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Cortés and Montezuma (New Directions Classics) [Paperback]

Maurice Collis
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 15, 1999 0811214230 978-0811214230

The convergence of Cortés and Montezuma is the most emblematic event in the birth of what would come to be called "America."

Landing on the Mexican coast on Good Friday, 1519, Hernán Cortés felt himself the bearer of a divine burden to conquer and convert the first advanced civilization Europeans had yet encountered in the West. For Montezuma, leader of the Mexicans, April 21, 1519 (known in their sophisticated astronomical system as 9 Wind Day) was the precise date of a dire prophesy: the return of Quetzalcoatl, a fearsome god predicted to arrive by ship, from the East, with light skin, a black beard, robed in black—exactly as Cortés would. The ensuing drama is described by eminent historian Maurice Collis in a style that is equal parts story and scholarship. Though its consequences have been treated by writers as diverse as D.H. Lawrence and Charles Olson, never before have the facts of this event been rendered with such extraordinary clarity and elegance.

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Editorial Reviews


“A fascinating piece of history...Maurice Collis tells an extremely intricate story with perfect clarity, and he writes also with obvious delight at having such a good story to tell.” (David Garnett - New Statesman)

“Collis has set out not merely to retell the fabulous story of the conquest of Mexico, but to study in some detail the characters of Montezuma and Cortés.... Written excitingly, [it is] a book that was needed and could hardly have done better.” (Michael Swan - Time and Tide)

“Collis's books give nothing but pleasure to those who enjoy elegant writing.” (Harold Nicolson - Daily Telegraph)

Product Details

  • Series: New Directions Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (September 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811214230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811214230
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #528,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Perspective on an Incredible Story January 23, 2001
By T. Reid
The story of the conquest of the remarkable Aztec civilization by Cortes' handful of Spaniards is an incredible drama. The accounts of Bernal Diaz and Prescott tell it well, but at considerable length, and with only a superficial comprehension of what motivated the Mexicans' responses to Cortes' invasion. What makes Corliss's succinct and compelling account so insightful and remarkable, to me, is his sympathetic understanding of the Mexicans' and Montezuma's complex astrological-magical religion, and how it decisively shaped their actions. He understands a pre-modern time when religious beliefs were the predominant context for social and individual actions, as well as the importance of Cortes' religious faith, and he notes the fascinating paradoxes and ironies that resulted from the primary actors' actions based on their respective religious convictions.
But regardless of that, this is simply a wonderful read. My one regret is that the book wasn't accompanied by illustrations to convey the extraordinary richness (and horror) of the Aztec civilization, as well as the difficult and stunning terrain where the action took place.
As a footnote, it is fascinating to contrast the ethos of the Conquistadores with that of the North American settlers so well described in Albion's Seed.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Story and a Great Tragedy September 7, 2000
My best friend's wife was in the hospital, and I was put in charge of their son for a few hours. I decided to tell him the story from memory of how Hernan de Cortez, with a handful of men, brought down an entire world. I had just finished reading Collis's book, and also Bernal Diaz's first-hand account of the same story and Prescott's able retelling in THE CONQUEST OF MEXICO, so it was still fresh in my mind. The boy was entranced.
Maurice Collis's is by far the best telling of the story as such. (Prescott and Diaz are both worth reading if you have the chance.) I collect Collis and love everything I have ever read by him.
There are, of course, two sides to every story. Cortez's gain was Montezuma's loss: And it was the Aztecs' loss. According to J. Eric S. Thompson in MAYA HISTORY AND RELIGION, approximately 80% of the population of what is now Mexico died of measles, smallpox, malaria and other diseases brought by the Spanish within a very short time. The Aztecs' sacred books were burned as heresy; their language (Nahuatl) is dying out; and the name and image of Montezuma are absent in the Mexico of today. Only Cuauhtemoc, who resisted Cortez and his lieutenants, is honored.
Read this book and marvel at how tenuous a civilzation can be. It took Rome over a thousand years to fall: Tenochtitlan fell in a year.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Esoteric Drama of the Conquest of Mexico January 20, 2002
The incredible chain of events that led to the conquest of Mexico by a small group of Spaniards is wonderfull told by Maurice Collis in this fascinating book. Well organised and stylishly written, the book includes many quotations from contemporary sources, as well as some very vivid descriptions of the places and persons involved. Collis's understanding of the events and his clear and involving style make Cortes and Montezuma an extraordinary piece of historical writing.
The complex characters and motivations of both central figures are explained in detail. According to Collis, Montezuma was a generous, devout and able ruler, but at the same time he was a tyrannical monster who indulged in endless orgies of ritual murder; Cortes was a civilized and enterprising explorer who brought enlightenment to a oppressed land but he was also the bringer of death and destruction to a complex and fascinating civilization. The author also explains the amazing astrological-magical religion of the Mexicans and how it made the conquest possible.
This is probably the best book on the subjet, a veritable page turner that will help you understand one of the most incredible events in history.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you¡¯re interested in pre-Hispanic America this book is a must read. Maurice Collis tells it in a way that makes you see the real thinking of both Montezuma and Cortez. And if you aren¡¯t already interested in ancient Mexico this book is still a great read. It reads like a novel rather than a history.
There are things that are hard to imagine until you compile the Cortez letters, the friar¡¯s notes, and previous historical documents as Mr. Collis has expertly done. For example there¡¯s a section about how the Spanish soldiers were wearing chain-mail so they were burning up under the desert sun during day and then (when the temperature dived down as desert weather is apt to do) froze at night.
This book is filled with the harsh realities that both sides faced. This gives a reader a greater understanding of the rationales for decisions. Also, Mr. Collis has a great cultural- or anthropological-sensitivity so we see how Aztec cosmology, predictions, and religion influenced Montezuma¡¯s standpoint. At the time of invasion, the Aztec army could have quickly destroyed the Spanish soldiers. The forces that prevented this outcome are beyond common Western thinking.
This book shares the complexities that both of these great men faced. And it treats Moctezuma deservedly as one of the world¡¯s great men. Often books have a pro-Spanish feel to them. This book is as close to fair as I have seen.
Also, consider Broken Spears by Miguel Leon-Portilla.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Journey into another world! Viaje a otro mundo!
In Cortes & Montezuma, Maurice Collis uses a deft combination of erudite research and eloquent storytelling to weave a comprehensible yet unbelievable tale of true adventure. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Roy C Recinos
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible
This is one of the best books I have ever read and I read a ton of books. The story of how Cortes took over Mexico is absolutely mind-boggling. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Island Lawyer
5.0 out of 5 stars insight to the thinking of Cortes, Montezuma, the Aztecs and...
A good account of the main elements of the conquest of Mexico. Author gives not just the facts, but attempts to explain the complicated 'why' in the thinking and subsequent... Read more
Published 18 months ago by recent traveler to Oaxaca valleys
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply stunning.
Beautifully written. Very entertaining. Collis writes in a manner which keeps you reading till the end of the adventure. I am very interested to read another by him.
Published on May 30, 2012 by El Güero
5.0 out of 5 stars very interesting approach
The Conquest of Mexico is a historical event, which is not fully understood yet. It was a huge crash of two completely different civilizations. Read more
Published on August 11, 2009 by mjare
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the very best!
I have read other accounts of the Mixica, most notably by Michael D. Coe, but none of them hit upon the complexity involving the meeting of Cortes and Montecuzoma as this book did. Read more
Published on February 20, 2002 by Ronald Breeze
5.0 out of 5 stars Stranger Than Fiction
These are the translated travel notes of the chronologer who traveled with Cortez into Mexico. It is colorfull, wild, stranger than fiction and will cause you to suspend your... Read more
Published on December 17, 1999
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