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Top 10 books on colonial Spanish America
If you want to learn about the Spanish conquests of America, the colonial rule and the Spanish American Wars of Independence, you are in the right place! You can find all the books on Spanish America available in the Store by clicking here. With that said, let’s start with the top 10!
1. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire
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This is the first book of the trilogy of Hispanist Hugh Thomas on the rise of the Spanish Empire in America. I shall warn you that this book, as well as the rest of books of Hugh Thomas, is not written for casual readers, but for students, academics, and people who want more than a simplified account. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire is a voluminous account of the early Spanish exploration and conquests of America, covering the epic stories from the discovery of America by Columbus, the conquest of the Caribbean, first expeditions to mainland America and the first circumnavigation of the world under Magellan and Elcano. Truly decisive events of world history!
2. Conquest: Cortes, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico
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An epic story that proves that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, a contact between two alien civilizations. Leading historian Hugh Thomas writes a detailed account on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire under conquistador Hernán Cortés, who managed to form a coalition with many native allies to overthrow the Mexicas. Conquest also portrays Hernán Cortés and Montezuma with vivid details, and all the events are explained with context, analysis and interpretations.
3. The Conquest of New Spain
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Penguin Books translates the classic contemporary first-person account of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. This chronicle was written by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, presumably a soldier who participated in the conquest of the Aztec Empire under Hernán Cortés. Some details are probably exaggerations or fiction, and it’s a pro-Spanish account. Consider the limitations of primary sources while reading it.
4. The Last Days of the Incas
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Kim MacQuarrie does a superb job retelling the last days of the Incas, in a book that is both informative and delightful. The Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire led by conquistador Francisco Pizarro is a memorable epic story, but it’s also tragic due to the consequences of the clash of two alien cultures. More interestingly, MacQuarrie also talks about the Neo-Inca state that resisted the Spaniards for several decades.
5. Indian Conquistadors: Indigenous Allies in the Conquest of Mesoamerica
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Indian Conquistadors is a much-needed work to understand the participation of native / indigenous Americans in the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, including the Aztec Empire. In the end, the bulk of the anti-Aztec coalition was made up of native allies. This book looks at their role in the conquest and colonial regime, emphasizing the role of indigenous peoples as conquistadors rather than auxiliaries. A must-read to complement other works such as Hugh Thomas’ Conquest or Buddy Levy’s Conquistador.
6. A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca
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A Land So Strange is the survival story of the shipwrecked Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who spent several years travelling throughout modern US territory before returning to New Spain. The information that Cabeza de Vaca gathered during his journey was key for future Spanish expeditions into North America, about the peoples he encountered, the geography, animals and plants of Florida, the Louisiana coast and the American southwest. An enthralling non-fictional tale of survival and exploration of the New World.
7. Colonial Latin America
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Colonial Latin America is a compact and accessible textbook that is great for students and history enthusiasts of Latin America. It includes the background of the Iberian societies before the discovery of America and the Spanish American Wars of Independence. More interestingly the book doesn’t neglect important aspects such as the society, economy, family, women, and administration of Spanish and Portuguese America.
8. The Slave Trade
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Monumental and complete history of the Atlantic slave trade, providing answers such as who the traders were, why so many African rulers enslaved and sold other Africans, how profitable slave trade was, among others. Hugh Thomas’ The Slave Trade includes emotional accounts from the slaves themselves, and also covers how and why slave trade was abolished or how it continued to some extent after being illegalized.
9. Spain and the Independence of the United States: An Intrinsic Gift
The role of France in the American Revolutionary War is well known, but the crucial role of Spain is often ignored. Spain contributed to the independence of the US through military campaigns, attacks on British supply lines, provision of supplies to the rebels, intelligence, and money. If you are into US history and the war of independence, I highly recommend you Spain and the Independence of the United States!
10. The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826
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Historian John Lynch provides a magnificent survey on the Spanish American Wars of Independence, that started after Napoleon invaded Spain. In The Spanish American Revolutions Lynch provides answers to questions such as why revolutions broke out in Spanish America (with the notable exception of Cuba) and why Bolívar, San Martín, or O’Higgins were unable to fulfill their ambitions of building powerful states. This edition also incorporates the latest works on the aftermaths of these revolutions and what happened in Central America. Unfortunately for hungry history nerds, very different conflicts are explained in less than 500 pages, but it’s the only recent work about the Spanish American Revolutions available in English.
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