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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2011
This account uses narratives written by Aztecs and other native american groups around Mexico (the Aztec capital city) conquered by Cortes in the 1500s, presenting a perspective unknown to most.

I grew up in Mexico City surrounded by evidence of the Aztecs as well as the Spanish, without a clear understanding of what happened to create the cultural mixture I saw there. As an adult, I read portions of a number of accounts of the conquest of Mexico, all based on Spanish sources.

When you read these things, you're struck with amazement that they could happen and you wonder how much was only the Spanish interpretation of what they were told. Did the Aztecs really think the Spaniards were gods? Did Cortes and his men really just march into Mexico City as guests and then take Moctezuma captive? What were each of the groups thinking in this clash of opposing cultures?

The Spanish, (for religious reasons?), wiped out most Aztec records, which were written in picture form. Their general propaganda treated Cortes as a hero. But when I was growing up, there was a strong movement towards painting Cortes as a weak, crippled, diseased man -- a disgusting figure. There are murals that portray him this way. And in the middle of the city, the rediscovered Templo Mayor stands mostly underwater, with roughly 8 feet protruding, as a silent testimony to the culture wiped out in the conquest. I was left with the question, "What happened?"

I was fascinated and moved as I read "Broken Spears". They spoke of terrible omens... they were expecting tragedy. They were aware of the Spanish ships the moment they landed and the Aztec emperor sent envoys to watch them, and later to communicate with them. The unfolding story may sound stark and boring to those who haven't studied the conquest of Mexico, but to me it filled in a vital missing piece.

It doesn't matter whether these stories are eye witness accounts or not because they paint the Aztec impression of the conquest vividly. They didn't understand the revulsion and horror the Spaniards must have felt at their human sacrifices, but they were appalled at the senseless slaughter Cortes's men and allies engaged in.

This is not a book for a weak stomach. Some of the descriptions are graphic. Some of the pictures show chopped off limbs and heads.

It's not a masterpiece of excellent writing, either. That is not what makes this book valuable. It invites you into the heart of the Aztecs before their pride was broken and their people subjugated.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2009
I enjoyed reading the Aztec account of the colonization of Colonial Mexico. The book is a translation of Nahuatl writings. See- the Spanish provided an alphabet which the Aztecs did not have prior to Spanish arrival and then the Aztecs applied the alphabet to their native Nahuatl language and began writing. The only concern a reader should have is accuracy- the documents of the account were written 10 years and more after the fact. A tip when reading: start with Chapter 14 which summarizes all the events, then read Chapters 1 - 13 which elaborate on events in detail, and finally conclude with chapters 15 - 16. I highly recommend this book for anyone studying Colonial Mexico History or persons who want to know more about Aztecs and their culture.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2012
This book combines accounts from several, sometimes conflicting, sources to provide a better understanding of the conquest of Mexico. Something important to note is that the title is a bit inaccurate- not all the informants were Aztecs! Many were from neighboring groups who were ruled by and forced to pay tribute to the Aztecs, but not Aztecs themselves. This is important to note because some of these people were not very happy under Aztec rule and their accounts express this. The author gives background information at the beginning of each chapter about the sources used which is really helpful in sections where the accounts differ as it can help to expose biases and broaden understanding of the events. I think this book is really important because it was a reminder to me that no history text is flat-out truth and at this point, no amount of investigation will tell us exactly what happened during this time period. All that said, the actual writing of the book is pretty dry. I had to read this for a class, and although I find the subject fascinating, I probably wouldn't have gotten halfway through it if I'd picked it up for pleasure reading!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2009
Miguel Leon-Portillo's collection of Nahua accounts of the Spanish conquest affords the reader a unique opportunity to experience the conquest through the mind of the Amerindian. The book records the human response of the Nahuatl speaking peoples of central Mexico to the strange and terrifying events that ultimately destroyed their city and their way of life. Through songs, pictures, and oral tradition, the plight of the people was preserved, and some of the more powerful and eloquent of these are represented in "The Broken Spears."

Do not expect an objective historical account of the conquest from this book. That is not the intention, as clearly stated by Leon-Portillo in his introduction. Rather, it is a glimpse into how the natives responded to and came to terms with events that were so strange and frightening to them that they bordered on the apocalyptic. What the reader gains, then, is an eloquent testimony to the passion and intellect of the native people of central Mexico who were so often, in many Spanish accounts, reduced to barbaric, blood-thirsty savages with little capacity for human sympathy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2013
The broken spears of the title are an evocative image of the detritus left on the roads after the Aztecs succumbed to the long siege by the Spaniards and fled their island city in a rout. The book brings to light the defeated people's view of the invasion of their land and the destruction of their civilisation and society. The Spaniards, as expected, don't come out of this well. Eventually seen by the highly cultured Aztecs for what they were - not gods, but a bunch of bandits, grasping after gold and silver with all the excitement of monkeys and the greed of pigs. The Aztecs recognised the beauty of flowers and feathers and valued these equally with gold - the Spaniards stripped and melted the gold and silver and burnt the rest of the treasured and cherished objects.

This was an extraordinary clash of cultures - the Spaniards shocked and horrified by the Aztec's religious traditions and bloody sacrifices (albeit the invaders didn't mind brutal torture when it came to eliciting information on treasure troves or punishing those who didn't cooperate) - the Aztecs shocked and horrified by the Spaniards lack of culture and decorum or respect for their traditions and norms. It could only end badly - and for the Aztecs it did.

The most encouraging aspect of this book is that some of the Aztec culture survived - at least enough to bear some testimony in the decades following the fall of Tenochtitlan - and the author still finds some resonance of that culture in the traditions that have endured over the following centuries.

Brilliant illustrations throughout and a well composed anthology of the Aztec view of the bloody collapse of their civilisation.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2013
The invasion and destruction of a civilization as seen through the eyes of the Nahuatl-speaking people who resisted and suffered it. Highlighted is the element of oral poetry, not merely a retelling of the events, but a soaring rhetoric that reflects the soul of a people whose natural evolution was cut short in a manner nothing short of Greek Tragedy. And, as to the author, the great Leon-Portilla, who has dedicated his life to getting out this message, what can one say? Perhaps he, along with other voices gradually coming to the cultural front, comprise the real return of Quetzalcoatl.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2012
Pros:
This book does a fairly excellent of job portraying the Aztec's view of the event. The translation for the most part is well done. It's an interesting book to read about. It is actually a required book to read in many South American countries due to the need to protect the indigenous people. It was also published around the time when the Spanish colonies began their revolt against Spain. The events are for the most part accurate, although, this is one of the only books written from the Aztec side of the events. It does present about three different retellings of the incident, which is quite interesting. The quality of the book is also quite top notch. It's not the usual weak paperback copies, but instead the pages are quite thick.

Cons:
The translation and the actual interpretation of the story could be skewed. It's not necessarily Leon-Portilla's fault as the story itself is already quite dated, but he is another possible individual who could mess up the story some more. Reading this book in English is already the product of two translations, so the story has already been possibly skewed and affected multiple times. Although, we almost have to accept this story due to lack of other source material.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2009
A wonderful compilation of accounts on the conquest of Mexico. This work has been able to bring together the limited sources of non-European accounts of the conquest, therefore aiding to fill in the holes of such an infamous encounter. I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in ancient Mexican history, Aztec history, or history in general.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2009
If you've been looking for a different insight into Mexico's Conquest than the Spanish telling, then this is your book. Highly recommended for everyone for the reason that it is written on the accounts of the vanquished. It will broaden your understanding and motivate you to keep going.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2009
This is the Aztecs account of the conquest of Mexico. Amazing!Enlighting! I love it! A very useful book if you are looking to find what I think was the truth in History of Mexico. This is one of very few that will tell you the story from the conquered.
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