This revisionist history of the Aztecs, told through their own words, explores the experience of a once-powerful people facing the trauma of conquest and finding ways to survive, offering an empathetic interpretation for experts and non-specialists alike.
Townsend’s excellent historical text covers the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs with important additional context. Anecdotes from translated works and introductions to crucial Indigenous characters result in a gripping, novelistic narrative that explains the situation before, during, and after the arrival of the conquistadors ... The book makes excellent use of its sources ... reads as a compelling drama ... its use of Mexica firsthand accounts and perspectives is a needed corrective. It helps fill in a story that’s been one-sided for far too long.
Ms. Townsend has combed the extraordinary accounts of the early colonial era written by indigenous historians to paint a far more complex picture of persistence by the Aztecs and their descendants. It is a vivid account of what Aztec writers and chroniclers had to say about their own history and of a world decimated through constant change and loss ... brings to light native intellectuals and chroniclers who emerged as mediators of history and cultural knowledge ... Despite the subtitle A New History of the Aztecs, however, Fifth Sun does not offer a comprehensive overview of pre-Columbian Aztec history, focusing on dynasties, successions, ceremonies and war. Rather its power lies in its bridging of the cultures of Aztec literary history both before and after the coming of the Spanish ... Here and there individual stories may come across as dense or fragmented, but this reflects the richness of the source material Ms. Townsend employs. The overall result is always readable and compelling, a new history of cultural transformation where little has been accessible in English ... provides essential reading on the complex cultural fabric of Mexico, helping to rescue a deep and layered history that might otherwise have fallen into oblivion.
... Townsend continues her groundbreaking work in the field in the marvelous Fifth Sun, a dramatic and accessible narrative that tells the story as the Nahuas saw it ... helps explode denigrating myths ... Townsend [is] a first-rate writer.