I just finished listening to the audio version of Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs. Now, let me dispense with a couple of quibbles I had with some ancillary issues.
First, the reader was adequate although he had a distracting habit of affecting a slight Spanish accent when reading first person accounts of events. It was a problem because it reminded me way too much of Estaban Colberto and I would have preferred if he just played it straight.
Secondly, I have to admit that I was prejudiced into believing that it would be impossible for anyone named ‘Buddy’ to write a decent history book.
That being said, the book is a very approachable account of the campaign of Cortes and portrays both the Spanish and Aztecs at their best and worst.
While Levy didn’t explicitly mention it, as I was listening to the narrative my mind kept finding similarities to the campaigns of Alexander. In terms of their leadership style (both commanded from the front and being in the midst of battle was an important component of their ability to lead), their total commitment to their endeavor (Cortes burned his ships to prevent his men from being tempted to return to Cuba and Alexander burned his baggage train because he felt the spoils of war was slowing his men down from marching to India), and their campaign against a foe which, upon first glance, would appear to have no problem destroying such an impetuous invader.
While his eventual conquest of the Incas Aztecs was assisted greatly by the spread of diseases from the Spanish, they didn’t have an impact initially. Cortes and his men were able to win some impressive victories and make it to Tecochtitlan with a large army. While his horses, crossbows and firearms were important, he didn’t have many and in the hands of a less accomplished general could easily have been swallowed up in the hordes of his foes.
So, where does Cortes fit in the pantheon of great generals? If Hannibal listed the greatest as Alexander, Pyrrhus, Scipio Africanus and himself how would he judge Cortes?