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Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  650 ratings  ·  112 reviews
In November 1519, Hernando Cortés walked along a causeway leading to the capital of the Aztec kingdom and came face to face with Moctezuma. That story--and the story of what happened afterwards--has been told many times, but always following the narrative offered by the Spaniards. After all, we have been taught, it was the Europeans who held the pens. But the Native Americ ...more
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published October 4th 2019 by Oxford University Press
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Meganators
Well I've only just started reading this, but this page 2 quote:

"Libraries are generally thought to be very quiet places, whether they shelter stacks of rare, leather-bound books or rows of computers. Another way to think of a library, however, is as a world of frozen voices, captured and rendered accessible forever by one of the most powerful human developments of all time--the act of writing. From that perspective, a library suddenly becomes a very noisy place. In theory, it contains fragments
...more
Andrew
Jun 04, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs, by Camilla Townsend, is a fascinating book looking at Aztec history from the lens of both Aztecs, and of women. This book dismisses many of the historical claims made by Spanish conquistadors, who have largely written the history of the Aztecs as a conquered people up to this point. Instead, this book looks at the writings of later Aztec histories and Mexica peoples, who learned to write in the Roman Alphabet, and recorded their stories, as well as the ver ...more
chcubic
Aug 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
The book claims to be a revisionist history of Aztecs, to revolutionize almost everything we thought we knew about the civilization. In some sense these big claims are justified, because the author takes her information not just from the traditional Spanish side, but also from many "local" transcripts written in Nahuatl. The author should also get her credit for trying to introduce more personal voices into the history.

However, for my personal taste I feel she overdoes it. There are just too man
...more
Nastya
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nastya by: anne applebaum on twitter
Shelves: nonfiction
This is my first encounter with "Aztec" - they never called themselves Aztecs - culture and history, not counting Apocalypto. This book uses new sources by indigenous peoples and tells a lot of memorable stories and recently won Cundill History Prize.
If you were disappointed by Black sun like I was, I highly recommend this non-fiction book!
...more
Lauren
"The Aztecs would never recognize themselves in the picture of their world that exists in the books and movies we have made. They thought of themselves as humble people who had made the best of a bad situation and who had shown bravery and thus reaped its rewards. They believed that the universe had imploded four times previously, and they were living under the fifth sun..."

From FIFTH SUN: A New History of the Aztecs by Camilla Townsend, 2019 by Oxford University Press.

Early chapters in FIFTH SU
...more
Krista
The Aztecs would never recognize themselves in the picture of their world that exists in the books and movies that we have made. They thought of themselves as humble people who had made the best of a bad situation and who had shown bravery and thus reaped its rewards. They believed that the universe had imploded four times previously, and that they were living under the fifth sun, thanks to the extraordinary courage of an ordinary man. Elders told the story to their grandchildren: “When all w
...more
David
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good book (with a couple of hiccups) that illuminates the culture of the Mexica and the Triple Alliance they forged with Tlacopan and Tetzcohco, using lesser known Nahuatl manuscripts to bust multiple myths.
William
Dec 05, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
My rating is on the low side because I really trudged through this book. As a few readers mentioned, having some familiarity with the history of the region the Aztecs inhabited helps a lot. I had virtually none. I appreciate that there is a lineage chart at the beginning of the book, but there were so many characters and so many interrelated families that I could not keep them sorted out.

Townsend states that she was trying to balance a scholarly perspective with the needs of non-scholarly reader
...more
Ashlee Bree
Forget everything you thought you knew about the Aztecs. Or the Mexica, as they were more commonly known amongst themselves. A fresh and insightful, sometimes familiar, history splashes across these pages which will open your eyes, ears, and heart to Nahua culture pre-and-post colonization. It resounds in a way that makes you realize how - for far too long - we’ve been missing more than half of the story, and it’s one we all need to hear. To learn. To know.

Townsend winds a vibrantly complex and
...more
Carlos
Sep 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book if you want to know a little bit more about the Aztecs. The language is a little complex and it does take some previous knowledge to fully enjoy the premise of this book but with some effort, I was able to enjoy it. It is mostly a book that talked about the structure of the Aztec empire and how it started and how it developed to be what it was at the beginning of the Spanish conquest. The book does detail how what made the empire strong also made it weak and vulnerable to their enemi ...more
Marc Gerstein
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-study
This book covers a lot of ground, a heck of a lot, as would be expected of a historical survey. But readers having a least some familiarity going in can help cope with voluminous information — names, groupings, places, etc. I’d benefit from that in many historical topics, but not here. My prior knowledge of the Aztecs was limited so more than usual was new to me, meaning it was a challenge to keep all the new information straight. I’ll probably need to come back and re-read this.

At least I do ha
...more
Erica Tofu
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is so much information in this book. It tickles me how the author uses themselves as a source. There is no pretending to have an understanding of a people who were so complex. Individuals who made history are given a voice like I have yet to read in other textbooks. I look forward to a reread.
Jason Honeycutt
Plods along mired in the extravagance of minutia, and a multitude of clear biases. That said, there are some moments that are of genuine interest (historical and otherwise) and a few well written lines
Collin Mickle
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an accomplishment: Well-written, thoughtful, painstakingly researched. Townsend relies throughout on indigenous sources, supplementing with Spanish records only when the native sources aren't available. It's a work of advanced scholarship that still manages to be accessible to the layman (me!) who can't tell an Acamapichtli from an Axayacatl.

Even the framing of the subject is original. Instead of focusing on the conquest with a brief overview of the pre-Colombian period, or focusing
...more
Gitai Ben-ammi
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Most histories of the Aztecs have been based on European sources because historians were too lazy to learn Nahuatl. This one is based on Nahuatl histories written by indigenous historians. I cannot recommend it highly enough. So many misconceptions, so many self serving narratives from colonizers, so many falsehoods are rectified. It was the first history of the Aztecs that made me think brightly of my ancestral connections to them and made me understand the continuing power of the Aztec imagery ...more
Grant Erickson
A revelation. This is a history of the Aztec Empire as it has never been written before, using source material virtually ignored by scholars for centuries, written by those who lived through the fall. These sources, written in Nahuatl and using the Roman alphabet, start appearing just month after the attack on Tenochtitlán by Hernán Cortés, and the final fall of the Aztecs. These criminally ignored sources provide an almost unparalleled view into the Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican world. We see how ...more
Jacques Coulardeau
MANY DETAILS HAVE BEEN SOFTENED

The Aztecs are a mystery in Mesoamerica, in fact in Mexico. Their own name is the Mexica and they are only one people in Mexico which was occupied before the Spaniards arrived sometime after Christopher Columbus by a mosaic of various Indian ethnic groups that are specified as for their ethnic names but that are not specified as for their origins and languages. They are just there, then, coming from no one really knows where without a real specified past. The only
...more
Jw513
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating look at indigeneous culture and society in Central Mexico, and its remarkable relative resilience in the face of Spanish conquest.

The people we know as Aztecs -- who called themselves the Mexica -- had arrived relatively recently in Central Mexico themselves, perhaps from Utah. They effectively played regional politics, which Townsend describes as being cemented by polygamous marital alliances among the nobility of the various city-states. (The commoners practiced monogamy
...more
Abby
Another one of those books that I intended to read little bits of and ended up inhaling the whole thing. And now have a long list of other titles, should I ever want to go down the Aztec rabbit hole.

Of course, there were no Aztecs. That is the first thing I learned, and smacked my forehead because I should have known--the ethnic group that rose to power in the Valley of Mexico called themselves the Mexica. People of the wider region who shared a language, Nahuatl, called themselves Nahuas. Peopl
...more
Alec
Nov 08, 2020 added it
An illuminating reexamination

I don’t do star ratings on Goodreads, and if I finish a book I give it five stars on Amazon.

A very enjoyable new (old) piece of history, and a powerful addition to the project of re-centering indigenous people in their own past and future. The Mexica and their neighbors and the complex dynamics among them really don’t fit into enlightenment conceptions of power, and so much of their shade and color and meaning has been left unexplored by Western historians. This bo
...more
Dylan Tweney
May 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Camilla Townsend has pulled off a remarkable magic trick in this book, reconstituting the Mexica empire with an amazing level of detail and sensitivity. It makes the Aztecs feel like a real people, with a vibrant and complex culture, instead of the cartoon figures that I pictured them as before.

Two things stand out to me: One, her account covers the Mexica (and more broadly all Nahua-speaking peoples) before, during, and after the Spanish conquest. The empire centered in Tenochtitlan was not th
...more
Tomy
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really love how they went back to sources written by the Mexica and used that as the basis of history. As all nations, the Aztecs was a complex culture that was not monolith. Loved the part where the Europeans interacted with the Aztec empire and how accidental their victory seemed (other than smallpox)
Meg
Jun 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Y’all. Pick this up!! Townsend presents a highly-readable, well-researched history of the people of Mexico pre- mid- and post- Spanish conquest. I learned a lot, and perhaps more importantly I now have an enormous list of further reading and resources to learn more.
John Parle
This book succeeds in conveying a sense of the complex politics, deep tradition, and sophisticated society of pre-conquest Mexico, and in underlining that these were not simply erased with the arrival of the Spaniards. Indigenous accounts are brought to the fore, and the experiences of women are also given special attention.
The author is also at pains to get across that at the end of the day the Aztecs were people, rather than the exotic aliens of our imagination. She does this by visiting the
...more
Mark Lawry
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From page 2 of the introduction:

"Libraries are generally thought to be very quiet places, whether they shelter stacks of rare, leather-bound books or rows of computers. Another way to think of a library, however, is as a world of frozen voices, captured and rendered accessible forever by one of the most powerful human developments of all time-the act of writing. From that perspective, a library suddenly becomes a very noisy place."

By the end of this page I had come to believe Townsend would be
...more
Ann
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it's interesting (and good) to hear a people's story from their words and not those of conquerors. I particularly liked the format, which was to make each chapter a story of one person, from ancient history (legend/tale of Shield Flower) to after the conquest. In the audio book, the narrator would spell each name after it was first introduced, which was a nice acknowledgement that most readers would have no idea how to go from written to spoken and vice versa. I'm glad I listened to this book so ...more
Giacomo
Apr 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As Camilla Townsend observes in the introduction to her book “Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs,” histories of the Aztecs (a word that she uses very sparingly in the actual text because it was invented centuries after the facts) are often centred on the brief years of the Spanish invasion, at best seen only as either the end of a long story or the beginning of a new one. I can easily vouch for that: I’m more interested in history than the average person and what I learned about the Aztecs i ...more
Ted Richards
Mar 30, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting narrative history, Fifth Sun is an extremely impressive book. Camilla Townsend deserves a lot of praise for not only telling an interesting history, but devoting almost half the book to historiographical insights, source work and commentaries.

For the most part, this is a good, engaging narrative history. Townsend begins in 1299 with Chimalexochitl (Chi-mal-eh-SHO-cheet), meaning Shield-bearer Flower, and tells a fascinating history up to the 1620's of the 'Aztecs'. The name itse
...more
Joe Q.
Mar 29, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Fifth Sun" tells the story of central Mexico from about the early 1400s to the early 1600s, using the original Nahuatl sources to explain the history of the Aztec people in their own words.

The Aztecs (a later appellation for the Mexica people and their neighbours) had a fascinating and complex society, with large city-states in alternating cooperation, competition, conflict with one another, extensive agriculture and trade, wars of conquest and subjugation, astonishing monumental architecture a
...more
Kyle Sullivan
Apr 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is never too late to tell history a better way, to turn over new stones and let the light shine in.

In this case, the stones are old...because, ya know, its history. Specifically, the book is all about immediately post-conquest indigenous accounts of life in Tenochtitlan among the Nahuas before the invasion of the Spanish (and quite a bit after the conquest, too). And Camilla Townsend does a bang up job making popularly accessible these dusty tomes sitting in museums across the world, which h
...more
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Camilla Townsend (Ph.D., Rutgers University) is professor of history at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ). Her special interest is in the relations between indigenous peoples and Europeans throughout the Americas.

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