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Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu Hardcover – April 13, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Hiram Bingham and the Machu Picchu saga deserve no less than Cradle of Gold, Christopher Heaney's thorough, engrossing portrait of a mercurial figure at a crucial juncture of his life.” ―The Wall Street Journal

“Heaney tells Bingham's fascinating story well. But this excellent book is more than just a rollicking adventure tale – it is also a nuanced study of conflicting claims on history.” ―Financial Times

“A well-researched and very readable biography of Bingham…[Heaney] probes the depths of Bingham's work and character, examining setbacks, scandals, and achievements and skillfully unraveling Bingham's role in the controversy that still exists today between the government of Peru and Yale University over the ownership of the Machu Picchu burials and artifacts.” ―Library Journal

“Offers a wealth of information.” ―The Chronicle of Higher Education

“A lively, suspenseful, and well-written yarn...Heaney leads us through jungle trails, up into the Andes, across rushing rivers, along the original Inca Trail, to Espiritu Pampa, 'The Plain of Ghosts' and location of Vilcabamba, the Incan city built in flight from the Spanish -- all juxtaposed with the cruel and ruthless history of the Spaniards in Peru…and the destruction of an empire that was larger than any other on earth, stretching from Chile to Colombia, the Pacific to the Amazon.” ―Providence Journal

“A fascinating work of narrative history that combines careful research with a subtle portrait of a man of great contradictions. Hiram Bingham was an explorer, adventurer, extraordinary scholar, U.S. Senator, and, in the eyes of many, high-handed thief. Heaney's highly readable book at last gives him his due.” ―Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost

“Full of intriguing detail and carefully researched, this is a fitting testimony to one of the greatest of American explorers.” ―Hugh Thomson, author of The White Rock.

Cradle of Gold brilliantly tells the story of how Hiram Bingham revealed Machu Picchu to the world. Chris Heaney combines dogged research with a gift for storytelling and a historian's rich and nuanced understanding of his subject's times. Bingham emerges as a complex, even tragic figure who, for all his faults, generated real excitement about Peru's past as no one had before. Heaney beautifully and skillfully captures the cultural clash between Bingham and his Peruvian hosts, without for a moment losing the momentum of this gripping story. The result is an immensely compelling tale of exploration and exploitation that has waited nearly a century for the right chronicler. In Chris Heaney, Bingham's story has finally found it.” ―Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World

“An unforgettable journey into the heart of Peru's past that takes the reader on a hunt for the lost cities of the Incas, the famous Machu Picchu among them. It's also a sensitively written portrait of Hiram Bingham, one of the last great explorers of our time--a man set on fulfilling his destiny--and a judicious historical account of the disenfranchisement of the Peruvian people, who had their heritage stolen by those claiming to protect it.” ―Peter Nichols, author of Final Voyage and A Voyage for Madmen

Cradle of Gold illuminates Bingham's stunning and controversial discovery-and singular life-with gripping pacing and vivid detail. The book's young author, Christopher Heaney, is a notable discovery in his own right.” ―Jim Rasenberger, Author of America, 1908

“Hiram Bingham's excavation of Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century is one of the most intriguing stories in a crowded era of exploration.” ―Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt

Cradle of Gold is a wonderfully moving account of those who invented and reinvented three cities nestled deep in the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes: Vitcos, Vilcabamba, and Machu Picchu. It is also a subtle, penetrating study of the imperial hubris of early twenty-century US archeology as it traces the origins of Yale's misbegotten collections of Peruvian ‘antiquities.' It is a powerfully argued ethical call for the ‘skulls and bones' of hundreds of both humble and powerful Andeans to be returned to Peru, to their original, ancient, resting grounds, not to museums of natural history where they do not belong.” ―Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin, author of Puritan Conquistadors: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550-1700

About the Author

Christopher Heaney worked as a journalist in Peru on a Fulbright fellowship. He has written articles on Hiram Bingham for the New Republic and The New York Times. A graduate of Yale University, he is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at the University of Texas, Austin.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1St Edition edition (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230611699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230611696
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael A. Duvernois VINE VOICE on January 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Yale University and the government of Peru still disagree on whether the artifacts of Machu Picchu at the Peabody Museum are looted treasures, or archeological evidence legally exported. A lot of the romance of archeology has disappeared into the politics of ownership of the past, ownership of ancient sites by the (possible) distant ancestors of the people of those sites, ownership by current governments, or ownership within the science framework, or science aspect of the colonial framework. In his day though, Hiram Bingham was an imposing, and romantic, figure whose fictionalized versions include Indiana Jones. The road to Machu Picchu is still the Hiram Bingham highway and we owe a lot of the rediscovery of the Incan cities to his efforts in the early part of the 20th century.

The Cradle of Gold is a rapidly moving popular survey of Bingham and his explorations in South America, with enough earlier history included to make sense of the importance of the archeological sites. It's well-written and quite fair in its assessment of Bingham in his own time and place, as well as in light of the current controversies and demands for repatriation of artifacts. There's a real sense of excitement in the exploration narrative, finding the hiding spots, the retreat of the Incas from the Spanish invasion (or more bluntly, genocide).

The book would be of interest for those looking to understand the importance of Machu Picchu, those interested in early 20th century epic explorations, and those interested in the ultimate disposition of archeological artifacts.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Our culture has a habit of idealizing explorers - emphasizing their bravery, energy, intelligence, and determination. Christopher Heaney's story of Hiram Bingham's explorations in Peru, and his "discovery" of Machu Picchu and some other Peruvian locations which were critical in the history of the Incas, combines an appreciation for these traits but tempers this portrait of Bingham with the less savory aspects of first world explorers searching for artifacts in the third world.

The book begins with the story of Bingham's childhood, and how the parents who raised him were adventurers themselves. However, they were missionaries and Bingham gradually moved away from religion as he became captivated by history and anthropology. His marriage to a woman from a wealthy family provided him with financial security for his family, freeing him to plan explorations, and his Yale experience gave him connections with wealthy families that would support his expeditions.

The "treasures" Bingham sought in Peru were not the type you see in the movies - gold, silver, ornate chalices. He was seeking relics from the lives of the Incas. He went to Peru as a privileged American, who hired help and allowed those hires to essentially force locals into working for the expedition. On one trip the expedition's carelessness for its lower level workers apparently led to the death of one - who was just a boy. Many of the locals were suspicious of Bingham and given their history of subjugation and removal of precious metals by the Spaniards their fears were rational.

Bingham's efforts yielded a collection of valuable relics and bones for Yale, and resulted in the people of Peru developing an appreciation for the history of their indigenous people.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read several books prior to visiting Macchu Pichu including by Hiram Bingham. I read Cradle of Gold after returning and wish it had been available before my trip. This gives an excellent picture of the true Hiram Bingham, what he accomplished and how he accomplished these goals. A terrific read allowing the reader who has been there to accurately visualize all that took place, and the person just interested in this amazing sight gets a wonderful description of it, it's "discovery" and a great explanation of it's probable purpose. M. Leiter
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Format: Hardcover
"Cradle of Gold" builds a fascinating case concerning the difficulty in separating exploration from possession, archaeology from imperialism. Heaney gives a balanced account of Hiram Bingham, a complex, contradictory figure, showing his many merits as an explorer (the book includes vivid expeditionary adventures) as well as his archaeological errors and moral transgressions. Where the book could turn heavy-handed or polemical, Heaney is able to keep his focus on the narrative and give space for the ambiguities in the history. And it's a history well-told: informative, compelling, and relevant - weaving together the career of Hiram Bingham, the fall of the Incan Empire, the battle over artifacts between Yale and Peru, and much more.

The research, conducted over many years, is thorough and also thoroughly digested by the author. He's able to work an enormous body of information - including documents from both Yale and Peruvian collections - into a highly readable narrative that at times feels like an intellectual detective story.

This book should be a must read for visitors to Machu Picchu, as well as those interested in the battles over repatriation of artifacts, the history of archaeology and, yes, Indiana Jones.

And the history is far from over. Legal battles between Yale and Peru are supposedly heating up again...

Highly recommended reading!
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