The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie

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The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie

Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Machu Picchu was never the lost capital of the Incan empire - that was Vilcabamba - and indeed hardly features in this very readable history of what happened after the Conquistadors arrived.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 544 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Portrait
ISBN: 978-0749950699

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Take some money-grabbing Spaniard empire builders - mostly the unskilled, uneducated and unwashed merely chancing their arm for the odd fortune or two - and plant them, and their smallpox, in one of the brightest, gold-enhanced civilisations the world had ever seen. Give them all egos, flaws, ignorance of how best to go about things, but some outstanding fortune against huge odds when it came to battle, and stir. Thus you get the Conquistadors - never more than two hundred of them for their first few years - against the might of the fresh, powerful, rich and exceedingly well organised Inca empire.

I think we all know the ending, but in this book there is enough detail by far to satisfy anyone interested in this history, and having gone to Peru a few years ago I count myself as one. I'm glad to say this hefty tome (wait for the paperback - it'll be easier to handle and much cheaper) is very readable for its depth.

There are a few quirks about MacQuarrie's style I could have done without, however. We appreciate his breaking down facts into certain equivalents - the fact that three conquistadors alone, when they levered the gold leaf off one Cuzco temple and formed a llama train to take it back to base were probably carrying the equivalent of six thousand years' of the wage they could have expected back home - but not others - we can work out that this would have been akin to robbing the Vatican of its treasures ourselves.

There are lots of tiny repetitions, as well - every aerial attack featured is withering. If I didn't know the Inca empire stretched 2,500 miles I certainly do now. The ratio of Spaniards, and the slaves they imported, converted and just plain raped (having borrowed the local concubine system) to the ten million Incas is not just mentioned a couple of times. Quotes are quite often requoted in the same chapter.

I get the sense that if I had lived in Inca times I might not have been too keen on them - chances are I would have belonged to one of the many tribes they overcame in their empire building, by means friendly or more foul. However, the rich network of roads they formed, the runners that meant it took a surprisingly short time for news to traverse the empire (all 2,500 miles, don't'cha know), and the tax of labour they used (worked out as less than the average North American pays in money this day) are all admirable.

Still, that lasted less than a century before Francisco Pizarro, his brothers, his fellow investors and crucially their war horses and steel, were usurping power, land, and the tithes all for themselves... Thus the remnants of the ruling Incas back-pedalled to Vilcabamba, the lost city of the Incas, which was left for Hiram Bingham to rediscover (in a way) almost a century ago. The last fifth of the book features Bingham and the other Westerners who delved through the jungle looking for the ends of the Incan empire.

Scholars will wish for a better index, and will query how the royal fringe headband is spelled in two different ways. Everyone will raise an eyebrow as to how the Spaniards are defined as "illiterete" (tee-hee). Luckily the proof-reader wakes up smartly.

To be fair on Pizarro, he wasn't just in it for the robbing - he honestly did count as a valid explorer, and was one of the first two Europeans to see the Pacific Ocean, having crossed Panama. Just one detail that is portrayed with very little judgement in this history book, which is very readable for its depth, and very enjoyably takes one back to the Andes, and the times of the Conquistadors. Boo hiss at the cover price, however.

Buy The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie at Amazon.com.


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