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Following in the footsteps of the greatest Spanish adventurers, Michael Wood retraces the path of the conquistadors from Amazonia to Lake Titicaca, and from the deserts of North Mexico to the heights of Machu Picchu. As he travels the same routes as Hernán Cortés, Francisco, and Gonzalo Pizarro, Wood describes the dramatic events that accompanied the epic sixteenth-century Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires. He also follows parts of Orellana’s extraordinary voyage of discovery down the Amazon and of Cabeza de Vaca’s arduous journey across America to the Pacific. Few stories in history match these conquests for sheer drama, endurance, and distances covered, and Wood’s gripping narrative brings them fully to life.

Wood reconstructs both sides of the conquest, drawing from sources such as Bernal Diaz’s eyewitness account, Cortés’s own letters, and the Aztec texts recorded not long after the fall of Mexico. Wood’s evocative story of his own journey makes a compelling connection with the sixteenth-century world as he relates the present-day customs, rituals, and oral traditions of the people he meets. He offers powerful descriptions of the rivers, mountains, and ruins he encounters on his trip, comparing what he has seen and experienced with the historical record.

As well as being one of the pivotal events in history, the Spanish conquest of the Americas was one of the most cruel and devastating. Wood grapples with the moral legacy of the European invasion and with the implications of an episode in history that swept away civilizations, religions, and ways of life. The stories in Conquistadors are not only of conquest, heroism, and greed but of changes in the way we see the world, history and civilization, justice and human rights.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “A handsome, lucidly written narrative of events that were, for the most part, a triumph of greed, brutality, and blood.”

    Houston Chronicle

  • “This impressively illustrated companion volume to a [PBS] TV series on the destruction of the Aztec and Inca civilizations and related explorations is necessarily one of high drama and telling contrasts. It is also broad-based and balanced, a powerful corrective to the false glamour so often built around Cortés, Pizarro, and their colleagues in genocide.”


  • “[A] superbly detailed history and travelogue…Telfer delivers all the tricky-to-pronounce Spanish and South and Mesoamerican names and places with admirable ease. The listener is drawn into a world of events that still reverberate five hundred years later.”


  • “The digestible narrative provides a provocative overview of a historical episode that was both magnificent and shameful.”


  • “Wood’s personal musings place these sixteenth-century conquests into the context of our own experience.”

    Barnes & Noble, editorial review

  • “[An] accessible, literate, and lively book.”

    Amazon.com, editorial review

  • “Light but not lightweight, Wood’s companion book is a good stand-alone work and doesn’t need the television show to be enjoyed.”

    Baton Rouge Advocate

  • “This is historical narrative of a very high quality. The prose is lucid, the descriptive episodes powerfully drawn. Wood describes fairly and sensitively the vast gulf that separated these Bronze Age [Aztec and Inca] cultures from the Western behemoth that overwhelmed and destroyed them, stressing in particular the near total inability of each society to comprehend the mores and values of the other.”

    Gene Brucker, professor emeritus of history, University of California, Berkeley

  • Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award
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About the Author
Author Michael Wood

Michael Wood has worked as a journalist, broadcaster, and filmmaker and is the author of several highly acclaimed books, including Legacy, In Search of the Trojan War, and The Story of England. He has numerous documentary films to his name, among them Legacy, Saddam’s Killing Fields, and In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great. He lives in Hampstead, North London, with his wife and two daughters.