In her latest book Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs (Oxford University Press 2020), Camilla Townsend tells the story of the Aztecs from their perspective and using their own historical sources. Although this sounds like a simple premise, a Fifth Sun revolutionizes our way of understanding the past of the Mexica (meh-HEE-kah) and the people that lived under their rule in Mexico’s central valley. Townsend, who has worked on Nahuatl (the politically dominant tongue in central Mexico by the time of the arrival of the Spaniards) sources for over 20 years, crafts a beautiful narrative that captivates readers from the very beginning (she won the prestigious Cundill History Prize for this book), and challenges long-held assumptions about the Mexica (that they thought Europeans were gods is the most obvious example).
Each chapter opens up with a vignette about a single person who once lived, an imaginative act that makes this book profoundly detailed, personal, and moving, all at the same time. Fifth Sun is a short book, but this should not mislead our listeners for Townsend covers the pre-conquest, conquest, and post-conquest periods, moving effortlessly through periods of profound change and adaptation, giving readers a wonderful, imaginative, and fascinating story that the NBN family will surely love to hear more about!