The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie is an incredibly fascinating history of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire.
While in the midst of a civil war between two sons battling for their deceased father’s prized Inca throne, the Inca gave little notice to the seemingly small group of under 200 Spaniards who came to their shores, also in search of the prize of wealth and power. Meanwhile, looking for what they couldn’t obtain in their native homeland of Spain, Francisco Pizarro thought conquering the Inca Empire would be a quick and easy means of obtaining his desire. Little did he realize the complexities and the vastness of the Empire.
Although it’s comprised of around 500 pages of history, this book never once felt boring.
This book likely held particular fascination to me due to our recent 5-week trip to Ecuador, where we stayed in the Andean region of the country and saw and heard many of the relics of the region’s Inca history, from the Inti-Raymi celebration to the hearing the Quechua language, and seeing ancient Mayan and Inca ruins.
This book highlights the violence that often accompanied such greed, along with the prevailing European attitude that non-Western civilizations were automatically the “barbaric civilization.” Somewhat humorously, the Incas saw the conquistadors as the barbaric men, simply out to seek all the wealth they could. Sadly, it was also grievous to see the way the Spanish at the time misused religion to excuse and validate their violence and colonization, a portion of the book that any who claims to be a Christian would be wise to put deep thought into.
It is also interesting to think of where the Inca Empire could have gone should the outcome have been different. What languages would we now speak? What religion would South America claim as it’s own? What technology and architecture would be different in our world?
Bookending the Inca-Spanish conflict, the book begins and ends with highlights from the exploration and identification of Machu Picchu and some other Inca historical sites. Primarily it focuses on the exploration by Hiram Bingham III, but also elaborates the conflicts of other explorers and their quest for fame, which, perhaps not surprisingly mirrors what happened centuries prior, only without the bloodshed.
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