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The Rulers

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  • October 2006
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The overthrow of the "Aztec Empire" by Hernando Cortes and his fellow conquistadores is well-known. When properly presented, the drama inherent in this clash of peoples and cultures can engage the attention of undergraduates and introduce them to the historian's craft. While primarily aimed at those beginning the study of early Mexico and Latin America, specialists also can enjoy this lively work.

The book's distinguished editor has produced a work that is well-conceived in many respects. A succinct introduction precedes the many well-selected excerpts from English translations of the most critical primary sources in Nahuatl ("Aztec") and Spanish. Following the excerpts are a chronology of the conquest, suggested questions for provoking discussion and comment, biographical sketches of key figures, separate glossaries of Spanish and Nahuatl terms, and a selected bibliography, none longer than four pages. The compact effectiveness of the content is matched by the books slimness, smallish size, and light weight, making it extremely portable.

Two sources, one Nahuatl and the other Spanish, provide the majority of the documentary extracts. Fray Bernardino de Sahagun's Florentine Codex contains the leading Nahua ("Aztec") account of the conquest. The excerpts are from a second-generation transcription and translation by James Lockhart which builds on the groundbreaking work of Charles E. Dibble and the late Arthur J.O. Anderson. The leading Spanish account is that of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, available in many English versions. These two texts are highly partisan, engrossing precisely because of their aggressively self-centered and self-justifying points of view. Brief comments preface the chronologically arranged selections.

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