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Silver, Sword, and Stone

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Silver, Sword, and Stone

Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story

Simon & Schuster,

15 min read
9 take-aways
Text available

What's inside?

Spain’s violent conquest of the Americas influences Latin America’s identity to the present day.

Editorial Rating



  • Comprehensive
  • Eye Opening
  • Engaging


Journalist and historian Marie Arana embeds you with Spanish conquistadors who searched for silver and gold in the Americas – a quest that spurred mass slaughter and enslavement. Today, international companies and scrappy, long-suffering miners still seek precious metals in that soil. This search – and the exploitation and violence it wrought – informs Latin America’s identity. Arana anchors the region’s economy and politics in its majestic and tragic thousand-year history.


An extractive economy, the politics of violence and religion have shaped Latin American history.

An aging woman scrambles uphill from her hut high in the Peruvian Andes, searching for gold near the mines. Over the course of the day, she fills a sack with stones that might contain gold, and lugs it back down the mountain. The next day she does the same thing again. In fact, she has been doing it daily since she followed her mother up the mountain when she was a little girl.

It hardly matters that only miles away a North American mining company is extracting gold with sophisticated modern equipment or that multinational corporations are investing millions to exploit the region’s mineral resources. The woman repeats the actions of her ancestors.

Latin America’s obsession with precious metals has endured unabated since the Incas and Aztecs. Under Spanish colonial rule, the quest for silver and gold led to massacres, enslavement and exploitation. The cruelty and brutality of Spanish rule set a precedent in Latin American history that has continued through its wars of independence, civil wars and military coups. Forecasters still regard extracted resources...

About the Author

Marie Arana, also the author of Bolívar: American Liberator, is an editor, historian, journalist, critic and Literary Director of the Library of Congress.

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    J. M. 1 year ago
    Thanks i completely agree
    Politicians in Latin America continue to repeat the same process as the Spaniards