Amazon is still processing my e-book, so while I wait for the big news I thought I’d blog a little on what drew me to write about the Inca.
I am wholeheartedly and unashamedly a history nerd. I love it. It’s the story of humankind, and there’s always something more to learn. The Inca are tucked away in a little-explored corner of the historical zeitgeist, and for most of my childhood and teens I had them grouped in with the Aztec and the Maya as New World civilizations that did not survive the arrival of Europeans. At some point I heard the improbable story of Francisco Pizarro’s one-upping Hernán Cortés in audacity and rapaciousness, but really the Inca meant nothing more to me than a source of the silver and gold that filled those galleons English pirates and privateers hunted throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries. The Inca as a people were a blank to me, and I was on a Roman history kick that I’ve never really gotten over.
Sometimes it’s the little things that draw your attention to an idea that will consume years of your life. There’s a great exchange in Seinfeld where George Costanza tells Jerry that his favourite explorer was Hernando de Soto.
“De Soto? What did he do?” Jerry asks.
“He discovered the Mississippi,” George replies.
“Yeah, but they were going to find that anyway!” Jerry protests.
The delivery of that line always tickled me, and one day I decided to read a book about conquistadores to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out before De Soto led his ill-fated expedition into Florida and across the American South he had already earned fame and fortune as the leader of Pizarro’s horsemen against the Inca. I flipped to the chapter on Pizarro, and I read two things that got my immediate attention: First, the Emperor Atauhuallpa (I should mention there are several different accepted ways to spell his name. I’m using the one that appears in my book) was the winner of a recent civil war and indeed had not yet undergone his coronation when Pizarro’s men seized him and demanded the largest ransom in history only to kill him after it was paid; second, smallpox had hit the Inca years before the arrival of the Spaniards, and a quarter of the population had died.
Right there, I knew there was something more to the Inca than just the drama of Pizarro’s improbable conquest.