Saturday, December 27, 2014

Book Review: The Conquistadores, Osprey Men at Arms

The Conquistadores, Osprey Men-At-Arms 101.
Written by Terence Wise, Color Plates by Angus McBride, Copyright 1980, 40 pages.  

Scope - Vast
Completeness – Low
Appeal –high
Accuracy –I know of no mistakes in this work.

First, just to get it out there, the copy I am using to form my opinion is an old one, apparently a first printing.  The newer copies have both a number for the work’s place in the series and a different cover, although the cover print is still one of the color prints included in the work. I’m assuming the contents are otherwise the same. Should someone know otherwise, please let me know.

This is an old school Osprey book, over 30 years old. When written it seems to have been an attempt to provide an insight, a glimpse, into a very colorful and little known episode into a difficult to research historical conflict. Although it definitely served this purpose with me, it’s worth mentioning that today there are other, deeper, more far reaching sources for the same material, including new publications from Osprey. Nevertheless, this one stays in print, and with good reason. –why shouldn’t it stay in print?

So? What’s included in these mere 40 pages. As one would expect, a lot, but not much of it.
Okay, we have a few page introduction to the “age of the conquistadores,” the period during which Spanish soldiers contacted, explored, and conquered much of the Americas including the powerful and wealthy empires of the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru. To me, this has always been one of the most exciting and amazing episodes in history. Next we have a roughly ten page description of who these Conquistadores ( “conquerors” as the term would be translated into English) were and what they wore, and how they fought, and how they were equipped. This is followed by a roughly eight page introduction to the same information about the Aztecs and some of the neighboring peoples who fought in their conflict with the Spanish. Next we have 10 pages on the Incas. At the very end of the book, we have roughly three and a half pages on the Mayans of Central America and southern Mexico. 

Clearly, one cannot cover the arms, armor, tactics and logistics of the Aztecs and their neighbors in 8 pages. (As an aside, let me recommend the University of Oklahoma book, “Aztec Warfare –Imperial Expansion and Political Control, by Ross Hassig, if you wish more detail and depth on this. Although I can’t guarantee it’s the best book on the subject, it’s one I have read and did get a lot from.)  But what it does say is quite interesting and a good introduction.

The illustrations are quite nice, both the black and white line drawings and photos as well as the color plates.

I was disappointed, however, as at least some of the Spanish Conquistadores exploits, notably Ponce De Leon’s explorations of Florida in search of the fountain of eternal youth, or Coronado’s exploration of the southwestern USA in search of the fabled seven cities of gold, are not mentioned at all. This book is a good, yet light, introduction to the topic. Be aware, however, that there’s so much more there.   

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