A very good friend of mine and fellow blogger, Nate Rische accompanied us to our trip to Peru in 2009. During the trip he read, The Last Days of the Incas, by Kim MacQuarrie and described the "story" of the Incas as we walked through the streets of Cuzco and hiked in the Andes mountains. I had all the intentions of reading this book but four years later I still haven't, but I still plan too.
In 2009, I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime; two of my closest friends were taking a trip
to Peru, their second, and they invited me to accompany them. How do you say no to that? Five days,
hiking the “Camino Inca” through the majestic Andes Mountains, stopping only to drink maté de coca
and explore the ruins of the Incan Empire. And Machu Picchu, one of the greatest wonders of the world.
But what did I know? Well, I knew that there was an Incan Empire, and it must’ve been in Peru because
that’s where I was going to see the ruins.
Epic history class fail. I even like history, and paid attention in high school!
How is it that I knew nothing of an empire that spanned over two million square kilometers (almost
775,000 square miles) and ruled a population of over twenty million people? An empire that had
eradicated poverty, and ensured that every single citizen had food to eat. An empire with vast
warehouses full of food, supplies, weapons, all stored away in the event of an emergency or disaster. All
of this done, even more spectacularly, without a written language!
I wanted to know what I was getting in to, hiking through Peru, so I headed over to the local bookstore
to find a book on the Inca. There was only one I could find, sitting on the shelf, The Last Days of the Incas
by Kim MacQuarrie. I was upset; I didn’t want to only learn about the last days of the empire, I wanted
to learn about the whole history! But it was the only option, so I picked it up anyway.
I’m glad I did.
I love to read, but I’m a fiction guy. Non-fiction just isn’t my thing; it usually reminds me of a textbook. I
like to learn, but I don’t like to read textbooks. I love to read, but if a book doesn’t capture my attention
quickly, chances are high I’ll put it back down and never finish it.
I decided I wanted to be reading it while I was in Peru, when it was still fresh in my mind, but I wanted
to be a little bit ahead of the curve. I started reading it a few days before we left. I read it on the plane.
I read it in the airport, and on the next plane. I read it in my hotel room, battling jet lag. I read it in the
bus on sightseeing tours. I would have read it even more often, had there been time. I finished it before
we left Cuzco. It was excellent.
Kim MacQuarrie, the author, lived many years in Peru and became fascinated with the Incans. The book
was born out of his passion and fascination, and reads exactly like an adventure story. Much to my great
joy, MacQuarrie begins with the rise of the Incan Empire and details its relatively short history before he
dives into the real heart of the story, the Spanish Conquest. How was it that an army of only 168 men
was able to conquer this vast empire in such a decisive and quick fashion? And what became of the Inca
after this conquest?
MacQuarrie takes the time to address all of these questions, and more. The narrative never stops, and
you never feel like the story is dragging or boring. The story? Oh yeah, don’t forget, we’re learning
While we were in Cuzco, we would walk down the streets and I would put my hand up against a wall
that I read about in the book that morning. I could stand on the hills at Saqsaywaman (yes, that is
pronounced nearly exactly the same as “sexy woman”) and look out over the battlefield and siege that
helped determine the fate of Cuzco. The sights became more real to me, and as I read along I could
place myself into the story and really get a feeling for what it was like.
MacQuarrie is very transparent with the biases of the source material, and despite the very one-sided
written view (most accounts of the events come from the Spanish, as the Incas had no written language
of their own), he works very hard to present as complete and accurate of a view as possible.
The book follows the Inca from the birth of their empire to the Spanish Conquest and through the
following years of rebellion, integration, and oppression by Spanish rule. But it would hardly be
appropriate to end the story there, and The Last Days of the Incas
concludes with a detailing of Hiram
Bingham’s excavations and discovery of Machu Picchu.
The Incan people have a majestic and tragic history, and Kim MacQuarrie captures it with great detail,
passion, and vitality in his book The Last Days of the Incas
. Even if you’re not a fan of non-fiction, or of
history, you will be a fan of this book. Highly recommended, especially to anyone who has visited or is
planning to go visit Cuzco and Machu Picchu.