Conquistadors and Aztecs: A History of the Fall of Tenochtitlan

Oxford Univ. Jun. 2023. 328p. ISBN 9780197552469. $34.95. REF
Rinke (Latin American history, Freie Universität Berlin; Latin America and the First World War) has produced a riveting one-volume history of the 1519–21 Spanish Conquest of Mexico. The book demonstrates that the commander of the conquistadors, Hernán Cortés, was a colonist motivated by gold and power, but he could not have stormed the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan without backing from hundreds of thousands of Indigenous allies who had their own reasons for wanting to overthrow the Aztec rulers. Rinke spotlights the ceaseless machinations of Cortés to control his fractious Spanish troops and sustain alliances with Indigenous adversaries of the Aztecs, such as the Totonac and Tlaxcalan peoples. Rinke characterizes the conquest—with smallpox and starvation contributing to the Aztecs’ defeat—not as a genocide but rather as a complex process of deals and pacts forged or fractured by violence. Where the primary sources contradict one another (as they often do), Rinke explains and interprets the differences, instead of eliding complexity in favor of a contrived history. Although numerous historians have studied the downfall of the Aztec state, Rinke’s monograph ranks among the best.
VERDICT Enthusiastically recommended for students, scholars, and general readers seeking a thoughtful introduction to a complex and controversial historical moment.
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