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Book Review: The Last Days of the Incas by Kim Macquarrie

last days of the incas kim macquarrie1 Book Review: The Last Days of the Incas by Kim Macquarrie

One of my habits when travelling is picking up books left behind in hotels or hostels (admittedly, most likely the latter. Im a starving writer.), as theyre often something I would not otherwise have come across. The quilting mystery I reviewed recently, for example, is one such book, as is the chick-lit novel I picked up in Bali. Kim Macquarries The Last Days of the Incas'is the most recent of my on-holidays haul, and its a hefty tome I found lurking amongst the Lonely Planet guides downstairs at the Telmotango hotel in Buenos Aires.

As a reader, I typically steer towards fiction, so the fact that this non-fiction account of clash of the Spanish and Incan empires is written in a narrative format immediately won it points with me, although the initial chapter reads in a rather unwieldy manner due to the authors attempts to squeeze in as many facts as possible, even down to the height and weight of twentieth-century explorer Hiram Brigham. However, when we travel back in time to the fateful explorations of illiterate, illegitimate Francisco Pizarro, things begin to pick up to the point that I was able to ignore most of those over-the-top descriptions and jarring repetitions (we hear over and over about the background of Pizarro, for example), and I found myself feverishly reading away between tango lessons.

The Incan empire of the sixteenth century was a vast one, stretching thousands of kilometres and representing some ten million people. The complexity of its politics, commerce, religion and agriculture was nothing short of astonishing, particularly given the immense diversity of the different groups of people it representedthink hundreds of different ethnic groups, languages, and ways of life. A carefully developed process of taxation and redistribution meant that famine and scarcity were virtually unknown, and the empires inhabitants for the most part led a life of low involvement from the ruling class.

Enter the Spaniards, or more accurately Francisco Pizarro, a young man determined to make a name, and fortune, for himself. And what better way than by claiming rule over a kingdom brimming with precious metals, agricultural resources, and a huge citizenship whose toil could be shamelessly exploited?

If only things were that easy. Rather than a simple planting of a flag, what followed was year after year of political and military coups, double-crossings and betrayals (not to mention foreign diseases), with the Incas and Spaniards clashing not only with each other, but with the various factions that made up their own sides. It was an astonishingly turbulent time, but Macquarrie manages to keep the narrative rolling along without losing the reader in a muddle of unfamiliar names and battles and deaths. He'writes energetically and dramatically, and the account is peppered with lengthy primary texts that add additional depth to his retelling of the many clashes that eventually saw the vast Incan empire fall before the Spanish.

The Last Days of the Incas'is a fascinating examination of the meeting of two very different cultures, and quite vehemently focuses on the dangers of greed and of making assumptions about ones enemy. The back-and-forth dance of the many wars and the occasional uneasy truce between the Incas and the Spaniards is perhaps the standout part of the book, and the ingenuity of the military officers on both sides makes for awe-inspiring reading. The framing device of the twentieth-century discovery of the Incan ruins in Peru is where the book lagged a little for me, and the prose could do with some tidying up, but the otherwise meaty text made this a thoroughly enjoyable visit to a place that I previously knew very little about.

Rating: star Book Review: The Last Days of the Incas by Kim Macquarriestar Book Review: The Last Days of the Incas by Kim Macquarriestar Book Review: The Last Days of the Incas by Kim Macquarriehalfstar Book Review: The Last Days of the Incas by Kim Macquarrieblankstar Book Review: The Last Days of the Incas by Kim Macquarrie (very good)

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  1. I wish I could get into non fiction more. But Im always stymied by the overly descriptive prose of most of these types of books. I skim fiction. I can barely read a sentence in non fiction. Im trying to get better! I swear. :D

    • Stephanie /

      Im not very patient when it comes to non-fiction, and am far more likely to skim. I was surprised that this one, which is quite a dense book, kept my attention, but it did. Of course, I followed it up with a whole bunch of dodgy detective fiction

  2. Stephanie, I do that too. If I do settle down and read a dense non-fiction book it is immediately followed up by some easy peasy romance of mystery fiction. :D