Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs

by Camilla Townsend

Hardcover, 2019



Call number



Oxford University Press (2019), 336 pages


"Five hundred years ago, in November 1519, Hernando Cortés walked along a causeway leading to the capital of the Aztec kingdom and came face to face with Moctezuma. That story--and the story of what happened afterwards--has been told many times, but always from the point of view of the Europeans. After all, we have been taught, it was the Europeans who held the pens. But the Native Americans were more intrigued by the Roman alphabet than the Spaniards ever knew. Unbeknownst to the newcomers, the Aztecs took it home and used it to write detailed histories in their own language of Nahuatl. Until recently, these sources remained obscure, only partially translated, and almost never consulted by scholars. For the first time, in Fifth Sun, the history of the Aztecs is offered in all its complexity, in an account based solely on the texts written by the people themselves. The Aztecs suddenly appear as real people, rather than the exotic, bloody figures of stereotypes. The conquest is neither an apocalyptic moment, nor an origin story launching Mexicans into existence. This book presents the story of Native Americans who had a history of their own long before the Europeans arrived and who used their talents to survive when the worst of times came upon them. It shows people who realigned their political allegiances, accommodated new obligations, adopted new technologies (such as alphabetic writing and European paper), and carried on. This revisionist history of the Aztecs explores the experience of a once-powerful people facing the trauma of conquest--as well as their survival and continuity--offering an accessible and humanized depiction of a civilization for experts and non-specialists alike."--Provided by publisher.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Shrike58
Though I suspect that the author has cannibalized out a lot of her previous work for this monograph there is a lot of food for thought here, and one has to respect the effort to reconstruct a "Mexica" perspective on their own history based on their own narratives. The single most important aspect
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of this book is to normalize the so-called "Aztecs" in regards to the Spanish depictions of their culture, downplaying the human sacrifice and the supposed reception of Cortes as a god (Spanish propaganda) and emphasizing the rational reception to the Spanish invasion. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member amberluscious
This book was desperately needed. It was a treasure to read about my ancestors from their perspective. It was also good to finally read about the Mexica experience prior to the conquering European settlers. I am grateful that Townsend is the kind of scholar that felt the necessity to force her
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perspective towards the unknown and the oft silenced and invisibilized voices by the white-european researcher.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
A history of the people now commonly known as the Aztec Empire, with the arrival of Cortez treated as a big shock but not as the end or beginning of the story, using whenever possible the records they left of themselves—which are relatively extensive given that they had written pictograph records
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before Cortez and quickly adopted an alphabetical system.
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Ralph Waldo Emerson Award (Shortlist — 2020)
Cundill History Prize (Finalist — 2020)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

9.2 x 6.4 inches


0190673060 / 9780190673062

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