The best books on the Aztecs by people who once knew an Aztec

Why am I passionate about this?

Twenty-five years ago, I began to study Nahuatl, the language once spoken by the Aztecs—and still spoken today by more than a million Indigenous people in Mexico. This has opened up to me a world of great excitement. After the Spanish conquest, many Aztecs learned the Roman alphabet. During the day, they used it to study the texts presented to them by the Franciscan friars. But in the evenings, they used it to transcribe old histories recited for them by their parents and grandparents. Today we are beginning to use those writings to learn more about the Aztecs than we ever could before we studied their language.


I wrote...

Book cover of Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs

What is my book about?

In Fifth Fun, the history of the Aztecs is offered for the first time in all its complexity based solely on the texts written by the Indigenous people themselves. In relying on their own words, author Camilla Townsend presents an accessible and humanized depiction of these native Mexicans, rather than seeing them as the exotic, bloody figures of European stereotypes. The conquest, in this work, is neither an apocalyptic moment, nor an origin story launching Mexicans into existence. Instead, it is a pivotal moment in the middle of a long history. The Aztecs had their own political dramas long before the Europeans arrived, and they endured as a people long after, realigning their allegiances and preserving their language and culture.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Conquest of New Spain

Camilla Townsend Why did I love this book?

Bernal Díaz was a foot soldier who accompanied Hernando Cortés on his conquest of Mexico.

When he was an old man, he wrote an account of what he remembered. And he remembered a lot! In another era, I believe this man would have become a writer rather than a conquistador! He weaves events together so well that I often felt as though I were there beside him.

It is rare that one can pick up a book that was written hundreds of years ago and truly enjoy it—but this is one of those times.

By Bernal Diaz del Castillo, J M Cohen (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Conquest of New Spain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2020 Reprint of the 1963 Edition.  Full facsimile of the original edition and not reproduced with Optical Recognition Software.  Díaz took part in the campaigns against the Mexica, later called the Aztec Empire. He was a highly experienced member of Hernán Cortés's expedition. During this campaign, Díaz spoke frequently with his fellow soldiers about their experiences. These accounts, and especially Díaz's own experiences, served as the basis for the recollections that Díaz later told with great drama to visitors and, eventually, in a book entitled Conquest of New Spain. Therein Díaz describes many of the 119 battles in which he…


Book cover of Letters from Mexico

Camilla Townsend Why did I love this book?

Reading this book, we have a front row seat at one of the most important moments of world history.

Over the course of his conquest of Mexico, Hernando wrote five letters to the King of Spain. He was often full of BSbut that doesn’t make his writings any less interesting! Cortés always had an eye on the main chance, so he wrote what he thought would impress.

Here, for instance, we find the story—impossible to believe—that as soon as Cortés arrived in the Aztec capital, he placed Montezuma, emperor of millions, under house arrest. Cortés had a translator upon whom he depended for everything—and he referred to her only a handful of times. Most of the time, he seems to communicate by magic. It is downright funny! 

By Hernan Cortes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Letters from Mexico as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hernan Cortes's Cartas de Relacion, written over a seven-year period to Charles V of Spain, provide an extraordinary narrative account of the conquest of Mexico from the founding of the coastal town of Veracruz until Cortes's journey to Honduras in 1525.


Book cover of We People Here: Nahuatl Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico

Camilla Townsend Why did I love this book?

There are several books purporting to contain Nahuatl (or Aztec language) accounts of the conquest of Mexico.

This one by a late great scholar from UCLA is by far the best. His helpful introduction sets the scene, and the careful translations bring us right into the center of the action. The Spaniards may have thought they were impressing the Indians, but in this account by the Indians, we learn that they were sometimes laughing at the Europeans!

By James Lockhart (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We People Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Historians are concerned today that the Spaniards' early accounts of their first experiences with the Indians in the Americas should be balanced with accounts from the Indian perspective. 'We People Here' reflects that concern, bringing together important and revealing documents written in the Nahuatl language in sixteenth-century Mexico. James Lockhart's superior translation combines contemporary English with the most up-to-date, nuanced understanding of Nahuatl grammar and meaning. The foremost Nahuatl conquest account is Book Twelve of the Florentine Codex. In this monumental work - volume 1 of a series, produced by U.C.L.A's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, called the 'Repertorium…


Book cover of The Native Conquistador: Alva Ixtlilxochitl's Account of the Conquest of New Spain

Camilla Townsend Why did I love this book?

Many people don’t realize that there were Indigenous people who chose to side with the Spaniards.

If they had reasons of their own to support the powerful outsiders, they sometimes did so. One such man had a great-great-grandson who became a writer in colonial Mexico. He took the family stories and did some research of his own, and then wrote this compelling account of the decisions his ancestor made and the actions he took.

I love his pride! (Warning: you have to like battle scenes to like this one.)

By Amber Brian (editor), Bradley Benton (editor), Pablo Garcia Loaeza (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Native Conquistador as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For many years, scholars of the conquest worked to shift focus away from the Spanish perspective and bring attention to the often-ignored voices and viewpoints of the Indians. But recent work that highlights the "Indian conquistadors" has forced scholars to reexamine the simple categories of conqueror and subject and to acknowledge the seemingly contradictory roles assumed by native peoples who chose to fight alongside the Spaniards against other native groups. The Native Conquistador-a translation of the "Thirteenth Relation," written by don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl in the early seventeenth century-narrates the conquest of Mexico from Hernando Cortes's arrival in 1519…


Book cover of Aztecs on Stage: Religious Theater in Colonial Mexico

Camilla Townsend Why did I love this book?

Many Aztecs studied with Franciscan friars. Later, they helped the friars write books about Christianity and compose plays for their people to present on holidays.

They took European ideas and reinterpreted them for a Native audience. For instance, Hephaistos, a Greek god who was a bit of a loser, is given the name Tizoc, a former Aztec emperor who was also a bit of a loser. It is fascinating to watch people digesting a whole new way of thinking.

Best of all, some of the plays were meant to be funny!

By Louise M. Burkhart (editor), Barry D. Sell (translator), Stafford Poole (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aztecs on Stage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nahuatl drama, one of the most surprising results of the Catholic presence in colonial Mexico, merges medieval European religious theater with the language and performance traditions of the Aztec (Nahua) people of central Mexico. Franciscan missionaries, seeking effective tools for evangelization, fostered this new form of theater after observing the Nahuas' enthusiasm for elaborate performances. The plays became a controversial component of native Christianity, allowing Nahua performers to present Christian discourse in ways that sometimes effected subtle changes in meaning. The Indians' enthusiastic embrace of alphabetic writing enabled the use of scripts, but the genre was so unorthodox that Spanish…


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Book cover of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

John Kenneth White Author Of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

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Why am I passionate about this?

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Interested in the Aztecs, Mexico, and conquistadors?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Aztecs, Mexico, and conquistadors.

The Aztecs Explore 18 books about the Aztecs
Mexico Explore 217 books about Mexico
Conquistadors Explore 16 books about conquistadors