The notion of some final and complete "Conquest" itself becomes one of the seven examples of the misconceptions and convenient fictions examined by Restall (Latin American studies, Pennsylvania State U.) in this exploration of the Spanish invasion of the Americas. Noting that the enduring historical myths about the Conquest are rooted in cultural conceptions, misconceptions, and political agendas of the Spanish, he uses Spanish, Native American, and West African sources to contest the ideas that the Spaniards exhibited some special exceptionalism and genius, that they were agents of the King of Spain, that colonialism was rapidly imposed, that the Spaniards acted largely alone, and that the Native Americans displayed little to no adaptability and ongoing vitality in the face of the Conquest. Annotation ©2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
According to historical consensus, the Spanish conquest of the New World was a cataclysm in which superior European technology and organization overwhelmed Native American civilizations. In this daring revisionist critique, Penn State historian Restall describes a far more complex process in which Indians were central participants on both sides of the struggle. Far from regarding the Spaniards as gods, Restall argues, Indians offered a variety of shrewd, pragmatic responses to the invaders while advancing their own political agendas. Indeed, given that the conquistadors were vastly outnumbered by their Indian allies, the Conquest was in many respects a civil war between natives. Nor did Indian societies fall apart at one blow: independent Mayan polities, for example, persisted into the 19th century. Even under Spanish rule, Indians continued to live in self-governing communities, where they maintained their own languages, cultures and leaders who had considerable clout with the colonial administration. Drawing on Spanish, Native American and West African accounts of the Conquest, academic studies and even Hollywood movies, Restall examines the paradigm of European triumph and Indian "desolation" as it evolved from the conquistador's self-serving narratives to contemporary interpretations by such writers as Jared Diamond and Kirkpatrick Sale. Rejecting the implicit juxtaposition of "subhuman" Indians with "superhuman" Europeans, Restall asserts instead that, through war and epidemic, native societies retained much of their autonomy and cohesion, and "turn[ed] calamity into opportunity." Restall's provocative analysis, wide-ranging scholarship and lucid prose make this a stimulating contribution to the debate on one of history's great watersheds. Photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.