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Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs Paperback – July 28, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The saga of Cortés, Montezuma, and the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire has been chronicled repeatedly, and with justification, since it is one of the seminal events in world history. There is probably no new information on the conquest left to uncover, but it is a thrilling, moving, and tragic story well worth retelling. Levy is not a professional historian, but he is a fine writer who knows the material, and he is wise enough to allow the pure excitement and drama of the story to unfold naturally. At the center of the tale, of course, are the two protagonists. Cortés is viewed as an intriguing combination of ruthless ambition, religious piety, and surprising tenderness. Montezuma, also deeply religious, was less a man of action than Cortés, and his contemplative nature probably sealed his doom. As Levy illustrates, this was also an earthshaking clash of civilizations that is still working itself out five centuries later. This is a superb work of popular history, ideal for general readers. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"For sheer drama, no age compares to the age of exploration, no explorers compare to the conquistadors and no conquistador compares to Hernan Cortes. In Buddy Levy’s finely wrought and definitive Conquistador, the worlds of Cortes and Montezuma collide and come to life. Five hundred years after the conquest, the Cadillo and his prey have been made human. To read Conquistador is to see, hear and feel two cultures in a struggle to the death with nothing less than the fate of the western hemisphere at stake. Prodigiously researched and stirringly told, Conquistador is a rarity: an invaluable history lesson that also happens to be a page-turning read."—Jeremy Schaap, best-selling author of Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History, and Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics

"Sweeping and majestic...A pulse-quickening narrative."—Neal Bascomb, author of Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin

"A century before the Mayflower, a single man settled the destiny of the Americas far more momentously than the Puritans ever could....Conquistador offers a fascinating account of the first and most decisive of those encounters: the one between the impetuous Spanish adventurer Cortés and Montezuma, the ill-starred emperor of the Aztecs.... [An] almost unbelievable story of missionary zeal, greed, cruelty and courage."—Wall Street Journal

“Drawing heavily on both Spanish and Aztec sources…. [Levy stresses] the military strategy, diplomatic initiaitves, and personal relationship between Cortés and Aztec emperor Montezuma…. Well-written…. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal, starred review

“A fateful meeting of civilizations…. Cortes is front and center in this book…. [Levy’s] description of the final siege on Tenochtitlan is especially dramatic.”—Associated Press

“Explores just how far invaders will go to take what they want.”–Cape Cod Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (July 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553384716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553384710
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Buddy Levy is a writer, educator, public speaker and entertainer. He is a co-star of the hit television series Brad Meltzer's DECODED on HISTORY, which ran for two seasons and is currently airing on H2.

As a writer Levy is the author of Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior (co-written with Mike Leach--Simon & Schuster, May 6, 2014); River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon (Bantam Dell, 2011). His other books include Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs (Bantam Dell, 2008), which was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, 2009, and nominated for the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, 2009, and the PEN Center USA Award 2009; American Legend: The Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett (Putnam, 2005, Berkley Books, 2006); and Echoes On Rimrock: In Pursuit of the Chukar Partridge (Pruett, 1998). His books have been published in six languages.

As a freelance journalist he has covered adventure sports and lifestyle/travel subjects around the world, including several Eco-Challenges and other adventure expeditions in Argentina, Borneo, Europe, Greenland, Morocco, and the Philippines. His magazine articles and essays have appeared in Alaska Airlines Magazine, Backpacker, Big Sky Journal, Couloir, Discover, Hemispheres, High Desert Journal, Poets & Writers, River Teeth, Ski, Trail Runner, Utne Reader, TV Guide, and VIA. His books have been well reviewed in The A.V. Club, The Wall Street Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The Washington Times, Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal. He is Clinical Professor of English at Washington State University, and lives in northern Idaho with his wife Camie, and his black Labs Dugan and CJ.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on July 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In a letter quoted by Buddy Levy in his magnificent Conquistador, Hernan Cortes confesses that he and his men suffer from a particular "disease of the heart": a lust for gold and power. The tale of the unhappy outcome of that disease, the destruction of one of the New World's mightiest empires in an astoundingly short time by an astoundingly small handful of adventurers, is the most apparent storyline in Conquistador. Levy tells it with eloquence and accuracy.

But there's another storyline in the book that I find just as fascinating. The disease of the heart which afflicted Cortes and his men also troubled Montezuma, for the Aztec Empire, despite its achievements in science and art, was also a bloodthirsty machine that subjugated native peoples, sacrified tens of thousands to pitiless gods, and created caste systems in which the many were ground under the feet of the few. What Levy gives us, then, is a double portrait of two invalids suffering from similar illnesses. One, a European captain with fewer than 500 men, the other a divine emperor with life-or-death power over 15 million people. In the end, both of them died from their diseases, Montezuma and his empire literally, Cortes morally and (despite his sporadic religious zealotry) spiritually. Curiously, neither of them seemed to have quite the necessary stamina to survive their illness.

In telling the story of the clash between these two men, Levy explores the tactics by which Cortes managed to defeat Montezuma: a combination of bluster, good luck, superior technology, alliances with disgruntled indigenous peoples, and hard fighting.
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95 of 110 people found the following review helpful By jose el loco on October 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The book is well written and it is a readable account of the Conquest of the Mexica empire. Unfortunately, in my opinion the author fails to situate the episode in its temporal and cultural context; it feels more like an adventure story than history. It is also full of innacuracies, which suggest that the author is only superficially familiar with its topic. For example, Levy writes that the ancient city of Tula is located in what is today Mexico City, when in reality is in the state of Hidalgo, some 40 miles away. We are also told that Nahuatl was a Maya language, when in fact it belongs to a different language family altoghether.
In my opinion, Hugh Thomas' account Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico is a far superior piece, succeding in giving a better feel of the clash of two completely different worlds, with the main characters far better placed in their temporal and cultural context.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Eric Williams on December 30, 2008
Format: Kindle Edition
Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs by Buddy Levy. 448 pages. 2008.

The Conquest of Mexico was not a single event, it was not the result of disease, treachery, technology, or evil it was a long two year slog of battles won and battles lost. Too often the events surrounding the Conquest are simplified to issues of technology or disease and to a demonizing of the Spaniards. The reality is of course more nuanced and the simplification denigrates all sides.

This book does an admirable job of introducing the History and some of the issues related to the Conquest in an honest way. It draws on sources from all sides, including modern research and legacy studies. It presents the events in a complete enough narrative to tell the story with out getting bogged down in the details, some of which can be quite gory.

There are many other books available on this same topic but they tend to be one-sided or focused n on a single topic. When for instance a writer tries to make the case that Spanish victory was predicated on superior technology the writer would denigrate Spanish tactics, Aztec adaptations to technology and tactics. The focal point of this book is on the two leaders, Cortes and Montezuma.

The image of Cortes presented is a fairly complete image. This image may very well surprise many casual readers. Cortes was a real person and defies simple demonizing. He was physically very brave almost to the point of abject recklessness. The travail he endured is astounding. Cortes did not win every battle he presided over the long retreat from Mexico City and he proved capable of learning and adapting to the methods and abilities of his opponents.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Nikolai From on May 6, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
"Conquistador" reads like a science-fiction novel: two vastly different cultures, completely ignorant of each others' existence, clash in one of the most fascinating conflicts in human history.

Levy writes with the gusto of a great swashbuckling epic, going into vivid detail of each battle and tense meetings of the two sides, while taking care to keep the facts straight. Cortes is lauded as a genius in both military and, more impressively, psychological warfare against the Aztecs, yet criticized for his religious zealotry and moments of shocking cruelty. Montezuma and his followers are depicted not as primitive jungle people, but as a highly advanced civilization commanding their empire from the beautiful Technotitlan (at the time, the most populated city on the planet) who were nonetheless overcome by the deadly triumvirate of horses, smallpox, and firearms.

This book makes for a fantastic companion piece to "Guns, Germs and Steel"; where that landmark book explains *why* the civilizations of the Americas were at an inherent disadvantage to Eurasian civilizations, this book shows us the results of millenia of separate cultural evolutions.

Or, in short, why the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, when if only a few variables had been different, the opposite could well have happened.
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