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History of the Conquest of Mexico

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  524 ratings  ·  60 reviews
"It is a magnificent epic," said William H. Prescott after the publication of History of the Conquest of Mexico in 1843. Since then, his sweeping account of Cortés's subjugation of the Aztec people has endured as a landmark work of scholarship and dramatic storytelling. This pioneering study presents a compelling view of the clash of civilizations that reverberates in Latin Amer ...more
Paperback, 1056 pages
Published December 4th 2001 by Modern Library (first published 1843)
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Sep 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
The thing I like about this book is both its strong narrative, almost novelistic, thrust, and its heavy footnoting throughout (at the end of most chapters there's a little bibliographic essay). Prescott's familiarity with his sources seems exhaustive. Reading him is a little bit like reading Gibbon. One has to make provision for the passage of time and the change of values. "Conquest" is hardly the word we would use today. Today the word is the neutral contact--pre-contact, post-contact.

The boo
Aug 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is astounding!

Like others, I suspect, I thought I had some decent grasp on the story of the conquest of the Aztecs by Cortés and his conquistadores. I was aware of the Aztec belief that a white god was returning in the very year that Cortés showed up, a belief that attenuated their response to his advent. And the fact that they were overawed by the horses and hardware. All that stuff. The truth, I found, was that I hadn't a clue until I read this splendid history.
read by Kerry Shale

**See also The Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Schaffer**

Those chief Aztec bods wore gold shoes with pearls studded on, even the soles were made of gold.

This was written in *sit yourself down* eighteenfortythree and it reads brilliantly.

Such a gruelling part of history; no matter how many times I come across Montezuma's incarceration and death it is still
Oct 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is the absolute best! What an exciting story.
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredibly interesting both from the standpoint of the author, a man from 1841, and the history of the conquest of the Aztecs. In most modern history books written nowadays, the Aztecs are portrayed as victims and the conquistadors as villains. Prescot is able to show the good and bad of both group from a Euro-centric viewpoint, which is how the conquistadors also thought. Prescot's use of European references and American (USA) stereotypes, makes the conquistadors into a news story ...more
Mar 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
So beautifully written I hardly noticed it was a history book. What a journey Cortes took his followers on. What a determined man. The writing was poetic, absolutely unique. Thank you Feliks for recommending it to me.

A tragic history, this country, and the Mexicans rose up against the Spanish with such dignity and power. It was a perfect back drop for my travels through Yucatan and Mexico (City). And especially for my understanding of this country when I walked through the Anthropological Museu
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shakespearean. Biblical. The somewhat archaic sounding language only adds to the oomph of this story. Due to the publication date, 1843, there's some un-pc wordage like "savage", but overall this is a surprisingly balanced (for the time) look at the clash of two cultures, i.e., the Spanish and Aztec empires. The story spans about two years, and focuses upon the machinations of Hernan Cortez as he undermines the Aztec power structure and eventually destroys the capital city of Tenochtitlan. A goo ...more
erik d aker
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: california
Insanely good. The most impossible-to-put-down history book I've ever held in my hot little hands. And it's over 100 years old.
R.J. Wheaton
Apr 12, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: paused
Loving these C19th sentences.
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
"History of the Conquest of Mexico." William H. Prescott 1843. Although reputedly blind and having never traveled to the Americas, Prescott's seminal account of the conquest of the Aztecs is as highly respected by historians today as it was in the 19th century. Cortez's clash with the Aztecs is arguable one of the most dramatic histories of the age of exploration. Drawing from numerous first hand accounts from both the Spanish and the Aztecs, Prescott, like the majority of anthropologists of tod ...more
Oct 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is a great read. It was written in the early 19th century and so has a charming archaic feel to it. But it is not so old as to read as if it were written in Olde English. The author strikes a nice balance between the demands of epistemic responsibility and vivid prose. At many points it reads like a novel, with excited descriptions of this battle or that, but it is also pretty scrupulous about evaluating its source material.

It is also animated by a dramatic ambivalence. Prescott
Gerald Sinstadt
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Other reviews can be found of this book in other formats, but all agree that it is an astonishing achievement.

William H Prescott was an American historian whose sight had reduced him to near blindness, and who had never visited Mexico, yet researched and reconstructed original documents to produce a thrilling account of an epic seriesof events. The year is 1520. Cortes embarks from Cuba with the aim of claiming Mexico for Spain. Arriving in the capital, he is made welcome by the divi
Kiel Bryant
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Prescott transmutes mere facts into immortal romance.

"[At the bitter end of the long war Cortez] ascended the [last pyramid], from which the standard of Castile, supplanting the memorials of Aztec superstition, was now triumphantly floating. The Conqueror, as he strode among the smoking embers on the summit, calmly surveyed the scene of desolation below. The palaces, the temples, the busy marts of industry and trade, the glittering canals, covered with their rich freights from the su
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting story, of course, but also one written how historical books should be. It’s thoughtful, factually accurate and a real page turner. Hard to believe from the prose that it was written over a hundred and fifty years ago.
Oct 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
really a first rate adventure novel. learned more from this than the dozen dry acedemic modern books i read for class.
Angel Alonso
Nov 03, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a sad and biased recount of the events of the conquest of Mexico. The writer repeatedly romanticizes the Spanish while demonizing the natives for equivalent behaviors as far as religious fervor, politics, bloodshed and self preservation. Not only is this book Euro-centric but it constantly uses lavish language while describing the supposed virtues of the "civilized" liberators while dismissing the bloodthirsty barbarians in order to elevate the narrative to the level of a fairy tale ...more
Alexander Anderson
Apr 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Reasonable recounting and summary of The Conquest. The writing is eloquent and clear. The narrative, if a little lopsided, is well constructed and, I understand, is considered ahead of its time as far as literature of this category of writing goes.

At the time of publication, the reader would have been well aware which side was the right side and the one he was on and so the usual criticisms and caveats will apply: enlightened Christian warriors subjugating the barbarian hordes, the w
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Despite being written over 100 years ago, this was a very interesting read about Hernando Cortes and the conquest of the Aztec Empire and Montezuma. I knew the basic story of Cortes, but this very detailed account of his exploration, invasion, etc. of the area in modern day Mexico is much more complex than what you read in most school history books. Also, despite being written so long ago, the author takes a not always favorable view of Cortes' actions and use of violence against the native popu ...more
Kimberly Simon
Prescott, one of America's revolutionary children grew up to be a historian writer who was known for his expert use of primary sources. The way he tells the tale of what was probably the first telling of a non Spanish audience of the conquest of Mexico is riveting. It's almost impossible not to read it in one sitting as a action/adventure novel.

Yes, there is the ever over riding misery of understanding that this amazing civilization of Aztecs is being destroyed upon first contact within months
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exciting story

Even though this book was written in 1890, it is surprisingly even handed in this struggle between the dominant culture of Central America and a small group of adventurers led by Hernando Cortes. The author obviously admires the achievements of the Aztecs, despite the 20,000 human sacrifices annually made to their gods. The conditions of the Aztec nation which made it liable to collapse and the skill of Cortes are discussed. This story would not be believed if history had no
James Davis
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a gem this book was. Prescott's History of the Conquest of Mexico is an impressive literary work which I think would make a fantastic mini-series. What makes it most impressive is that this book was written almost two centuries ago. It didn't read that way at all. The survival of the Cortez's little band; the alliances; the atrocities of the Aztecs; the unjustified aggression of the Spaniards; the religious influences; the impossible battles; the quest for power; the adventures never ended. ...more
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a magnificent epic, well worth the time it takes to read. I appreciated getting a large picture of the history of Mexico during the conquest. This should really be made into a tv series. I think it could give "Game of Thrones" a run for its money.
Balloon Bruce
Jul 08, 2017 rated it did not like it
Couldn't finish it - a dull recitation of facts.
Abby Altshuler
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Cortez annihilates the Aztecs with help from their enemies
Dwight Kincy
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Classic, a detailed account of the Spanish Conquistador conquest of the Aztec Indians.
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Quick read that gives a Western perspective of Cortés's Aztec conquest. This is a military history book with colorful and occasionally reductive descriptions of the Aztec (labeling them "barbarians" is the perfect example). If you require trigger warnings, then read something else.
If you are fascinated by how a gutsy Spaniard and his band of misfits managed to conquer the closest thing to Rome that the "New World" possessed, then read away. Hint, he had a lot of help from tribal groups that sou
Robert Clancy
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An extremely interesting account of the conquest of the Aztec empire by Cortes and his small band of conquistadors. Doubly interesting since Prescott wrote this account in 1843 -- over 170 years ago. As such, he was closer to the events of 1520 than we are, however, he was also influenced by the prejudices and political slant of his time. Prescott uses all the best sources for his account of the Mexican (Aztec) empires fall -- mostly from eyewitness like conquistador Diaz and the priests Casas a ...more
Jan 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Absolute must read for those interested in historical accounts of the Contact Period. Sure, it's a very old book (written in the 1800's) and suffers mildly from both period bias and research limitations, but this book gives a sweeping narrative that is as informative as it is entertaining. All other existing accounts were built on the strong narrative of Prescott. Every other text owes a debt... Rec'd as a beginning text for students and casual readers, as I'm sure any self respecting Contact 'a ...more
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
really good book, quite dry in some spots but superb in others. i like his sarcastic little comments on the europeans. has good notes. bought this back in 1999 with my last dime, sat on my shelf for years.

when i bought it i wasnt much of a reader, liked the cover and the thorough notes in the back but then the dry parts put me off. 1 day i thought lemme just crack this open 2/5ths in and voila, read a few great lines and was hooked.

cortes was a wicked man but super charismatic, supe
Clive Warner
Feb 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No cover but imagine a beige hardback somewhat disintegrating around the edges - this is because it's the original edition of two books.
It's fascinating to read this account, made even more interesting by little facts such as the idea of malaria being caused by "bad air" (mal - air - ia)
I also have a much more recent Mexico history, "Fire And Blood" which provides a more modern view, but Prescott's account is rich in detail of the fighting between the Aztecs and the invading Conquist
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William Hickling Prescott
U.S. historian. Born to a prosperous family, Prescott graduated from Harvard University in 1814 but was prevented by poor health and eyesight from a career in law or business. His friends, including Washington Irving, led him to his life's work: recounting the history of 16th-century Spain and its colonies. He is best known for his History of the Conquest of Mexico (
“a government, which does not rest on the sympathies of its subjects, cannot long abide; that human institutions, when not connected with human prosperity and progress, must fall, if not before the increasing light of civilisation, by the hand of violence; by violence from within, if not from without. And who shall lament their fall?” 2 likes
“The life of the Spanish discoverers was one long day-dream. Illusion after illusion chased one another like the bubbles which the child throws off from his pipe, as bright, as beautiful, and as empty. They lived in a world of enchantment.” 1 likes
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