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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 15, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I knew very little about Bingham and the Yale expeditions prior to this book. I was hooked from the first page! The author was clear and concise about all sides of the issues of colonial exploration. If the artifacts had been left in Peru, who is to say what shape they'd be in today and where would they be? Now, most of the collection seems to be gathering dust at Yale, so who is benefiting at all? Was Bingham a hero or a plunderer? I love thinking about all these aspects as I read the story. I also love the idea that is presented over and over that the natives weren't savages waiting to be civilized by the conquistadors. They had intense, intricate societies rivaling anything in Europe, sometimes surpassing them.
I just loved this book and enjoyed the coda where the author brings his own personal experiences into the story without intruding.
Just great.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 15, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham"; is brought to life by Christopher Heaney. The book is broke up in a three part documentary of Hiram Binghams life. It is documented very well and Mr Heaney lets the reader decide right from wrong or your own option of Bingham. You can expect to learn small information on the Incas and Machu Picchu; however a wealth of knowledge on Bingham and the politics of archaeology and Bingham. This book reads almost like a novel. If you are interested in history and comparative knowledge on Mayans and Incas historians this book is for you. I have many Mayan books and the various explorations in that area and now I can see the simulates of these archaeologists worlds.

I highly recommend this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2010
Cradle of Gold - Christopher Heaney

In his book, Heaney utilizes an easy, conversational style to tell an interesting and surprising tale of the life and adventures of Hiram Bingham. The reader is treated to Indiana Jones-like stories of the explorer's travels throughout Peru and of the wonderful discoveries he made. Heaney's use of original sources is at times inspired and always appropriate. The little tidbits about Bingham and his family are often poignant and truly create a feeling in the reader that one knows the man himself.

At the same time, the reader is shown the sometimes shady underbelly of the profession of archaeology (or perhaps just "exploring") and its connections to the mistreatment of indigenous people, the illicit artifact trade, and much more. Sadly, these practices date back hundreds or thousands of years, perhaps as far back as humanity has existed in a form resembling that of today.

In many cases, Bingham represents a sort of "renaissance man" that belongs to a different era. He lived a highly varied life, spending time on isolated islands -- at sea and in the jungle. He met a great number of people from all walks of life and from all over the world. However, as Heaney writes, Bingham was the hero of his own life.
Bingham treated the world almost as his personal plaything; he expected to get what he wanted and to make use of it as he saw fit. He ostensibly followed the rules, but felt few qualms about bending them as it suited his needs. When the rules became too strong to bend to his will, he simply changed games, moving into politics instead. As a man of experience and pedigree, he found early success in this venture as well.

It is this sense of "easy" success and entitlement that shines through the story most of all, not merely of Bingham personally, but also of the "civilized" world in general. For much of human history (including perhaps our own current time), humanity has divided itself into segments. To the extent that they are aware of each other, each segment feels free to judge and place a value on the others.

In Bingham's time, this was most definitely the case. Theories such as Social Darwinism and Eugenics came and went, but always the "civilized" nations felt they were the best qualified to care for humanity's history. In fact, they often felt that they needed to care for humanity's history. This feeling extended even over artifacts and locations where the local countries were actively fighting for their right to control their own cultural discoveries. Thus, the people with sufficient power and motivation felt they were the only ones who cared enough -- the only ones who could care enough -- to properly preserve historical items.

Unfortunately, this attitude led to the widespread removal of artifacts from their homelands to be displayed (or hidden in storage) in far-flung museums and galleries. This practice became something of a competition amongst the wealthier nations of the world. In one sense, the reader sides with the explorers and researchers as they are at least preferable to unsupervised and rampant looting simply for personal gain. We want to see the museums of the world display artifacts and sites in such a way that the viewer can truly gain an understanding and appreciation for all that has come before.

However, as Heaney points out, this viewing need not take place in Bingham's New Haven, CT. In fact, many times, such a viewing might be more effective if the items could be studied closer to home, providing the opportunity for the most interested parties to see and appreciate them. Sometimes this might even include people who can trace their remote ancestry directly to those who hail from the era of a cultural site.

In the end, the book represents a fascinating and at times gripping story of Bingham's life. In terms of what this amazing man's experiences can teach us about the discovery and study of antiquities today, Heaney only touches briefly upon the topic, picking up the theme throughout the overarching narrative of Bingham's movie-script of a life. He helps the reader understand what it is about humanity that might make us seek to make discoveries, to possess ancient objects at whatever the cost. Heaney does not, however, go far enough in elucidating ways to reign in these exuberances. In fairness, this was not the focus of the book, but Bingham provides such fertile soil, that the reader justifiably might expect more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 18, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I loved this book!!! It's the story of how Hiram Bingham (often called the real-life Indiana Jones) discovered Machu Picchu (a lost city of the Incas) in Peru. It seemed like it was the author's graduate thesis, and it was superbly researched and written. The author consulted so many sources (even Hiram's jourmals and letters he wrote home to his wife at the time!) that the story flows along with no gaps.

I liked that the author portrayed Hiram honestly. It seems like he was a really fascinating and mysterious character, and also kind of a screw-up who just had a lot of persistence, and who made a few majorly bad decisions along the way!

This story has adventure, smuggling, Survivor-like alliances, death, and greed, and a cast of scientists led by a semi-bumbling rookie who looked exactly like Conan O'Brien. I honestly was picturing what the movie version would look like as I was reading it!

A great deal of Inca history is discussed, especially what happened to them when the Spanish Conquistadors came. Stuff like whole empires toppling because the Inca emperor wouldn't leave his pregnant wife behind to flee to safety. These parts of the book were SUPER sad.

The author also touches on the recent topic of Peru trying to get back all the artifacts Hiram took during his expeditions. This leads into a general discussion of who should own there things. Hiram had verbal agreements with certain officials, and people on the other side have legal regulations that may or may not have been in effect at the time.

All in all, a very interesting book. It makes me want to go to Machu Picchu to check it out!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2012
My wife and I just got back from visiting Peru, and before our trip we both decided that we would get more out of it if we did some reading about Machu Picchu. We each read a few books, and while they were all helpful in one way or another, "Cradle of Gold" was by far the most beneficial to our trip.

"Cradle of Gold" presents the history of Machu Picchu in a straightforward, yet highly readable manner. Both the history of Machu Picchu as a civilization and the story of its "discovery" by Hiram Bingham are fascinating, and Heaney does a wonderful job of telling these stories. He also very fairly presents the controversy surrounding the ownership of the artifacts taken by Bingham, making what could be a dry legal case into an interesting sociopolitical debate.

We found that we got much more out of our trip to Peru, and particularly to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, than we would have had we not read "Cradle of Gold." We were able to spend our time with our guide of Machu Picchu skipping over the basic stuff and asking about what interested us most. "Cradle of Gold" provided us with context and a much deeper understanding of what we were seeing, and allowed us to have a much more enjoyable and educational trip than we would have without the book.

"Cradle of Gold" is a quick and enjoyable read, and one that I highly recommend for anyone traveling to Peru.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2010
Generally, I'm a sparse reader of non-fiction. But Cradle of Gold isn't your usual dry meander through history: I flew through this book in four days. Heaney's earnest prose guides the reader quickly and compellingly through a few interesting years in an important man's life. This book should be required reading for anyone planning a visit to Peru; for any student of archaeology who is wrestling with the relationship between "discovery" and ownership; and, really, for any Yale affiliate who wants to understand one of the darker sides of the university. I have four particular thoughts on the book that I think would be worthwhile to share here.

(1) Storytelling. Some of the other reviews have questioned the choice of Indiana Jones in the subtitle, and I admit that I find it to be a dubious sell -- one that the book does not need. The strength of this book is in its honest, careful, and tender treatment of a real (and extraordinarily lucky) life -- and real lives are hardly ever similar to the movies. Bingham's missionary origins, his marriage into the Tiffany money that allowed him to do the exploring that made him famous, the curious blend of fortuitousness and tenacity that led him to discover one of the most important Inca ruins in South America, all come across vividly: Heaney has written a lovely adventure story that is painted in the unglamorous colors of life itself.

(2) Ambivalence. I think that this book's major accomplishment is in navigating the ambivalences that governed Bingham's exploration and re-discovery of Machu Picchu. Bingham comes across as a man struggling to find the recognition and fame he strongly felt he deserved, burdened by major flaws of pride and selfishness, blinded to certain realities and prejudice that seem obvious in today's light, but also gifted a tinge of that stubborn Quixotic heroism that occasionally pushes lucky men to greatness. Yale's treatment of the artifacts from Peru is cast as a decision made in honest recognition of Peruvian resources and sincere belief that Yale could care for the artifacts better -- and in the context of racism and Monrovian politics. It is very difficult to show these delicate problems without slapping the reader in the face with them; Heaney is gifted in his ability to navigate ambivalence delicately.

(3) Relevance. Heaney's timing is perfect. Peru has sued Yale for the return of a number of artifacts, and that lawsuit is currently pending. I was struck by the realization that no trial will ever quite capture the difficulty of wrestling with a hundred-year-old history in the political context of its time. Heaney's story gives life to a sticky trial, and anyone interested in international law would be interested to know more.

(4) Personality. Some of the other reviews on this site have commented on Heaney's involvement with the story. I find Heaney's presence -- in the afterword, in his opinion as to whether Yale should return Machu Picchu's artifacts to Peru -- to be compelling, and perhaps indicative of new kind of history that has an intimate and personal impact on the historian. I spent some time wondering (full disclosure time!) whether my fondness for this element of the book is borne of my friendship with Heaney, and I think that's probably a part of it -- but I also think that young anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians would like the frank honesty with which Heaney acknowledges that Bingham's story has now become something deeply personal to him. We can't study something so long and hard without having it affect us, and I appreciate Heaney's heartfelt involvement with this story -- and hope it inspires others to study the past as presently.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2010
Christopher Heaney spins a thrilling and engaging tale here, uncovering a world that is not well known at all but is well worth delving into. From the history of the Incan society, to the culture of exploration in the early 20th century United States, to the intrigue of agreements made and not honored that still resonate today, this was an untold tale that more people need to hear about. Hiram Bingham, as depicted here, is a stunningly complex and interesting character; the sum total of his exploits seem beyond the scope of one human being in our contemporary world, in ways both positive and negative. Highly recommended, a shamefully under-discussed slice of history that has mostly been covered up by time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoyed reading this novel. Christopher Heaney didn't leave one stoned unturned. My view of Yale will never be the same that's for sure. I especially enjoyed the Butch Cassidy and Sundance kid connection. The author admits their is no proof on this claim. However they were linked to the area and it's very possible.

From the time of Hiram Bingham to Mr. Heaney's time in Peru the author really knew how to keep the reader involved in the story. I look forward to any more books he has coming in the future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 8, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In 1911, the year that a Peruvian boy led Hiram Bingham to "discover" Machu Picchu, my great grandfather fled oppression in Tsarist Russia for North America.

The analogy is perhaps apt: Christopher Heaney portrays the find of the Inca fortress in the Andes, an ostensible refuge from the Spanish Conquistadors, whom he portrays (apart from Yale University) as the bad guys. In Russian, I'm told, there's a saying with no verb, "Who Whom?" It's left to the listener to fill in the blank, as pertaining to specific circumstances.

And we have something of that dilemma in this real-life tale.

Was Bingham a scholarly hero, bringing the light of history to the world, or an archeological thief?

Advocates for aborigines might say he was a plunderer. But then, grave robbers and those seeking to erase history might have done far worse with the artifacts now at Yale. Indeed, in China and Turkey and Armenia, priceless history has repeatedly been destroyed, in situ, by "natives," all for the sake of "progress."

And what of the aborigines? Inca history has fascinated me since I first learned of that culture in roughly fifth grade. But the society was hardly a noble one, as another reviewer has noted. This was a society devoted to human sacrifice, among other brutalities --- which would tend to cancel out its beautiful aspects.

For all the page-turning aspects of this story, then, it is somewhat skewed to the "noble savage" point of view, which as might be expected tends to belittle the very scholarly pursuit that brought us to the title in the first place.

It's an interesting story. But in reading this book, my 1911 historical reference point might not be so inappropriate after all. "Whom whom?"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 27, 2010
The clearest achievement of Hiram Bingham is that he brought the Machu Picchu to the attention of the world. In the process he used forced labor and broke and skirted the laws of Peru. Career benefits flowed from this which included publications, international recognition, and election to high state and federal offices. By the time the truth caught up with his deeds, the antiquities were ensconced at Yale University and Bingham was dead.

Christopher Heaney does a great job of outlining what Bingham did and how he did it. He shows how Bingham was persistent and forged ahead into dangerous areas. While he did not "discover" unknown lands, Heaney shows how he effectively promoted interest in the Incas and Peru.

Bingham's record is most deeply marred by his drive to acquire objects from his explorations for Yale. He allowed the falsification of records and otherwise hid what was taken. He made illegal antiquities purchases. Then there was his cavalier treatment of these objects once he got them to New Haven. For many there were no notes as to where they were found which diminished their value. Either Bingham or Yale allowed the bones to be used in what seem to be medical school courses and not in the study of the Incas.

The author covers all this and more in interesting detail and concludes with a discussion current litigation concerning the ownership of these antiquities. Yale claims a host of technicalities such as a statute of limitations. If Peruvians attacked the Peabody and captured or otherwise stole the artifacts, those Elis who feel "To the victor go the spoils"...would undoubtedly change their tune.

Although Bingham is child of Pacific Island missionaries, he chose a secular life. An interesting topic for another book or writer would be an analysis of Bingham and other children of the Pacific Islands missionaries. Bingham's attitudes parallel those of his some other contemporary missionary children who pursued secular goals. One group that did not leave the islands imprisoned Hawaii's queen and captured the island chain for the US.

This is a good read and essential for anyone interested in Inca history and the issue of antiquities ownership.
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