by Hiram Bingham
I have to admit to not really enjoying this book, even though I made myself finish it. While in theory I found the whole subject of lost inca cities and civilisations really interesting – especially as I was reading it just after having been to Machu Picchu- there were several things that held me back from loving this discoverers-diary-cum-history-book.
One is how contentious Hiram Bingham’s memories of the ‘discovery’ of Machu Picchu are –whether these were skewed by the amount of time that passed before he wrote the book, or exaggerated for a better-selling story – they’re definitely not quite to be trusted. The version of the book that I got my hands on addressed this – with an introduction that highlighted how many flaws there were in Bingham’s account, and showed some new photos of Machu Picchu upon ‘discovery’ – complete with local people growing crops on the grounds of the ancient city. Not quite so secret then.
Another is how dry the writing is. The book covers years of Inca history – including huge bloody battles, royal betrayals, infidelity, colonisation, and a multitude of other huge, messy goings-on. But manages to somehow make each of them bereft of any human emotion or feeling, by being written in a style that reminded me of a history book (unfortunately not a Horrible Histories book, which would have been great).
It was really popular 60 years ago but that was a different age, when the story of a well-educated Western academic finding evidence of a civilisation as organised and widespread as the Incas was still pretty mind-blowing to most people. In the age of Google and National Geographic I don’t think it holds the same power or excitement, so it’s possibly worth a read if you’re heading to Machu Picchu and fancy being clued-up before getting there, but I personally wasn’t blown away by the stories of discovery – maybe because I was taking them all with a very large pinch of salt.