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The Last Days of the Incas
by Kim MacQuarrie

Published: 2008-06-05
Paperback : 522 pages
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In 1532, the fifty-four-year-old Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro led a force of 167 men, including his four brothers, to the shores of Peru. Unbeknownst to the Spaniards, the Inca rulers of Peru had just fought a bloody civil war in which the emperor Atahualpa had defeated his brother ...
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In 1532, the fifty-four-year-old Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro led a force of 167 men, including his four brothers, to the shores of Peru. Unbeknownst to the Spaniards, the Inca rulers of Peru had just fought a bloody civil war in which the emperor Atahualpa had defeated his brother Huascar. Pizarro and his men soon clashed with Atahualpa and a huge force of Inca warriors at the Battle of Cajamarca. Despite being outnumbered by more than two hundred to one, the Spaniards prevailed -- due largely to their horses, their steel armor and swords, and their tactic of surprise. They captured and imprisoned Atahualpa. Although the Inca emperor paid an enormous ransom in gold, the Spaniards executed him anyway. The following year, the Spaniards seized the Inca capital of Cuzco, completing their conquest of the largest native empire the New World has ever known. Peru was now a Spanish colony, and the conquistadors were wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. But the Incas did not submit willingly. A young Inca emperor, the brother of Atahualpa, soon led a massive rebellion against the Spaniards, inflicting heavy casualties and nearly wiping out the conquerors. Eventually, however, Pizarro and his men forced the emperor to abandon the Andes and flee to the Amazon. There, he established a hidden capital, called Vilcabamba. Although the Incas fought a deadly, thirty-six-year-long guerrilla war, the Spanish ultimately captured the last Inca emperor and vanquished the native resistance. Kim MacQuarrie lived in Peru for five years and became fascinated by the Incas and the history of the Spanish conquest. Drawing on both native and Spanish chronicles, he vividly describes the dramatic story of the conquest, with all its savagery and suspense. MacQuarrie also relates the story of the modern search for Vilcabamba, of how Machu Picchu was discovered, and of how a trio of colorful American explorers only recently discovered the lost Inca capital of Vilcabamba, hidden for centuries in the Amazon. This authoritative, exciting history is among the most powerful and important accounts of the culture of the South American Indians and the Spanish Conquest.

Editorial Review

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July 24, 1911
The gaunt, thirty-five-year-old American explorer, Hiram Bingham, clambered up the steep slope of the cloud forest, on the eastern flank of the Andes, then paused beside his peasant guide before taking off his wide-brimmed fedora and wiping the sweat from his brow. Carrasco, the Peruvian army sergeant, soon climbed up the trail behind them, sweating in his dark, brass-buttoned uniform and hat, then leaned forward and placed his hands on his knees in order to catch his breath. Bingham had been told that ancient Inca ruins were located somewhere high up above them, nearly in the clouds, yet Bingham also knew that rumors about Inca ruins were as rampant in this little explored region of southeastern Peru as the flocks of small green parrots that often wheeled about, screeching through the air. The six-foot-four, 170-pound Bingham was fairly certain, however, that the lost Inca city he was searching for did not lie ahead. Bingham, in fact, had not even bothered to pack a lunch for this trek, hoping instead to make a quick journey up from the valley floor, to verify whatever scattered ruins might lie upon the jagged peak rising above, and then to hurry back down. As the lanky American with the close-cropped brown hair and the thin, almost ascetic face began to follow his guide up the trail again, he had no idea that within just a few hours he would make one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries in history. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1) One of the common clichés associated with conquistadors is that they were paid emissaries of the Spanish King, similar to soldiers or mercenaries. However, conquistadors actually were participants in private capitalistic companies, companies devoted to looting, conquest, killing, and pillaging. What was the average age of the conquistadors? Why were so many from the poorest region of Spain? What did they hope to gain by participation in conquest expeditions?
2) Why were conquistadors interested in finding native kingdoms or empires-rather than regions with no inhabitants or with inhabitants that had little experience with the rule of emperors and kings? Why were they so interested in finding native societies built upon a social pyramid-with a ruler on the top and a peasantry below-that was similar to their own?
3) How did Francisco Pizarro and his partner, Diego de Almagro, fit the typical portrait of Spanish conquistadors at the time? How were they similar, how were they different?
4) How did the Spaniards justify their right to conquer native people and kingdoms in the New World? Do you think that, in a modern court of law, this right would be supported legally today?
5) One of the themes of The Last Days of the Incas is how small, independent states are often vulnerable to being dominated or conquered by larger, more powerful ones. Were the Incas more secure as a small kingdom or as a giant empire? Are there parallels between Inca history and the recent history of small, independent nations surrounding the former Soviet Union and Russia? What does this say about “might versus right?”
6) Was the Inca Empire a monolithic, culturally homogenous society or a patchwork of many formerly independent states, cities, and kingdoms? How did the ethnic diversity within the empire aid the Spaniards in their conquest?
7) What pivotal event occurred before Pizarro's third and final voyage to Peru that helped pave the way for the Spanish conquest? Do you think that if this event had not occurred that the Spaniards would have had a far more difficult time?
8) Was Atahualpa justified in fighting his own brother for the right to become Inca emperor? Explain.
9) What advantages did the Spaniards have over the Incas, in terms of warfare? What advantages did the Incas have over the Spaniards? Which ones proved to be the most critical?
10) Why did Pizarro install Manco Inca as ruler of the Incas after Atahualpa's death, rather than simply crown himself as emperor instead?
11) What ultimately drove Manco Inca to rebel against the Spaniards and what was the Spaniards' biggest mistake in causing his rebellion? Did Manco Inca's guerrilla war and the Spaniards' counterinsurgency war against the Incas parallel any recent events in the world? If so, which ones and where?
12) What was Manco Inca's biggest mistake in dealing with Pizarro and the Spaniards? What was his greatest triumph?
13) Francisco Pizarro and his brothers ultimately conquered the largest native American empire the world has ever known-but do you think it was personally worth it to them in the end? Did any of them live long enough to enjoy the fruits of their conquest?
14) Do you think the average peasant within the Inca Empire lived a better life before the Spaniards arrived, believing in their “pagan” gods and worshipping the “sun king” or after the Spaniards arrived , who insisted that they give up their gods and become Christian. Why?
15) Do you think that if Manco Inca had succeeded in wiping out Pizarro and his Spaniards from Peru (as he came very close to doing) that the Inca Empire would have succeeded in keeping other Spaniards out? Would the empire have survived?
16) The conquistadors, for the most part, considered the Incas to be inferior, “pagan savages.” Yet considering the fact that both the Spanish and Inca civilizations arose independently from one another, do you not consider that their similarities were greater than their differences? In how many ways did the two societies resemble one-another? Which society was “civilized?” Which society was “savage?”
17) What motivation(s) did Hiram Bingham and Gene Savoy have in common during their quest to locate the Incas' lost capital? Did their quest to become the first person to “discover” the ancient city have something in common with the emperor Pachacutec's original motivation for building Machu Picchu in the first place?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Some years ago, when I was living with a recently-contacted tribe in the Peruvian Amazon, a tribesman came up to me and handed me a small but heavy object wrapped up in old banana leaves. Inside was a perfectly preserved Inca bronze axe head-proof that the Incas had traded with the Amazonian tribes around here some 500 years ago.

It was that obscure incident that started me on the journey to writing The Last Days of the Incas, the epic story of how Francisco Pizarro and 168 Spanish conquistadors somehow toppled an empire of 10 million Incas, and also the little known story of how the Incas mounted a massive rebellion before retreating to the Amazon jungle and founding a new capital there-not far from where I had lived with that tribe.

More than 300 years later, an American explorer stumbled on the ruins of Machu Picchu and announced to the world that he had found the Incas' lost rebel capital. But had he? Or did the rebel capital still lie somewhere in the Amazon, waiting to be discovered?

Publisher's Weekly, in a “Starred Review,” described my book (a History Book Club and Military Book Club selection) as “Vivid…energetic…fascinating…riveting.” The Kiriyama Prize Committee selected it as a “notable book” for 2008. And Entertainment Weekly said simply that The Last Days of the Incas is “thrillingly informative…narrative gold.”

I hope that, by reading The Last Days of the Incas, readers will not only re-experience as vividly as possible one of the two biggest epic stories that ever occurred in the Americas (the other being the conquest of Mexico by Cortes), but will also meet a fascinating set of characters-Incan, Spanish, and American--who profoundly impacted the history of our times.


Kim MacQuarrie

Book Club Recommendations

Fascinating parallels to modern times
by Bartleby (see profile) 07/18/09
Our bookclub really enjoyed reading and discussing the book as there are so many parallels to modern times. This is anything other than a dry history. Also sharp psychological profiles of the main characters, Incan, Spanish, and American.
Excellent choice for any history bookclub
by ciarambyrne (see profile) 12/15/08

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Wonderful Read"by Bartleby (see profile) 07/18/09

A wonderfully researched and detailed account of the Spanish settlement of Peru that somehow reads like a riveting page turner. It's rare that I can race through a well-researched and documented book so... (read more)

  "One of the best books I have read in years!"by ciarambyrne (see profile) 12/15/08

"The Last Days of the Incas" is one of the best books I have read in the last five years--and I read a lot. Extremely well written; an incredible epic story; characters that literally rise up and walk... (read more)

  "Spanish Conquistadors arrive and settle Peru"by lollygil (see profile) 12/05/08

The book was very detailed and historic. It was interesting and engaging. A longer read, but well worth staying with. I was caught up in the battles, lifestyles and the history of the Incas,... (read more)

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