Originally published in 1847, History of the Conquest of Peru, a companion volume to William H. Prescott's masterly History of the Conquest of Mexico, continues his vivid chronicle of Spanish exploits in the New World. The book's commanding vision of Pizarro's tumultuous overthrow of the Inca empire has secured its reputation as a classic in the literature of Latin American history. 'History of the Conquest of Peru represents an author's triumph over his materials,' observed Donald G. Darnell, one of the historian's several biographers. 'Prescott exploits to the fullest any opportunities for dramatic effects that history might provide him. . . . If there is one [distinguishing] feature of the Conquest of Peru . . . it is the portrayal of the Spanish character, that striking fusion of courage, cruelty, pride, and gallows humor. . . . We seem to be overhearing dialogue and observing firsthand the interaction between the Spaniards as they struggle for control of an empire. . . . Although Peru lacks a noble protagonist . . . it is still an immensely readable history.
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May 11, 2006
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Excerpt from The History of the Conquest of Peru by William H. Prescott
PHYSICAL ASPECT OF THE COUNTRY-SOURCES OF PERUVIAN CIVILIZATION-EMPIRE OF THE INCAS-ROYAL FAMILY-NOBILITY
Of the numerous nations which occupied the great American continent at the time of its discovery by the Europeans, the two most advanced in power and refinement were undoubtedly those of Mexico and Peru. But, though resembling one another in extent of civilization, they differed widely as to the nature of it; and the philosophical student of his species may feel a natural curiosity to trace the different steps by which these two nations strove to emerge from the state of barbarism, and place themselves on a higher point in the scale of humanity.--In a former work I have endeavored to exhibit the institutions and character of the ancient Mexicans, and the story of their conquest by the Spaniards. The present will be devoted to the Peruvians; and, if their history shall be found to present less strange anomalies and striking contrasts than that of the Aztecs, it may interest us quite as much by the pleasing picture it offers of a well-regulated government and sober habits of industry under the patriarchal sway of the Incas.
The empire of Peru, at the period of the Spanish invasion, stretched along the Pacific from about the second degree north to the thirty-seventh degree of south latitude; a line, also, which describes the western boundaries of the modern republics of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chili. Its breadth cannot so easily be determined; for, though bounded everywhere by the great ocean on the west, towards the east it spread out, in many parts, considerably beyond the mountains, to the confines of barbarous states, whose exact position is undetermined, or whose names are effaced from the map of history. It is certain, however, that its breadth was altogether disproportioned to its length.