"To carry out the conquest of so many countries, to cross so many seas and rivers, valleys, forests and mountains, and to take on the Aztecs and the Mayans in their own territory, some great idea was needed as well as human will." (Americo Castro)
When, in 1492, Christopher Columbus finally stood ready to set sail across the 'Ocean Sea' for what he thought was India (christening the Indies and the Indians), he crossed himself and devoted his expedition to the Holy Trinity and to the King and Queen of Spain. With the gold and spices (and slaves) he would find, Columbus planned to fund a new Crusade to win back Jerusalem. As he set out, the Muslims were being besieged at Granada. The Catholic monarchs would soon inhabit the Alhambra, and the Inquisition would persuade them to command all Jews to convert or be expelled from Spain penniless. At the time Columbus's voyage was insignificant, but it became one of the most important events in history. The colonisation he started was followed by the Dutch, French and British. Pioneers like Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci (who gave his name to America) and the hundreds of Spaniards they inspired looked for riches, glory and to serve God in the New World. While they didn't believe the earth was flat, they thought an Earthly Paradise existed on the far side of the Indies, and that the rivers flowed with gold. Later the Conquistadores brought slavery, their irresistable weapons and European diseases to the ancient civilisations, and made Spain the richest nation in the world.
Hugh Thomas has written numerous histories on the Spanish-speaking world, includingThe Spanish Civil War, for which he won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1962,Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom,The Conquest of MexicoandThe Slave Trade. His bookThe Unfinished History of the Worldwon the first National Book Award for History in 1980. Hugh Thomas was chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies 1979-89 and was awarded a peerage as Lord Thomas of Swynnerton in 1981.
Almost every aspect of the colonial enterprise is ably covered... as an intelligent and incisive narrative the book would be hard to better... It is unusual to finish so long a book wishing for more.