Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico
By Hugh Thomas
Simon and Schuster, 1994, 798 pp.
Cortes: The Great Adventure and the Fate of Aztec Mexico
By Richard Lee Marks
Alfred A. Knopf, 1993, 347 pp.
The 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the new World in 1992 provoked much soul-searching and recrimination. Not until 2019 will we reach the anniversary of the conquest of old Mexico, but Hugh Thomas in this marvelous book has preempted the revisionists in a nuanced, sparkling, exhaustively documented, and irresistible narrative of the rise and fall of great empires and the clash of human will. Cortes the conqueror and Montezuma the defeated emperor stand at the center of his story. The Spaniards arrival in the great island city of Tenochtitlan, whose magnificence, beauty, and size took away their breath when they first beheld its white dwellings, canals, pyramids, and causeways; the city's subsequent destruction; the tale of how a small, well-led expeditionary force of quarrelsome Castilians on the make fought a large and ruthless monarchy, remains the stuff of epic adventure. Lord Thomas once again rises triumphantly to the historical occasion. Anyone who enjoys great history should not miss this book.
Richard Lee Marks' account, which covers some of the same ground, has the great misfortune of being published coincidentally with Hugh Thomas's brilliant contribution. It is thin and puny in comparison.