Mr. Goodwin [focuses] on selecting 'epic' narrative episodes, without trying to investigate the deep, complex and potentially revealing problems of the Hispanic history of what became the United States ... Mr. Goodwin, a historical writer whose patchy coverage ends with a coda on the War of 1898, indulges his talent for spotting a good story and evoking vivid pictures of the past ... Mr. Goodwin’s tale is of 'one damn thing after another,' unrelieved by searching curiosity or critical depth. The author plucks the past for its plumage, without eviscerating it for the innards. His prose matches his purpose: livid with mixed metaphors, larded with adjectives and adverbs, laden with pomposity and redundancy ... Command of facts seems shaky, knowledge of context fossilized in antiquated readings ... Above all, Mr. Goodwin seems suckered by a belief in 'the power of imperialism.' You cannot understand how Spaniards launched their enterprise, or how they kept it going against the odds for so long, unless you realize that the Spanish empire was weak ... Mr. Goodwin’s most telling anecdotes capture the spirit of what David Cannadine called 'ornamentalism'—building empire by buying allegiance with honors ... To Mr. Goodwin, these are good stories. To a historian worthy of the name, they would be evidence of how the Spanish empire worked.
Both authors are well versed in the literature, primary and secondary, and Goodwin in particular makes extensive use of quotations from contemporary chronicles, to which he brings a keen critical eye. Both authors, too, write with verve and can be read with pleasure. Perhaps Goodwin, who revels in set pieces, has the edge in evoking historical personalities ... Goodwin often seems more interested in simply telling a rattling good story ... Neither of these books can be said to add anything of great substance to the existing literature, and both are stronger on narrative and description than on analysis.
...a broad account of Spain’s North American empire and its key players ... The author packs a huge amount of information and observation into a relatively small space, though the last couple of dozen pages gallop heedlessly from the Alamo to San Juan Hill; it might have been better to end with Mexican independence, though one hopes that the cursory overview signals a more circumstantial book to come.