Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America

by Hugh Thomas

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6125-9
Publisher: Random House

A densely packed narrative of the reign of Emperor Charles V, with emphasis on the conquest of those parts of Latin America allotted to Spain in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). This is the second volume in a projected trilogy, following Rivers of Gold (2005).

Venerable historian Thomas (Eduardo Barreiros and the Recovery of Spain, 2009, etc.) recounts the story of the leading conquistadors (among them Cortés and Pizarro) who overthrew the empires discovered in Mexico and South America, as well as the leaders they defeated, such as Montezuma and Atahualpa. Part of the story involves military tactics—how the indigenous peoples were unable to resist the combination of horse and steel sword in the hands of trained fighters. Another part involves trickery, kidnapping and extortion under threat of death to secure access to gold. Atahualpa delivered thousands of pounds of gold and silver to buy his freedom, only to be killed. The conquering heroes were also everywhere at war with each other over the prospect of funding such unbelievable spoils, and there were heated debates about the indigenous populations, who were being massacred and enslaved. Were they human, or not? How should they be treated? Could they be educated? Thomas ably covers the debate between those who argued for the humanity of the Indians and those who thought them “bestial and ill-intentioned.” Ultimately, the Emperor’s appetite for gold and silver to finance his wars against the French and Lutherans and pay off his lenders undercut any noble intentions. The methods of slavery and expropriation ruled the day.

Provides much to reflect on today its discussion about the political and military quest for control and dominance of raw materials.