Inga Clendinnen's account of the Aztecs recreates the culture of the city of Tenochtitlan, magnificent centre of the Aztec empire, in its last unthreatened years before it fell to the Spaniards and their Indian allies.
Breakthroughs in historical topics most often come from discoveries of new texts or archaeological finds. Not so in this case. Here, rereading existing indigenous and Spanish documents (particularly the Florentine Codex of de Sahagun), as well as current scholarly literature, has yielded a riveting, fresh perspective on a seemingly exhausted topic, the pre-Columbian culture of the Aztecs of Mexico. Where previous authors have seen chronicles of empire building, the workings of economic systems, or reconstructions of social organization, Clendinnen finds tonalities of everyday life. How did the ordinary people of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital destroyed by Cortez, make sense of their world? How did the warriors, women, priests, and traders understand the brutal practice of human sacrifice for which Aztec society is notorious? The author's answers to these and other questions provide the general reader and specialist alike with a powerful, elegantly written interpretation that goes further than any yet in getting inside this extinct culture. It deserves a place on the shelf next to Jacques Soustelle ( Daily Life of the Aztecs , 1961) and Nigel Davies ( The Aztecs: A History , LJ 6/15/74).-- William S. Dancey, Ohio State Univ., Columbus