Matthew Restall’s Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest is pretty much what the title suggests. It goes through a double-handful of the wrong (and often pernicious) nonsense beliefs that we learn, either in school or just kind of vaguely around, and notes the ways in which they’re not actually true, and explains what is… maybe not “true,” as such, but at least less wrong.

(Okay, that was a confusing sentence. This is one of those academic histories that has fully embraced epistemological nihilism and doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as historical truth, or that if it would be knowable if there were. So it explicitly disavows any claims to be giving its readers the actual truth, but it also pretty clearly thinks it’s useful to say that the myths it’s arguing against are just flat wrong.)

It’s a good book for what it is, and I think it overall explains the history well, and makes a good case for the falsity of the myths it’s addressing. But for me personally, it falls into that awkward category of histories that debunk things I don’t even know well enough to have the myth-version of.

Like, back in a college English history class, one of the books we used went really hard into the idea that some particular king wasn’t as evil as everybody thought, and it was a little weird to me, because I didn’t know a damn thing about the guy and had no reason to think he was evil in the first place. (Turns out that Shakespeare was very unkind to him, and that portrayal had become pop-culture canon for people who were less clueless than nineteen-year-old me.)

And same thing here. A lot of this book is focused on de-mythologizing Cortes in particular, and I didn’t even realize that Cortes was a particularly notable guy; he was just one of the post-Columbus randos that got glossed over really quickly in my high-school world history course during the whole “Age of Exploration” thing: Magellan, Pizarro, Cortes, de Soto, etc. He doesn’t even have a cool fountain of youth thing like Ponce de Leon, you know?

But apparently in real life, he’s a big deal, and now I know both a lot of the incorrect things that have been believed about him, as well as some things that are probably less wrong. So that’s cool.


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