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Publisher's Summary

In 1532, the 54-year-old Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro led a force of 167 men, including his four brothers, to the shores of Peru. Unbeknownst to the Spaniards, the Inca rulers of Peru had just fought a bloody civil war in which the emperor Atahualpa had defeated his brother, Huascar. Pizarro and his men soon clashed with Atahualpa and a huge force of Inca warriors at the Battle of Cajamarca. Despite being outnumbered by more than 200 to one, the Spaniards prevailed - due largely to their horses, their steel armor and swords, and their tactic of surprise. They captured and imprisoned Atahualpa. Although the Inca emperor paid an enormous ransom in gold, the Spaniards executed him anyway. The following year, the Spaniards seized the Inca capital of Cuzco, completing their conquest of the largest native empire the New World has ever known. Peru was now a Spanish colony, and the conquistadors were wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.

But the Incas did not submit willingly. A young Inca emperor, the brother of Atahualpa, soon led a massive rebellion against the Spaniards, inflicting heavy casualties and nearly wiping out the conquerors. Eventually, however, Pizarro and his men forced the emperor to abandon the Andes and flee to the Amazon. There, he established a hidden capital, called Vilcabamba. Although the Incas fought a deadly, 36-year-long guerrilla war, the Spanish ultimately captured the last Inca emperor and vanquished the native resistance.

Kim MacQuarrie lived in Peru for five years and became fascinated by the Incas and the history of the Spanish conquest. Drawing on both native and Spanish chronicles, he vividly describes the dramatic story of the conquest, with all its savagery and suspense.

©2007 Kim MacQuarrie; (P)2007 Tantor Media Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Vivid and energetic....Riveting." (Publishers Weekly)
"A first-rate reference work of ambitious scope that will most likely stand as the definitive account of these people." (Booklist)

What members say

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  • Overall

Fact is more fascinating than fiction

This marvelous book will make your hair rise. The unbelievable chronicle of Pizzaro and the Incas seems like fiction, but it is all true. When I explain the history to those who might have an interest, they are incredulous. The Spanish method did work, but it couldn't be done today and shouldn't be done. Listen to it if you have an interest in history.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 12-15-09

Quit while you are ahead

The story of the Conquistadors and the Incas is pretty compelling stuff. One begins by wishing a plague on both their houses and finishes with an enduring revulsion for Spanish duplicity, brutality and, above all, greed. So the material is very powerful.
The writing, on the other hand, is plodding and distressingly repetitious. The strength of the book is that it includes all the interesting details which can make an historical account come alive; the weakness of the book is that the details are recounted like a grocery list. And lest we come home without the milk or the beansprouts, they are usually reiterated a few times.
Worst of all, the final few hours of the book are devoted to the modern history of the discovery of Incan ruins. Unlike the original narrative, the material here is deadly dull, and it is just as poorly presented. I never quite made it to the end.

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Interesting but problematic

This book's is a tour de force of creative and evocative historical writing. The author has done an excellent job of making the subject and characters come alive in an interesting and informative way. However, one cannot but suspect that this was done at the expense of playing fast and loose with the historical record and by being academically sloppy.

This is best demonstrated by the author’s chronic overuse of the term "undoubtedly". The author wants to tell a rousing narrative including the minute actions and feelings of the principal players but is stymied by the lack of historical evidence. The solution seems to have been to add the word "undoubtedly" to all of these wonderful descriptions for which there is no historical evidence. This is both academically sloppy and rather annoying. It makes one doubt whether the facts presented in the book are indeed facts or just supposition and guesswork. Even the best historians need to use some amount of imagination to make a scene come alive but any decent historian knows to make it crystal clear when they are doing so.

So, if you want a highly “readable” overview of the Spanish conquest of Peru, this is an excellent book. However, the flaws make is decidedly less than credible and may be both frustrating and problematic to the serious reader or historian. As an important Caveat: I only have experienced the audio book. It is highly likely that there were explanatory footnotes for the questionable statements showing the author’s sources and rational.

32 of 36 people found this review helpful

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  • Aaron
  • Chicago, IL, United States
  • 05-26-15

Not a Good Companion for Your Machu Picchu Trip

This book (at least the first half or so) is a detailed account of the Spanish conquest of Peru. The accounts of the battles, betrayals, and other interactions with the Inca during the initial conquest are fascinating. The same, however, cannot be said for the descriptions of the occupation and resistance that followed. Maybe it’s just the circumstances of history, but after about the midpoint of the book, the vignettes start to lose intrigue. The final fifth of the book is devoted to modern discovery of ancient ruins and seems misplaced in the context of the rest of the book.

Although I enjoyed the beginning of “The Last Days of the Incas,” overall I was disappointed. I was hoping for more background information about the Incas’ history, culture, politics, religion, and mythology. Although there is some effort to interject the history and culture of pre-Columbian America, the Spanish are the focus. Since I had picked up this book largely to gain a better appreciation of the Inca before my hike on the Inca trial, it was disappointing that more effort wasn’t taken to describe the peoples that the Spanish were conquering. Perhaps the MacQuarrie considered too much background to be outside the scope of the “Last Days,” but the effect of its limitation is to shift perspective entirely on the Spanish and remove context from the Spanish/Inca interaction described throughout the book.

As for the narration, it was adequate, but dull. This may, however, simply be a function of the material. Nevertheless, I do not intent to go out of my way to listen to other books read by Dietz.

In sum, if you are like me and want to learn more about the Inca before your trip to Peru, skip this book. There must be other, better books out there for this purpose, although I do not have a recommendation. If you are interested in learning about the Spanish conquest of the Inca, then definitely listen to the first half, but do not feel obliged to get to the end.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Now I Want to Visit Peru

A fascinating book about an unlikely overthrow of a vast empire by a small band of uneducated and undeserving Spaniards. This book will make you admire the Incas and feel disdain for the Spanish invaders. I'm sure the perspective of the author is a bit slanted in this direction, but I still feel he is giving an even-handed account.
The personalities of the participants in the events reaaly get developed well. The descriptions of the setting makes me want to take a vaction to Peru to explore this fascinating region.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Best history of the Conquest of the Inca Nation!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absoltely, and i have. This is the most detailed, interesting, and comprehensive history of the conquest of the Inca's I have ever read. I have been studying Latin America History for 30 years, and this is the best treatment of the subject i have found. Congratulations to the author.

What did you like best about this story?

The level of detail concerning both the Europeans and the Indian lives at the time of the Conquest was simply amazing. The author covers every important detail of political concerns for both sides, geography, economics, religious, and social factors that played in this amazing feat of conquest.

Have you listened to any of Norman Dietz’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not heard this man before, but this was first class.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Yes. How did 163 Spanish defeat the 80,000 Inca warriors in Caljamarca and capture the Inca? Simply, bold audacity. The Spanish were trapped, they could not go back, the only way forward was to attack the Inca and his guard and catch them off balance. Pizarro gave the order, the spanish attacked, and the rest is history.

Any additional comments?

Fantastic story well told. Everyone interested in human behavior should read this book, as well as those interested in the period or Latin American history. This is a book that is entertaining for everyone.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Blake
  • Portland, OR, United States
  • 06-03-13

Great information that could be presented better

Ever since I read Charles C Mann's excellent book "1491", and the even better follow up "1493", my interest in the history of South American history has been sky high. Other books about ancient history, especially Jared Diamond's classic "Guns, Germs, And Steel", are the sort of thing I can't get enough of. This book is written more in the style of a story teller than a raw examination of the facts. It's a different approach than I was used to, but one that I thought would be more interesting and more fun. While judging this book against the excellent works mentioned above might be unfair, I think it's fair to say that it should have been much better.

I don't think the storyline approach is the problem. I do think that the author including so many names, dates and details made the program hard to follow in an audio format. But I think that the real problem lies in the monotonous narration. Norman Dietz sounds like he's reading the phone book while drifting off to sleep, not telling an incredible tale of battles, betrayals and intrigue. A little variation of pacing, emphasis, and energy would go a long way toward making this a home run of a five star program.

As far as the writing goes, I would have liked to hear more about the contrasts between the Spanish and Inca cultures, and more about Inca culture in general than political and military tactics. I also would like more examination of the evidence, and explanation of how the author decided to tell the story the way he did. The evidence is known to be sparse, so a little interpretation is understandable. I'd just like to hear that interpreting explained a little.

But with all that said, my interest in the subject kept me in it to the end, and I don't consider my time or my credit to be wasted.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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This was a great listen. Brings what is unfortunately an obscure historical subject for most North Americans to life. Reads like a novel, driven by greed, violence, brutality and the personalities of the principals. The last section of the book, on the American "discovers" of the Incan ruins is a change of pace, but nonetheless interesting. Focuses on the personalities, errors and ambitions of the finders. Made me look into the geography of Peru to get a sense of the stage on which this tragedy was played out. Highly recommend.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Benny S
  • Madison, WI United States
  • 02-18-10

Pretty boring

I enjoy history, but I insist that it be written in a way that keeps my attention. This book did not. Honestly, it was pretty boring, and that surprised me since the subject matter was interesting and should have been able to hold anyone's attention. Honestly, don't waste your time with this book unless you are looking to be put to sleep.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Js
  • 07-10-11


Fantastic material rendered dreary by somnolent narration, repetition of material, and unsupported fictional interpretations about what "no doubt" happened. "No doubt" becomes a code phrase for "wild guess".

Just how was it so easy for the Spanish to so overwhelmingly dominate the battlefield? Sure, they had horses and armor, but scores or a few hundred Spaniards against literally thousands of their Incan opponents and they weren't overwhelmed like spiders by army ants? I don't think we will ever know the real answers, but the important military aspects are glossed over, and there are not even any particularly good guesses as to why the "brilliant" Peruvian generals were such twits.

The amazing villainies of the Conquistadors are described baldly and boringly indeed. You have to rely on your own imagination to flesh out this tale and bring it to life, for you will find little enough juice in the narrative.

Historians have little to go on, but the guesses presented here are unconvincing and uninteresting.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful