HERNANDO DE SOTO: A Savage Quest in the Americas by David Ewing Duncan

HERNANDO DE SOTO: A Savage Quest in the Americas

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An epic adventure of conquest, brutality, and greed in the 16th-century New World. Hernando de Soto (called Soto by himself and his contemporaries) was born around the turn of the century in Jerez de los Caballeros, a small town in the unfriendly terrain of Extremadura in Spain. The younger son of a minor hidalgo, he went to the Indies to seek his fortune. Arriving there in his mid-teens, Soto joined in expeditions with the likes of Vasco N—€ez de Balboa, another son of Jerez, whose practically oriented, humane treatment of the Indians is noted here. Unfortunately, Soto did not completely follow in the footsteps of his mentor. He participated in some horrifying acts of inhumanity toward the native population, raiding their villages, raping their women, and enslaving them. But the legendary gold and treasure of the New World was not evident until 1524, with the conquest of Nicaragua. Then, in 1532 in Peru, Soto helped capture Atahualpa, the Inca emperor. Atahualpa was ransomed for a staggering amount of gold--brought in pieces of amazing intricacy and beauty, as described by the Spaniards, and then summarily melted down--of which, after King Charles V, Soto claimed the lion's share. He returned to Spain fabulously wealthy and covered with honor, but it wasn't enough. He sank everything into another conquista, this one of North America, in a quixotic attempt to find even greater wealth and glory. He failed and died on the Mississippi River in 1542 a broken and beaten man. Duncan (From Cape to Cairo, 1989, etc.) tells this tale vividly, sensitively, and with respect for the historical sources. While occasionally forced to fill in gaps, he is neither timid nor excessively speculative. Plumbing this exciting and terrible historical moment and character, Duncan forges a highly readable and authoritative biography.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0806129778
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Crown