MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History


When Montezuma Met Cortés: The True Story of the Meeting That Changed History

By Matthew Restall.

560 pages.

HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. $35.

Reviewed by Marshall C. Eakin

On November 8, 1519, after spending more than six months fighting his way into the heart of Mexico, Spanish explorer Hernando Cortés came face to face with the Aztec emperor Montezuma on a causeway leading into Tenochtitlán. At the entrance to the capital, the two men exchanged gifts and greetings, and Montezuma then invited Cortés and his hundreds of followers into the city as his guests. For nearly five centuries, the dominant interpretation of this meeting has been the one originally offered by Cortés himself: that Montezuma had effectively surrendered to the Spanish invaders. Now comes Matthew Restall, a professor of history at Pennsylvania State University, to take aim at this version of the narrative, branding it “one of human history’s great lies.”

Employing a vast

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