STARRED REVIEW
February 2018

The conquest, revised

By Matthew Restall
Review by

Through diligent research, Restall presents readers with a fascinating view of Montezuma, mounting a convincing argument that Cortés’ self-serving accounts and the traditional narrative are almost surely false.

Share this Article:

In the traditional story of the conquest of Mexico, as told by the conquistadors themselves, the brilliant strategist Hernando Cortés and a small, valiant band of Spanish conquistadors marched into the capital of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlan (where Mexico City now stands), on November 8, 1519. They were met by a weak and fearful Montezuma, who almost immediately surrendered his empire to the Spaniards. Montezuma was later stoned to death by his own people, and a war broke out in which the Spaniards were soon victorious. That a small band of conquistadors could defeat a massive army of Mesoamerican warriors proved the superiority of Western culture. For the next 500 years, the epic tale was embellished, streamlined and repeated so often that it assumed the aura of truth.

In his brilliant deep dive into the history and scholarship about this famous episode, Matthew Restall contests almost every assertion in the traditional account of the conquest of the Aztec empire. Restall is emphatic and witty in his argument that Montezuma did not surrender; the assumption that he did was the result of ignorance about the subtleties of the native language. Restall credibly argues that as the shrewd leader of a very advanced civilization, Montezuma was neither weak nor fearful. Nor was Cortés particularly brilliant, as his earlier career shows, and he was less in control of his comrades than he claimed. The conquistadors also benefited immensely from internal rivalries among the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans, and the catastrophic spread of disease.

Through diligent research, Restall presents readers with a fascinating view of Montezuma, mounting a convincing argument that Cortés’ self-serving accounts and the traditional narrative are almost surely false.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.