judgment. This was my second reading of this book, a minor masterpiece ... sorry to hear that Mr. Thomas, a life peer in Lords and former Thatcher advisor, recently passed. I am encouraged to look at the rest of his works.

David Becker
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well-researched, vividly written and wonderfully enlightening account of the great clash of civilizations. Taught me more than a semester of college teaching around the subject and entertained the heck out of me in the process.
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book asks a lot of you in terms of endurance but delivers a fascinating, well researched narrative that never fails to remind you of its global significance.
Pradipta De
Jul 18, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting book, but way too long. I could not finish it.
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic Book! The work behind the investigation, and the way it is digested to be delivered in such an easy flowing way makes of this book defenitely one of my favourites.
Ari Markou
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing voyage this book took you on. It may take a little while to pick up, but when Cortes steps foot in Mexico the story just consumes you to the point where you just can't put the book down. Cortes has to be one of the most interesting characters in history. Whether you want to call him a monster, manipulator, genius, or Hero, there is no denying that he had an enormous impact in the shaping of the modern world. Even more, This is an amazing book for insight into how the Empire of th ...more
Inés EC
Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
What’s with the pervasive use of “as the crow flies”?! Other than that, and the unending detailed accounts of minor characters whom we never hear of again, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Jan 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Fascinating, if overly wordy account of Hernan Cortes' 'conquest' of Tenochtitlan and the empire of the Mexica.

I love this kind of stuff. I took a class on Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures in college... for fun. The idea of entering a strange land full of strange plants and animals and people and customs fascinates me. Unfortunately the conquistadors in this story weren't so much interested in documentation and anthropology as they were in collecting as much loot as possible (and converting
Nov 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Conquest is a gigantic book about Montezuma, Cortes and the fall of old Mexico, as it states in the title. This book is huge and detailed; it's over 1000 pages long with tiny writing, and the footnotes/appendix make up another couple hundred pages, and then there's references, tables, diagrams, etc.
In terms of world history, the grand tale of Cortes is probably my favourite. The mischief, the swashbuckling adventures, the clash of these civilisations, these two men are incredible heroes; men of
Jan 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-history
Wow! Really impressive work of scholarship. This account of the conquest of Mexico is so well-detailed and so well-researched! It gives us a firm grasp of the widely divergent characters who had both starring and supporting roles in this tragedy. It also puts things in perspective very well, dispelling a lot of stereotypes about conquest of the Americas. For instance, it is interesting to note that when Cuban governor Diego Velazquez appointed Cortes to go to the Mexican coast, Cortes very braze ...more
Ste J
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The Conquest of Mexico was a historical event and also a book I have been reading, handily enough I recommend the book as a way into a fascinating subject. Here be the review.

Don’t let the huge number of pages(848) put you off, this is a very readable and thoroughly researched account of the events leading upto the conquest and the inevitability of the action of conquest. But first to the beginning. Parts 1 and 2 of the book involve the backgrounds of the two civilizations. For the Mexica(Aztec
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Long, exhaustively detailed and written by a well-established Hispanist scholar, I picked this one up because I wanted a comprehensive yet approachable take on a subject I'm not overly familiar with. By and large the book delivers on that premise; it takes its time setting the scene by describing both the Aztec (or more appropriately, the Mexican) and Spanish societies prior to contact, with an emphasis on the settler societies in the West Indies in the case of the latter. It then tells the stor ...more
Oct 17, 2011 marked it as interrupted-maybe-later  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, histories, mexico
Turgid! Obtuse! Better than two whiskies and valerian. (Eh, too soon to tell? Naw, couldn't be...)

...This is an acclaimed history? I'm on my second attempt. If nothing else, I *do* need the sleep aid these days. Here's hoping either it gets better or I wake up more refreshed. I'd take either outcome.

But seriously, folks, there's a reason my 9th-grade English teacher wouldn't let me get away with parentheticals like this:

"These allies helped to guarantee a mutually advantageous lacustrine economy
Daniel Cunningham
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is as complete a telling of Spanish conquest of the Caribbean islands and Mexico as I have ever read, with a heavy emphasis on Cortes and those around him and a lesser emphasis on Montezuma, the Mexica, their allies, vassals and enemies. I will say, as a lay person, this actually may have been too much detail, as there were definitely times while reading where I felt bogged down minutiae.

That said, if you are in fact interested in the subject, I highly recommend. Both Cortes and Montezuma a
Jul 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
difficult to imagine, among the first forays into mexico, cortes skirmished with the maya (who dominated the yucatan)and avoided their warfare (the maya were really only defeated in the 1800's, believe it or not), and entered central america at veracruz and conquered regional city-states through kindness and intimidation until he had amassed a force of locals willing to be lead against mighty tenochtitlan and montezuma, the central power of mexico. with 80 men on horseback, he entered the great ...more
Rob MacCavett
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The incredible clash of Old and New World cultures that set the template for what was to come for America’s indigenous people. Cortes, as brave as he was ruthless, overwhelmed a much, much stronger force, whose foundations of myth and ritual made them vulnerable. The Mexican society was in many ways as advanced as the Spanish Conquistadors. Hugh Thomas does a heroic job of bring to life events and nuances in this account of the 1519 military/cultural incursion and ultimate conquest of old Mexico ...more
T.K. Jones
Nov 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As an archaeologist and a history nerd, this is the best of both worlds. This book is meticulously researched and excellently scripted. Rather than take the predominantly fashionable position that the Spaniards were evil and the Aztecs were peaceful victims, Thomas lays out a much more complex and appealing story with layer upon layer of personal intrigue and political maneuvering. I have read this book twice and have found it to be engaging both times.

Love it.
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Wow. There was a lot more to this chapter of history than I had ever realized. All of the contextual information on both the Mexica and the Spanish led to a greater understanding of the opposing forces. The background on Cortes was especially enlightening. it's much clearer why he was so determined to conquer Tenochtitlan.
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Librarian’s note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Hugh Swynnerton Thomas, Baron Thomas of Swynnerton, was a British historian and Hispanist.

Thomas was educated at Sherborne School in Dorset before taking a BA in 1953 at Queens' College, Cambridge. He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. His 1961 book The Spanish Civil War won the Somerset Maugham Award for

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“The experience of the Mayas is one more reminder that any interpretation of human evolution based on the idea of unilineal progress forwards (or upwards) is an illusion. Peoples decline as well as rise.” 2 likes
“Yet to read into the past the morality of our time (or the lack of it) may not make the historian’s task any easier.” 2 likes
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