The Pequod Review:
The Golden Empire is the masterful second volume of Hugh Thomas’s three-part history of the Spanish Empire, this one covering its peak as a European power from 1522-1566. Thomas’s “great man” narrative focuses on the personalities and individuals of the era (Charles V, Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, and others), which is probably the correct approach given the lack of institutional structures and sturdy economic arrangements. And the book is full of economics, showing for example how the crown was financed (in 1543 two-thirds of its revenues came from the Indies) and how future tax claims were converted into interest-bearing bonds. More than anything, it is the way that Thomas moves back and forth between the particular and the general that produces such a satisfying and persuasive narrative. Thomas would complete the third volume of the trilogy in 2014 (World Without End), before passing away in 2017.