The Last Days of the Incas
by Kim MacQuarrie
The Last Days of the Incas tells the story of the 16th century conquest and defeat of the Inca civilization by the Spaniards – but it also does much more. Kim MacQuarrie backtracks in time to chronicle the rise of the Inca empire from a small city-state in Cuzco to the largest civilization in pre-Columbian America. Along the way we meet many of the key figures who determined the course of history in South America: Atahualpa, the last leader of a Spanish-free South America; Manco Inca, the ruler who defied the Spanish conquest from the Amazon jungle; Francisco Pizarro, leader of the Spanish forces; and Diego de Almagro, Pizarro’s partner and rival who discovered Chile. He also continues to follow the history of the Inca after the civilization’s downfall, writing about Hiram Bingham’s rediscovery of Machu Picchu and the quest for the site of Vilcabamba.
MacQuarrie takes an almost fictional approach to the narrative, describing the emotions and decision-making process of many of his subjects. He stops short of creating dialogue – the only spoken words come from documented conversations – but by developing some character for each major player he keeps the book much more interesting than a dry list of names and dates. I also liked that he devoted several chapters to the archeology done in Peru in the early 20th century, both describing and debunking popular theories set forth by men like Hiram Bingham and Gene Savoy.
The Inca civilization is not studied extensively in school, at least not here in California, so I didn’t really know all that much about it before reading this book. I was vaguely aware that the civilization had accomplished some great things, like the architecture of Machu Picchu, which has walls built of stones so precisely that a blade of grass can’t be slipped between them – all without the use of mortar. But I learned so much more in this book. It turns out the Inca had a network of roads that rivaled those of the Romans, brilliant irrigation and farming terraces, an extensive government system…and no wheels. (That is, they made children’s toys with wheels, but for whatever reason it never became used for military or transportation.) I thought it was really interesting, and would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about the Inca.
Eight pages of black and white plates are included.