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Aztecs: An Interpretation Paperback – February 24, 1995

ISBN-13: 978-0521485852 ISBN-10: 0521485851 Edition: Reprint

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Aztecs: An Interpretation + Victors and Vanquished: Spanish and Nahua Views of the Conquest of Mexico (Bedford Cultural Editions Series)
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Breakthroughs in historical topics most often come from discoveries of new texts or archaeological finds. Not so in this case. Here, rereading existing indigenous and Spanish documents (particularly the Florentine Codex of de Sahagun), as well as current scholarly literature, has yielded a riveting, fresh perspective on a seemingly exhausted topic, the pre-Columbian culture of the Aztecs of Mexico. Where previous authors have seen chronicles of empire building, the workings of economic systems, or reconstructions of social organization, Clendinnen finds tonalities of everyday life. How did the ordinary people of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital destroyed by Cortez, make sense of their world? How did the warriors, women, priests, and traders understand the brutal practice of human sacrifice for which Aztec society is notorious? The author's answers to these and other questions provide the general reader and specialist alike with a powerful, elegantly written interpretation that goes further than any yet in getting inside this extinct culture. It deserves a place on the shelf next to Jacques Soustelle ( Daily Life of the Aztecs , 1961) and Nigel Davies ( The Aztecs: A History , LJ 6/15/74).
- William S. Dancey, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'Inga Clendinnen's vivid study Aztecs begins and ends with the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, the glistening lake city which rose like a dream to the Spaniards who first saw it ... It takes us deep into the heart of Mexican or Aztec society.' The Times Literary Supplement
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 391 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (February 24, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521485851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521485852
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #677,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By ilmk on July 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
Inga Clendinnen has written a definitive guide to the Aztecs that attempts to view this somewhat enigmatic peoples in a manner that doesn't attempt to classify the ritualistic society that emerged from the Mexica Empire, but rather understand the roles of each social strata within the microcosm. There is an inevitable tendency to look at the religious perspective, focusing acutely on the human sacrifice and also on the Spanish conquest but the author shifts away (whilst having an opinion on the role of the victim) from these well-trodden paths to discussing the greater mores and individual experiences of the society.
There is an extremely interesting chapter discussing the roles of wives, in particular the ascribing of fertility and maternal aspects and the circumscribing of any 'political' role. This, in turn, leads to a further discussion on the role of the mother and the 'growing' eidetism that permeates cultural perception.
The text concludes with a brief chapter on the final destruction of Tenochitlan rounding off a work that brilliantly analyses Aztec ceremony and the individual's place within this society at the end of an Empire.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Claude-René DE WINTER on June 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A lot of books are available about Precolumbian civilizations, especially mesoamerican; Aztecs and Mayas are the most learned of all. BUT, we read always the same informations for a long time. Inga CLENDINNEN gives us "An Interpretation" : what kind of civilization has rizen on the plateau of Mexico-Tenochtitlan ? How to explain Aztecs's power in a region where so many people had developped cities and values such as Olmecs (in TEOTIHUACAN) or Toltecs (in TULA) ? We discover first the City and its meaning. Then, we enter the mentality of the peoples who entertain LIFE by their Death (the Victims), their Work (Warriors, Priests, Merchant) or their personal place in the society (Males, Wives, Mothers). Third, we enter the Sacred and we begin to understand how the Rituals may consolidate the society with the Fear of others... before being the plea of a revolt of vassal populations. AZTECS were strong by their military organization but weak by their believes : an entire world fearing the sun could not been able to born another day, organizing war to provide their temples with victims to their Gods, such a world had to find its limits. When the Spaniards came with their "magic"... Aztecs resist, but only two years. The Death of the Empire is to find in its structures self. The same, with other contexts, explains the fall of the Ancient Indian Worlds, facing the Spaniards, the French or the Englishmen. Understanding how to be strong meant to become weak, for Native Americans old civilizations, may permit the Renaissance of New Indian worlds; but here, I go beyond the Interpretation of the Author. The Book tells us how to enter in Aztecs Civilization Construction, as we visit an Architecture, a Mecanism... Thanks to Inga CLENDINNEN for this initiation (please, excuse the bad english of a natural french writer).
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By South Slope on June 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
There is really no other book quite like this on the subject. To get into it, you should have already read a book about everyday Aztec life (Soustelle or Bray for example), and have a basic knowledge of the Aztec gods, who Montezuma II was, and about the Spanish conquest. If you now know the basic facts, Clendinnen's book will make the ancient city of Mexico come to life. She doesn't explain so much what the Aztecs did and said, but why. Human sacrifice, ceremonial cannibalism, a macabre pantheon- these alien aesthetics are given a human face. We begin to see the local young warrior carrying the same small-time glamor around his neighborhood as a high school quarterback. Refreshingly, as much ink is spilled over women and children as men. Certain insights of hers are unforgettable (e.g., unlike British boarding schools, Aztecs had no use for the gentlemanly loser, winning was all.) Her writing is above a high school level, but is generally clear and direct. If you know who Tezcatlipoca and Malinche are, you will love this book. If not, come back to it when you do, to take it to the next level.
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By S. Smith on August 17, 2014
Format: Paperback
This book is an exercise in Ethnohistory, attempting to describe a society that ceased to exist about 500 years ago. It is written to give mainly non-specialist readers an insight into the minds of all the Mexica, the people of the capital of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlan, not just its ruling elite. It claims to be innovative in its focus (concentrating on the people’s religious rituals), in its use of sources, and in its style as a series of essays. As there are very few credible sources for the early history of the Mexica, it can only describe the society of the few decades of the late 15th and early 16th centuries before the Spanish conquest. However, as that empire had risen rapidly in less than a century from a small island settlement, that may not be a major limitation.

In her Introduction and note on sources, Inga Clendinnen stresses that she is ignoring the focus of other authors on the rise of Tenochtitlan, state formation, economic and social organisation and official religious practices in favour of trying to understand Mexica religious beliefs and social attitudes on an emotional level. These two sections are rather full of sociological jargon, and are probably the weakest parts of the book. The rest of the book is an interesting read: despite its declared intention, it is perhaps less innovative than the author claims.

Clendinnen relies very heavily on a single source, the Florentine Codex. Although this was edited by a Spanish friar in colonial times, she claims that its description of life in Tenochtitlan in Aztec times allowed her to gain access to Mexica voices and actions, because its editor did not impose his views on his informants too strongly.
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