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EL's Book Club #001: The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz

EviLore

Expansive Ellipses
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May 30, 2004
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Hey guys. I thought I'd test the waters for some community participation of interesting books I've been reading, especially with COVID putting a damper on activities and typical entertainment media.



Where to pick it up

$0.99 digital, or widely available in paperback
Amazon


Why read it?

The Conquest of New Spain is one of the greatest adventure stories of all time. Bernal Díaz was a soldier on three expeditions to the New World some 500 years ago, and he chronicles all three in this book. Most notable is the expedition of Hernán Cortés, which ended up conquering the Aztec Empire with (for the most part) only five hundred men. It is not just a tale of conquest and slaughter, however; Díaz chronicles the entire adventure in vivid detail, as they discover uncharted lands and negotiate with the natives, figuring out how to remain alive moment to moment and day to day. The Spaniards are cunning, brave, and prone to political backstabbing, and Cortés navigates the political intrigue with his own men (as well as the governor of Cuba and the Crown back home) and survival to the often hostile native populations with brilliant ruthlessness and charisma.

In many ways it's a journey into madness and the surreal. They encounter child sacrifice, mass cannibalism, and battles where they are outnumbered 100:1 or even 1000:1. Glass beads are traded for piles of golden artifacts at every turn. The members of the expedition are revered as gods (or devils), but that reverence doesn't protect them from danger for very long, and only Cortés and his guile save them from having their still-beating hearts cut out of their chests on the sacrificial altar a hundred times over.

Their eventual time with Montezuma, ruler of the Aztec empire, transforms the expedition and alters the course of history. Díaz paints Montezuma in quite the dignified and sympathetic light.

I heard about The Conquest of New Spain on recommendation from documentarian Werner Herzog, who considers this book and The Peregrine to be essential reading, and used it as inspiration for his film Aguirre, the Wrath of God.


How to participate

Pick it up (or borrow it), give it a read, and share your thoughts with other gaffers here, quote interesting passages, whatever strikes you.
 

-Arcadia-

Gold Member
Aug 20, 2019
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Really cool idea. From some of the side mentions you’ve made, you read/watch some really interesting stuff, and bringing the whole community in on that seems like a lot of fun.

I want to be careful about committing before actually doing something, but I really want to do this.
 

Flying Toaster

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My kindle is ready... just downloaded this. Between this reading list and a class I am taking on manifestos that has a heavy list I am looking forward to reading this semester.
 
Dec 4, 2019
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Hey that's cool.
The book was mentioned a few days ago and I ordered it. Got it yesterday.

Currently I'm at the end of Crime&Punishment, and was contemplating what to read after. I will consider bumping it up the list
(y)
 

Kadayi

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Oct 10, 2012
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Downloaded. Can't say I'll get around to it, but will endeavour. Having just wrapped up Shadow of The Tomb Raider and it's South American setting, much in tune with the conquistadors and their bloody shenanigans 🤔
 
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Tesseract

Crushed by Thanos
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'the time of my departure from castile and what further happened to me'

started the first couple chapters on google books while i wait for my used hard copy to deliver

i like what was said to 'velasquez' about the three vessel proposition

'neither god nor the king had commanded us to turn a free people into slaves'

this was a voyage at their own expense and personal risk, together as treasurers and priests

sailed into a storm and nigh defeated, anchored to a small inlet 'grand cairo' where yucatan natives are met and befriended with bacon and modified sign language

native tribal leader 'cazique' welcomes them ashore ...

'con escotoch' meaning come with me to my house yonder is mentioned, unbelievable generosity from wild strangers ...

our heroes reluctantly take the offer and head ashore into guarded territory, lay waste to native warriors with superior swords and bows

after the battle, the band finds a temple stuffed with gold and relics, idols of devils and plenty of dark rituals

priest 'gonzalez' orders the idols removed, surviving native warriors are taken prisoner and baptized with new names 'melchoir' and 'julian'

combat resolved, 'bernal' and friends return to their ship and set sail toward the west ...
 
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Tesseract

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mind my scattershot ramblings and summary of the first two chapters

excited to read more, these seem like honorable people
 

EviLore

Expansive Ellipses
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Tesseract Tesseract they're honorable adventurers, yeah, though how they act varies heavily with the leader of each expedition, and their ultimate goals are gold and glory of course.
 
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Tesseract

Crushed by Thanos
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you can do worse than gold and glory, sometimes that is enough

smoked those natives, 15 dead ...

bacon must have been tasty
 
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Malakhov

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Is it a pretty hefty book? I really want to get back into reading but as I grow older I find my attention span is so much shorter than it used to be.
 
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EviLore

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It’s about 400 pages in paperback, but the translation is modern and highly readable. It’s not a chore to get through at all, and I was enthralled throughout.
 

Malakhov

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It’s about 400 pages in paperback, but the translation is modern and highly readable. It’s not a chore to get through at all, and I was enthralled throughout.
Just compared the french version (900+pages) to the english version (400 pages). Im going with the english version :messenger_tears_of_joy:
 
Dec 4, 2019
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I've started the book. Translator (J.M. Cohen) says he removed some repetition regarding stockpiles and such.
The book is from 1963 and apparently once was housed in Libreria Universitaria Papeleria in Oaxaca, Mexico.

It's a real old book and smells as such <3
 

TeezzyD

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Got myself an Amazon copy coming in this Saturday

Hopefully worth the $15... I could've bought a Steam game I'd never play with that money!!
 
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TTOOLL

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Cool ideia! I took up regular reading last year and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I mean, it's not like I didn't use to read, just not regularly at all.

I did decide to buy physical books though, there's something nice in having your personal library. It also motivates me to read what I bought.

I'm currently reading Best Evidence by David S. Lifton after that interview with Oliver Stone on Joe Rogan.

I'd love to participate, is there a deadline? I don't think I'll finish what I'm reading very soon but who knows...
 

EviLore

Expansive Ellipses
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May 30, 2004
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Cool ideia! I took up regular reading last year and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I mean, it's not like I didn't use to read, just not regularly at all.

I did decide to buy physical books though, there's something nice in having your personal library. It also motivates me to read what I bought.

I'm currently reading Best Evidence by David S. Lifton after that interview with Oliver Stone on Joe Rogan.

I'd love to participate, is there a deadline? I don't think I'll finish what I'm reading very soon but who knows...
It’s a soft deadline for August so that participants are on the same basic schedule, but the thread will remain open.
 
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Maiden Voyage

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Two things that keep me coming back to eBooks over physical:
1. Definitions are a press; Reading traditionally requires me to either find the dictionary in my house or to get my phone, taking me out of the experience
2. Highlighting important shit--If it's on Kindle or Apple Books, my highlights (and any comments) are consolidated; In fact, I even compile these into a Notion page for each book so I can quickly read the high-level take aways after I've finished

Add in that we've already got over 1,000 books across 3 rooms in my house.
 

TTOOLL

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I read the preface only so far, just to get a feeling of it. It's kinda "dry" as others have pointed out. I'll take a break from JFK's assassination and finish this in August for sure.
 
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TeezzyD

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Two things that keep me coming back to eBooks over physical:
1. Definitions are a press; Reading traditionally requires me to either find the dictionary in my house or to get my phone, taking me out of the experience
2. Highlighting important shit--If it's on Kindle or Apple Books, my highlights (and any comments) are consolidated; In fact, I even compile these into a Notion page for each book so I can quickly read the high-level take aways after I've finished

Add in that we've already got over 1,000 books across 3 rooms in my house.
The tactility of books is important to me. Same goes for comics. Idk why. I don't feel that way about most other mediums at this point, and I get it - it's just text.

I guess, for me, reading a book has always been a source of decompression - where I'm able to get away from all the screens, etc. I hate the idea, but yeah - I also own A LOT of books at this point.

That definition thing is probably chill though, but still, idk.
 

TTOOLL

Member
Mar 22, 2012
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I just got to this part.
Shit is crazy...They went to Yucatan, Florida and then back to Cuba.
What I found funny was that they were like "let's prepare ourselves for any kind of ambush"
End up being ambushed every single time.
Poor guys lol
 

TeezzyD

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Roughly 50 pages in.

Some thoughts...

Likely due to my own modern American ignorance of world history and geography, it is fascinating that what I'm reading based on true events. While Diaz' writing is certainly plain, and there isn't any witty dialogue or fleshed characters as I normally prefer in my books (I gravitate towards fiction), I'm simultaneously constantly reminding myself that this isn't some sort of fantasy novel. All the Spanish names are just as foreign to me, as are a lot of the locations, etc. I'm forgiving myself due to my own divergence of living 500 years later in a much different society than what is depicted here from an autobiographical perspective. That's neat.

As noted in the introduction and by posts here, Diaz's prose does lack any flair whatsoever, yet the story itself remains gripping. It's almost punk rock in a strange way, simple but effective because the sum is larger than its parts. THe tale he's telling is so grand that it doesn't matter that it isn't fluffed by a colorful lexicon. I'm enjoying this so far, and I was genuinely worried I'd be bored to tears.

It's also worth noting how cool it is to be reading a story from the side of the invaders. Yes, their goal is to come and conquer the land of the natives, and trade knick knacks for gold. It makes me question how different civilizations cherish different items more than others. Like they keep trading those green stones they have because they look like emeralds which are more valued to the natives than the gold they have. Almost like Animal Crossing when you trade your fruit with a neighboring city. Like, fuck these apples, I want oranges! I got enough apples! Point being though, you'd typically hear a story like this from the natives' perspective, and hear about how they fought off the big bad Spaniards. All these dudes want is to conquer their lands and convert others to Christianity. I enjoyed, too, how the story starts off with them *early spoiler* getting duped and ambushed initially by the natives. Framing them to be innocent.

It's like Spike once said on Buffy:



Life is about overcoming and evolving. Growing stronger. The natives were likely frightened (they thought the Spanish ships full of bearded men were foretold by their Gods) and that's why they attacked. They'd have easily killed and conquered the Spaniards spreading their beliefs given the chance. Funny how you can see both perspectives here. That's also a neat factor about this book. Like yeah, sure, the Rebel Alliance are cool and all, but was the Empire really so bad at the end of the day?

I'll read more later today. I'd like to catch up to the lot of you. So far, so good.
 

TeezzyD

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Also, the very fact that I'm reading this and summarizing my thoughts with allusions to Buffy, Star Wars, and Animal Crossing just shows how much I needed to expose myself to a book like this for a change.

Thanks EviLore! Hopefully we can keep this going. I've always wanted to join a book club that wasn't just a bunch of old ladies whinging about butter snaps, tea cozies, and how often they need to change the litter box.

Not sure if you always read historical books like this, but it's an interesting pick for the first selection, and definitely getting me to step out of my comfort zone some. Cheers.
 
Dec 4, 2019
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I'm loving it so far. At page 166/413.

It's great that he's just a normal soldier, not trying to embellish what he's trying to tell. He's not privy to all info, and that's fine, it leaves some mystery.

Wish he would expound more on the human sacrifices, but him being a xtian stops him, I suppose.

It also amazes me that with their far superior numbers, the Indians don't seem to make a real dent in the Spaniard's ranks. Superior tech and organization prevail.

Good stuff!
 

EviLore

Expansive Ellipses
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Also, the very fact that I'm reading this and summarizing my thoughts with allusions to Buffy, Star Wars, and Animal Crossing just shows how much I needed to expose myself to a book like this for a change.

Thanks EviLore! Hopefully we can keep this going. I've always wanted to join a book club that wasn't just a bunch of old ladies whinging about butter snaps, tea cozies, and how often they need to change the litter box.

Not sure if you always read historical books like this, but it's an interesting pick for the first selection, and definitely getting me to step out of my comfort zone some. Cheers.
You're welcome. Glad you're enjoying it and leaving your comfort zone. First-hand historical accounts can provide such a different perspective on events than what we're used to; five hundred years ago is no slouch of a time portal to hop through.

It's cool to hear your perspective as someone mostly immersed in pop culture, too. Reality isn't bound by requiring suspension of disbelief, so truth can truly be stranger than fiction.

If you guys haven't seen Apocalypto, it's a good companion film to watch at some point. There isn't much else on film that authentically captures the essence of these civilizations.
 

Rock And Roll

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I'm 25% in and I think I have to tap out. It's a bit too plain for my liking, although I realize this is a unique account of history and should probably read it. The first few chapters I was interested but I haven't retained anything from the last few, it just seems like the same stuff happens over and over. They go somewhere, get attacked, fight back the natives, give Jerry beads to the natives, go to another island, get attacked, more Jerry beads etc...

Maybe if we do one next month I'll be able to see it through. Hope the rest of you have a good time with the book!
 

Maiden Voyage

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I am about 50% through as of last night. I'm enjoying the book. It's an incredible journey and the domination over the local natives is impressive. The entire story would seem too far fetched to be a fiction story.
I'll try to double my daily reading so I can wrap up the book by the end of the month.

For anyone struggling, try to stick with it until the first battle. That's when shit starts to get real. Cortes is a badass.
 
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