The conquest of Mexico; and, The conquest of Peru, and other selections

by William Hickling Prescott, 1796-1859

Book, 1966



Call number



Publisher Unknown


"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 Cortés'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. Cortés 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."… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member hippietrail
Very well researched, very interesting, very difficult to find used. I spent several months looking for it on two continents. The fact that it was written 150 years ago means the language is quite nice to read, with many unusual terms. Unfortunately, it also provides a few politically incorrect
Show More
shocks though it is obvious the writer was very fair and open-minded by the standards of his time.
Show Less
LibraryThing member longhorndaniel
Read this back in college when i was in the ROTC and actually really enjoyed the history of it
LibraryThing member jgoodwll
It is indeed an epic tale. I hadn’t realised how organised and prosperous the Aztec state was. Prescott is, of course, a little influenced by his 19th century ideas of civilised people and savages, but he is enough of a historian to let the story speak for itself. He produces a story of bravery
Show More
of a small band who through coincidences and good leadership conquer a country, a story of heroism on a Homeric scale. And yet he is aware of the evils they cause. Perhaps he emphasises too much the human sacrifices, on such a scale that they must surely have caused the collapse of the system sooner or later.

I was struck by the resemblances with Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland. Both the Spaniards and the Cromwellians were convinced that they were fighting for Christ, and that this justified the bloodshed. And yet the Spanish had Bishop Las Casas to argue against their actions. And the more radical sections of Cromwell’s army were not merely radical in religion (no power for any bishop or presbytery [district committee]). They were also radical in politics. There were those who said that God would not welcome converts at the point of the gun. The Leveller William Walwyn said “the cause of the Irish natives in seeking their just freedoms … was the very same with our cause here in endeavouring our own rescue and freedom from the power of oppressors,” 1646.
Show Less
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
An Artifact from 1843, Mr. Prescott's book continues to be reprinted though mostly in display editions. My favourite replacement for this book is the more recent account by Hugh Thomas, but Prescott's book has its charms. The ethnological component is of course greatly out of date, but the more
Show More
detailed sections of the conflict's details have some interest. A word about style: William Hickling Prescott was greatly influenced by Gibbon's weighty prose, and by the English writer's penchant for snide footnotes. But, if you are interested in a book written by an American which seems to have influenced at least the political rhetoric of the incomplete replacement of the First Nations of America, and steeped in anti-Catholic attitude, pleasant times can be spent with Prescott's opus. Epigramry is often sought for, and some of the product is decent.
There is a considerable and useful part of the book dedicated to biographies of Prescott's sources,
Show Less

Original publication date



Page: 0.5858 seconds