In November 1519, Hernando Cortes walked along a causeway leading to the capital of the Aztec kingdom and came face to face with Moctezuma. That story-and the story of what happened afterwards-has been told many times, but always following the narrative offered by the Spaniards. After all, we have been…
Why read it?
5 authors picked Fifth Sun as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
Four times the sun has died and been reborn, and now we are living in the world of the fifth sun.
In this wonderful imaginative rendering of Aztec history, we move between mythological and real time, following the Mexica people as they gain power and establish a great kingdom, and then suffer the disaster of Spanish attack. The voices of many different people speak through this story, men and women, telling us of the price that they paid each step of the way in the struggle to survive in a beautiful but brutal world.
Simply the best book about the Aztecs I’ve ever read! I immediately started telling my students about it, quoting it in lectures, and generally raving about it to anyone who would listen.
After listening to it on audiobook, I immediately bought a print copy so I could read it again. This is an incredibly rigorously researched and carefully told history, with clear guidance to readers on what is historically certain, probable, likely, speculative, or unknown.
But is also a beautifully written human drama that combines grand-scale political history with intimate personal stories and evocative descriptions of everyday life in the…
Camilla Townsend’s Fifth Sun floored me.
Using Indigenous-language sources, she reconstructs the Mexicas’ (the Aztecs’ name for themselves) perspective on their past. The picture that emerges is of a tough and scrappy people who were newcomers to Central America.
Over several centuries, these former nomads built a far-reaching empire and a magnificent city upon a lake—Tenochtitlan, now the site of Mexico City. She never ignores their oppression of their neighbors and their practice of human sacrifice, but she doesn’t define the Mexicas by their violence. She has a similarly nuanced take on Mexica cultural survival after the Spanish conquered their…
Mexico has a long history prior to the sixteenth-century Spanish conquest, none more fascinating than that of the Aztecs. Their story, however, is too often told from the point of view of the conquerors with historians accepting at face value the bloodthirsty and fantastical stories of the Spanish invaders. Camilla Townsend, on the other hand, uses Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) sources to write a wonderfully intricate, nuanced, and imaginative history of these indigenous peoples.
Townsend recently published three books on Aztec history, all excellent, but I recommend Fifth Sun be read first, as the most accessible and important (followed by Malintzin’s Choices, and then Annals of Native America). It is important because—more than any other book—it treats the Aztecs as human beings to whom we can relate, not as exotic or strange beings. She writes that the Aztecs would not recognize themselves in the portrait of their world created in films and books; her efforts to reconstruct their culture and past in ways that would make sense to the Aztecs result in…
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