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The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America

3.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Random House (2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1588369048
  • ISBN-13: 978-1588369048
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I read the UK edition of this book, named The Golden Age, but apart from some minor differences in structure, the UK and US editions appear to be the same.

Hugh Thomas has authored two brilliant books about the Spanish conquest of the Americas, The Conquest of Mexico and Rivers of Gold, the latter work being the first volume of a trilogy about Spanish history from Columbus to Philip II. Unfortunately this second volume comes nowhere near the quality of those earlier works.

Thomas has always been fascinated by people's family pedigrees in his works. What used to be an eccentricity, is now a hindrance disrupting the narrative flow. The reader is constantly distracted by lengthy descriptions of the newly introduced men's family origins. As the book has a large cast of characters, those digressions really tax the reader's patience without really adding anything to the story.

But the problems go deeper than that. The whole structure of the book is disjointed: one story is started, only to be interrupted by another, and it might take hundreds of pages before the original narrative's thread is picked up again. A lot was going on in the Americas during the time span of this book, and as a result the book is a bewildering collection of raids, nasty little wars and civil wars, daring treks of exploration as well as the most famous story of them all, Pizarro's conquest of the Incas. Thomas would have done well to concentrate on the most important of these ventures and devote less detail to others.

The book also has some editorial mistakes, the most obvious being the title of Book IV (Book III in the US edition), 'Counter Reformation, Counter Renaissance' - there is not a word of these subjects in that book! (Nor anywhere else in The Golden Age.)

The Golden Age could have been so much better: research is still sound, and maps again are great. But while Thomas's earlier works were a pleasure to read, this one was a chore.
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Format: Hardcover
****
"The Golden Empire" is British historian Hugh Thomas' latest work. It is, like most of Thomas' books, big and sweeping, peopled by dozens of historical characters, some of whom are familiar, many of whom are obscure." -- Robert Siegel, NPR

The second volume in Thomas's monumental history of the Spanish empire in the Americas, follows its critically acclaimed first volume, Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan, reprinted to support the launch of The Golden Age. The view of historian Thomas's on the Spanish empire is beginning now to take shape, and there seems to be little doubt that upon the completion of the projected trilogy, it will become the definitive study of the that empire's history in the Americas, for years to come.

"The Golden Empire," covers the years of the reign of Charles V, who was king of Spain and Europe's last emperor in the 1500's. Mockingly illustrating the complexity of his inheritance, he once remarked, "I speak German to my horse, French to my ministers and Spanish to my God." Through his mother he would inherit Spain and the bloodstained kingdom of Naples as well. The book picks up a couple of decades after the spectacular stories of the unification of Christian Spain, the Inquisition, Columbus, and that it ends a couple of decades before the defeat of the Armada, which I can still remember from history class.

This is a period when Charles V was in effect the last European emperor, the universal one. He thought he might run the world, and was in a sense a 'sort of' president of the United States 'in waiting'. His multinational, multicultural empire is not quite different from the variety of states which the United States is now.
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Format: Hardcover
The Orellana expedition sailed down the length of the Amazon. I became addicted reading about this "Swiss Family Robinson" adventure. Here's the surprise: P.299
Orellana asked an Indian who the women were who had attacked his expedition. The Indian replied that there were 70 pueblos inhabited only by women. Orellana asked if these women had children. The reply was: "The lord who lived next door carried the women to his own land, his men impregnated them and returned them to their own residence. If they had a son, he would be killed but, if they had a daughter, she would be well looked after and trained for war."

If you are researching the early Spanish exploration of America or looking for detailed descriptions of why and how events occurred involving either the Spanish or indigenous tribes, this is a 5 star book. I got bored at times so I'm only giving it 4 stars- but that is me.

Here's some things I learned:
Men from all over Charles' realm-Netherlands, German, and Italy-went to New Spain.
P.39 Cortes 1522 letter to Charles V-"We beg the king also not to send us lawyers because by coming to this land they would put it in turmoil."
P.40 "In 1517, Cardinal Cisneros, Regent of Spain, received a letter from Las Casas suggesting that the Inquisition be sent to the Indies" (America).
P.51 There were 8 councils that governed Spain (like the US cabinet departments).
P.99 Cortes sent Alvarado to explore Guatemala. He so loved the diverse topography, fertile and beautiful land that he wanted to become its governor.
P.148 Charles had borrowed from the German banker family, the Welsers, because he was always short of funds for the wars against France.
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