In This Review

The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517-1521
The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517-1521
By Bernal Diaz Del Castillo
512 pp, Da Capo Press, 1996

A welcome republication of one of the enduring works of the sixteenth century. This edition was originally drawn by Genaro Garcia from the only exact copy of the original manuscript and published in Mexico in 1928. The book is a stirring eyewitness narrative by a foot soldier in the Cortez expedition who participated in all the battles, victories, and near-disasters that befell the Spaniards as they met, fought, and sought to comprehend the extraordinary world their very presence was soon to shatter. Diaz saw both the splendor and the collapse of the Mesoamerican civilizations. In old age, from his vantage point in Guatemala's old capital, he wrote the story down as he remembered it, in simple, declarative prose. Diaz's magnificent history is fresher and more readable than ever. It also gives full credit, albeit in a backhanded way, to the warriors who opposed the Spaniards, a respect earned after many fierce encounters and not a few wounds. The conquest in Diaz's account is never the inevitable collapse of indigenous resistance before superior European arms that is still too often recounted by modern historians who have forgotten to look at the original sources. One historian who has not forgotten, Hugh Thomas, introduces this edition with an erudite and enthusiastic preface. A. P. Maudsley's translation preserves all the simplicity and directness of the original. Anyone interested in the story of the Americas should begin here.