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The Last Days of the Incas Paperback – June 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. With vivid and energetic prose, Emmy Award–winner and author MacQuarrie (From the Andes to the Amazon) re-creates the 16th-century struggle for what would become modern-day Peru. The Incas ruled a 2,500–mile-long empire, but Spanish explorers, keen to enrich the crown and spread the Catholic Church, eventually destroyed Inca society. MacQuarrie, who writes with just the right amount of drama ("After the interpreter finished delivering the speech, silence once again gripped the square"), is to be commended for giving a balanced account of those events. This long and stylish book doesn't end with the final 1572 collapse of the Incas. Fast-forwarding to the 20th century, MacQuarrie tells the surprisingly fascinating story of scholars' evolving interpretations of Inca remains. In 1911, a young Yale professor of Latin American history named Hiram Bingham identified Machu Picchu as the nerve center of the empire. Few questioned Bingham's theory until after his death in 1956; in the 1960s Gene Savoy discovered the real Inca center of civilization, Vilcabamba. Although MacQuarrie dedicates just a few chapters to modern research, the archeologists who made the key discoveries emerge as well-developed characters, and the tale of digging up the empire is as riveting as the more familiar history of Spanish conquest. B&w illus., maps. (May 29)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
The Incas were members of the group of Quechuan peoples of Peru, who established an empire from northern Ecuador to central Chile before the Spanish conquest. MacQuarrie reminds his readers that nearly 500 years ago, 168 Spaniards arrived in what is now Peru and collided with an Incan empire of 10 million people. The author, who lived in Peru for five years, chronicles the adventures of Hiram Bingham, who, in 1911, discovered Machu Picchu and believed it was the Incan capital. MacQuarrie also recounts the search by Gene Savoy, the American explorer who found Vicabamba, the true capital. He describes the adventures of other conquistadors and puppet kings, the rebellion of 1535, and other military attempts to conquer the Indians. MacQuarrie, a four-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, researched Spanish and Incan chronicles. The result is a first-rate reference work of ambitious scope that will most likely stand as the definitive account of these people. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Dr. Betsy Hesser
It is a compelling story. Francisco Pizarro arrived in South America with a mere handful of men (168 soldiers, 62 on horseback), "seeking a way around one of life's basic rules ... In Peru, as elsewhere in the Americas, Spaniards were not looking for fertile land that they could farm, they were looking for the cessatin of their own need to perform manual labor." In this respect, Pizarro and his men became successful beyond their wildest imaginings. This is not to suggest that the Incas easily gave up and went gently into that good night - far from it. For fourty years the Inca tenaciously and heroically fought back before eventually capitulating. MacQuarrie is not a historian, yet he has meticulously researched and cited his sources in his retelling of the encounter between the Spaniards and the Incas, to his credit. He is also a good writer, vividly putting readers in the center of the action and intrigue.
And there is plenty of intrigue, on the parts of both Inca and Spaniards. The Inca had no formal line of succession - when an emperor died, civil war was expected, the strongest son surviving. This political infighting was exploited by the Spaniards. On their first contact, Atahualpa (the then emperor of the Inca) planned on castrating the Spaniards and seizing their horses - Pizarro, however, struck first. Even as the Spaniards began to consolidate their power, there was infighting, manipulation and double-dealing between groups of conquistadors. It would be difficult for a writer to invent the thrilling ups and downs of the fortunes of the principal characters as the story unfolds, and MacQuarrie retells it in a masterfully.
Why, then the four stars? Bookending this riveting true story, MacQuarrie includes the 20th century rediscovery of Maccu Piccu, Ollantaytambo, Vitcos and Vilacabamba by modern archaeologists and fortune hunters. Like the Spaniards before them, these men were similarly driven, this time not by gold, but fame and international recognition. And like the Spaniards, there was intrigue and manipulation, in this case over who was the first to "discover" these ruins (I use quotation marks, as in several cases, Peruvian natives were literally living alongside and in these "lost" ruins - of course, scarcely any mention is made of this by those who "found" them). While this was interesting, I felt it didn't fit very well with the broader historical narrative.
As a general history, this is really excellent work. The politics, economy and society of the Inca are intertwined with the personal histories of Pizarro (and other familiar names like De Soto and Leon, both of whom participated in the conquest of the Inca before seeking their own fortunes) and the Machiavellian plotting fueled by greed of the Spaniards. Highly recommended.
He has been balanced in his approach, and while he undoubtedly indicts the Spanish for their appalling behaviour, he does, subtly, show that they were brave (but, cruel) men, who had no respect for the Inca culture. This is, however, not restricted to the Spanish. The English did not respect Indian culture when they came into India. My own countrymen have been guilty of similar transgressions, I am sure, when the South Indian kings spread Hindu culture in South Easy Asia. This does not excuse the Spaniards, however.
The last days have been brought to life in a manner that is sad, exciting, tragic all rolled into one. Yes, I agree with the reviewer "CJA' in that he could have spoken about how the Spanish subsequently tried to stamp out the Inca culture, but I would not have traded this for the tale of how the ruins were discovered.
All in all, a marvellous book.