I have long admired Hernán Cortes, conqueror of the Aztecs. He may not have gotten to Heaven, though who can say, but he exemplified the spirit of the West, that which from Charlemagne to Frémont drove the world forward. Fifth Sun would have us stop and shed a tear for the Aztecs, considering them on their own terms. It’s a modest request, and when done is modestly interesting. But we should remember that unlike the Spanish, the Aztecs never accomplished anything notable, and never would have accomplished anything notable. Which raises the question—what price glory?
Every American generation has its young adult fiction, and we can all agree it tends to reflect the society of its time. We associate the young adult fiction of the 1950s with books like Tom Swift and Nancy Drew. Such fiction, including this book, On The Trail of Inca Gold, was highly optimistic, techno-utopian in some cases, and grounded in an ethic of individual achievement, human possibility and self-reliance, along with belief in America and a positive attitude toward its government and ruling class. We are always told today how awful the 1950s were, where everyone was crushed by endemic sexism, racism and species-ism, all minutely managed by Joseph McCarthy, who bestrode the country with a lead-loaded bullwhip and unleashed hell on cowering America. The reality was that the 1950s were a period of completely justified, unparalleled optimism and growth in prosperity—and young adult fiction fit the actual national mood.
Last month, in December 2016, maybe as a Christmas gift to himself, Thomas Sowell announced that he was retiring. Technically, he announced that he was retiring from writing a syndicated column, but at age 86, it seems likely that he does not intend to write any new books, either. This is unfortunate, but his work is done. There can be little doubt that Sowell’s many works, taken together, by themselves would be adequate to educate someone raised by wolves on everything any person needs to know about economics, political economy, and much of history.
“Rivers Of Gold” is not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a compact treatment of the early Spanish empire in the New World, this isn’t it. If you are looking for a book that bewails the fate of the indigenous inhabitants of the New World at the hands of the evil Spanish monsters, this isn’t it either. But if you are looking for a voluminous and detailed study of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, that treats the Spanish as they were, a combination of varying proportions within each man of hero and ruthless killer, this is the book for you.
In the United States, most of us glimpse Venezuela in flashes. We know that Hugo Chavez is dead, and we know that his socialism has run Venezuela into the ground. As of this writing, in August 2015, it is a crime-ridden hellhole that has reached the stage of military confiscation of foodstuffs from farmers for redistribution, and is declining fast to Zimbabwe levels. But most of us don’t know more. That’s where this relatively short book provides real value.