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The Last Days of the Incas    by Kim MacQuarrie order for
Last Days of the Incas
by Kim MacQuarrie
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Surprisingly for a work of historical non-fiction, The Last Days of the Incas is full of colorful characters, greed and betrayal - from the time of the Spanish takeover of the Inca Empire through rebellion and guerilla warfare, right up to various modern day adventurers seeking fortune and glory through significant archeological discovery in Peru. There are very useful maps and a chronology of major events at the beginning of the book, as well as the author's overview of his sources (including a manuscript written by a native from a noble family four hundred years ago) for the material presented.

Though the Spaniards' brutality did not shock me (having read of their peers' various inroads into Central and South America in both fictional and non-fiction accounts) the native inhabitants' repeated trust of invaders' promises did - was it some cultural difference that led them to want to believe the foreigners despite so many betrayals? It was also fascinating to read of the Inca rebellion and their ongoing (almost four decades long) resistance after a Boadicea-like episode in which the Pizarro brothers took puppet ruler Manco Inca's beloved chief queen for himself and chained and mistreated the emperor. The invaders' brutality seems to have been only exceeded by their arrogance and stupidity, so that the reader often feels like cheering on the Incas on the few occasions in this history when they succeed in killing some of the well-armored, seemingly impregnable Spaniards.

Pizarro and company (less than two hundred against an 'Inca empire ten million strong') had a great deal of luck, as well as advanced weaponry, on their side. They arrived after European-introduced smallpox killed the then Emperor Huayna Capac and set off a civil war. These men - uneducated commoners in their own country - seized and later killed the new emperor, set up their puppet ruler, and established themselves as feudal lords. But they failed to maintain what the Inca nobility had provided - a state in which 'every one of its citizens was guaranteed sufficient food, clothing, and shelter.' And they fought amongst themselves over the spoils. Manco Inca, is quoted as saying, 'Furthermore, even if all the snow {on the mountains} were transformed into gold and silver, it would {still} not satisfy them.'

I highly recommend The Last Days of the Incas to anyone interested in this fascinating civilization, and in the irony by which such a well managed and stable society, an empire of millions, could be conquered by so few, via their exploitation of advanced technology, treachery, extreme cruelty and (deliberate or not) their introduction of devastating disease.

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