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History of the Conquest of Mexico (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – December 4, 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The sheer accumulation of substantiated detail is propelled forward by Prescott's unsparing identification with the fundamentally tragic nature of the conflict.... He has intuited that the "conquest" of Mexico was, in fact, the unsuccessful enterprise of grafting one civilization upon another. -- The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, Neil Baldwin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

"It is a magnificent epic," said William H. Prescott after the publication of "History of the Conquest of Mexico in 1843. Since then, his sweeping account of Cortes's subjugation of the Aztec people has endured as a landmark work of scholarship and dramatic storytelling. This pioneering study presents a compelling view of the clash of civilizations that reverberates in Latin America to this day.
"Regarded simply from the standpoint of literary criticism, the "Conquest of Mexico is Prescott's masterpiece," judged his biographer Harry Thurston Peck. "More than that, it is one of the most brilliant examples which the English language possesses of literary art applied to historical narration. . . . Here, as nowhere else, has Prescott succeeded in delineating character. All the chief actors of his great historic drama not only live and breathe, but they are as distinctly differentiated as they must have been in life. Cortes and his lieutenants are persons whom we actually come to know in the pages of Pres-cott. . . . Over against these brilliant figures stands the melancholy form of Montezuma, around whom, even from the first, one feels gathering the darkness of his coming fate. He reminds one of some hero of Greek tragedy, doomed to destruction and intensely conscious of it, yet striving in vain against the decree of an inexorable destiny. . . . [Prescott] transmuted the acquisitions of laborious research into an enduring monument of pure literature."

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 1056 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Modern Library Paperback Ed edition (December 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375758038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375758034
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In his "History of the Conquest of Mexico" and it's companion volume, the "History of the Conquest of Peru", William Prescott achieves the remarkable feat of portraying the action and adventures of the Spanish cavaliers in a highly readable format for those with little prior knowledge of the Conquests. The subject matter for these books is basically the clash of cultures that occurred between the Old World (in the form of Catholic Spain) and the New (in the form of the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in Peru). It is interesting to note that these books were written by in the early 19th century by a partially sighted American author who had never visited the countries but who had access to all available historical documents. The style of writing is such that the reader is never overwhelmed by detail and is continually impressed by the heroic feats of the Spanish and at the same time shocked by their cruelty to the indigenous poeples.
In the "History of the Conquest of Mexico", Prescott provides an excellent acount of the origin and nature of Mexican civilization at the time of the conquest, describing how the Aztecs dominated the many races of Mexico with savage brutality, indulging in regular human sacrifices. He then goes on to describe the key player in this adventure, Hernando Cortes, and how he and a small party of cavaliers overcame overwhelming odds to defeat the armies of the Aztecs. While it is impossible not to admire the genius of Cortes, the reader is left in no doubt that the Spaniards were motivated by the promise of Aztec gold and not by the desire to "spread the word of God to the heathen". However, Prescott excuses the means by which Cortes overthrew the Aztec empire as it put an end to the Aztec practice of human sacrifice.
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Format: Paperback
This book is one of the greatest works of world literature, but it can be a deeply disturbing read. By turns, the heart races in outrage and sinks in sorrow at the retelling of the events surrounding Cortes's conquest of the Aztec Empire from 1519 to 1521. There has seldom been an event in history with greater drama, greater conflict, greater peril, and greater moral consequence. Though the conquest is not a turning point in world history, its events can help us fathom many of the most pressing and profound moral and political issues we face down to this day. Prescott tells the story of the conquest superbly, with depth, precision, elegance, sympathy, drama, and emotional power. There are few prose stylists as fine as William Hickling Prescott in the history of English literature, and this is not known widely enough. Many a swollen six-volume history from centuries past has become the province of scholars; few are the classic histories that still can command the attention of lay readers. This is one of them. Many lay readers and scholars testify that this book has lost none of its savor or substance. Prescott emulated Gibbon, that marvel of magnificence in English prose, but thankfully Prescott's style isn't quite as magnificently glorious as the historian's who laid out the momentous decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Prescott's prose stands a bit lower on the register than Gibbon's heroic grandeur; yet Prescott achieves a depth of perception, elegance, and insight that is matched by few writers in all of English literature. As with Gibbon, Prescott's sentences and paragraphs stand as works of art; they not are to be hurried through for the story only, but pondered with an expectation of almost unbounded discovery.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Wow. I studied History and Literature at Harvard... and they never introduced me to this book! Shame on Harvard. Prescott is a true fusion of history and literature. Built on deep reading and comprehensive research of original sources and shot through with critical insights blended with fairness, Prescott's work is so different from much modern history (which is the manipulation of facts to satisfy politcal agendas).

Gosh, I know Prescott is disavowed/not read because of the discrimination against dead white males. But he's just flat-out better than the historian practitioners of today.
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Format: Hardcover
William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) was an eminent American historian. He wrote in the Preface to this 1843 book, "Although the subject of the work is, properly, only the Conquest of Mexico, I have prepared the way for it by such a view of the civilization of the ancient Mexicans ... If I shall have succeeded in giving the reader a just idea of the true nature and extent of the civilization to which the Mexicans had attained, it will not be labour lost." (Pg. xviii) He notes difficulty of his task, however: "his [Montezuma's] history is to be collected solely from Spanish writers... It is the hard fate of this unfortunate monarch, to be wholly indebted for his portraiture to the pencil of his enemies." (Pg. 220)

He states, "The tutelary diety of the Aztecs was the god of war... The soldier, who fell in battle, was transported at once to the regions of ineffable bliss... Every war, therefore, became a crusade; and the warrior, animated by a religious enthusiasm, like that of the ... Christian crusader ... courted... the imperishable crown of martyrdom. Thus we find the same impulse acting in the most opposite quarters of the globe... each earnestly invoking the holy name of religion in the perpetuation of human butchery." (Pg. 19)

He records "the popular traditions respecting Quetzalcoatl, that deity with a fair complexion and flowing beard, so unlike the Indian physiognomy, who... promised, on his departure, to return at some future day with his posterity." (Pg. 122) Later, Cortés "encouraged the idea that his own sovereign was the great Being indicated by Montezuma." (Pg.
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