“A welcome addition to the literature…Lively and dramatic.”

—Jonathan Yardley
The Washington Post


With vivid and energetic prose, Emmy Award-winner and author MacQuarrie (Where the Andes Meet the Amazon) re-creates the 16th-century struggle for what would become modern-day Peru. The Incas ruled a 2,500-mile-long empire, but Spanish explorers, keen to enrich the crown and spread the Catholic Church, eventually destroyed Inca society. MacQuarrie, who writes with just the right amount of drama (“After the interpreter finished delivering the speech, silence once again gripped the square”), is to be commended for giving a balanced account of those events. This long and stylish book doesn’t end with the final 1572 collapse of the Incas. Fast-forwarding to the 20th century, MacQuarrie tells the surprisingly fascinating story of scholars’ evolving interpretations of Inca remains. In 1911, a young Yale professor of Latin American history named Hiram Bingham identified Machu Picchu as the nerve center of the empire. Few questioned Bingham’s theory until after his death in 1956; in the 1960s Gene Savoy discovered the real Inca center of civilization, Vilcabamba. Although MacQuarrie dedicates just a few chapters to modern research, the archeologists who made the key discoveries emerge as well-developed characters, and the tale of digging up the empire is as riveting as the more familiar history of Spanish conquest.

Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED Review

“Thrillingly informative…narrative gold”

Half a millennium ago, a small group of Spaniards tricked, manipulated, and murdered their way to total domination over the Peruvian Incas. In this thrillingly informative work, MacQuarrie relates how, with the help of metal weapons, artillery, disease, and horses (“the mobile tanks of the conquest”), the Spanish subdued a native populace despite being outnumbered nearly 10,000 to 1. In addition to writing rousing and clear-eyed battle accounts and describing the Incas’ early form of guerrilla warfare, MacQuarrie also manages to spin the oft-told story of the discovery of Machu Picchu into narrative gold.

Entertainment Weekly

“Thoroughly and entertainingly recounted…MacQuarrie excels”

Trekking through the Peruvian jungle in the summer of 1911, a young Yale professor named Hiram Bingham found the lost city of Vilcabamba, legendary last capital of the Inca empire. Looking at the crude stone dwellings, he was not impressed. Less than a month earlier, Bingham had discovered Machu Picchu, a glorious mountain-peak resort of immaculately cut rock befitting the pride and splendor of an Inca emperor. For the rest of his life, Bingham insisted, and most people believed, that Machu Picchu was Vilcabamba. Given the staggering 15th- and 16th-century accomplishments of the Inca people, thoroughly and entertainingly recounted by Emmy-winning documentarian Kim MacQuarrie, Bingham’s error is understandable. In a mere 90 years, Inca emperors had built a nation 2,500 miles long, forcefully organizing ten million people into an agrarian economy rich enough to feed and clothe everyone and to adorn the elite in silver and gold. Yet on November 16, 1532, a band of Spanish ruffians, led by veteran conquistador Francisco Pizarro, managed to seize the nation for themselves–in the name of their king and pope–by kidnapping the emperor and slaughtering his retinue. “In less than two hours, the Inca Empire had been beheaded,” writes MacQuarrie,” as neatly as one would sever the head of a llama or guinea pig.” While the Spanish consolidated their holdings, ensconced in the old Inca capital of Cuzco, a small segment of the Inca population continued to fight the colonists from Vilcabamba for another four decades. MacQuarrie excels in his depiction of this guerrilla war, giving the lost city the honor it deserves. Bingham’s folly was to assume that Vilcabamba would be distinguished by fine architecture. The distinction of the last Inca emperors was in their noble struggle.

—Jonathon Keats

“A first-rate…work of ambitious scope that will most likely
stand as the definitive account of these people.”

The Incas were members of the group of Quechuan peoples of Peru, who established an empire from northern Ecuador to central Chile before the Spanish conquest. MacQuarrie reminds his readers that nearly 500 years ago, 168 Spaniards arrived in what is now Peru and collided with an Incan empire of 10 million people. The author, who lived in Peru for five years, chronicles the adventures of Hiram Bingham, who, in 1911, discovered Machu Picchu and believed it was the Incan capital. MacQuarrie also recounts the search by Gene Savoy, the American explorer who found Vilcabamba, the true capital. He describes the adventures of other conquistadors and puppet kings, the rebellion of 1535, and other military attempts to conquer the Indians. MacQuarrie, a four-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, researched Spanish and Incan chronicles. The result is a first-rate…work of ambitious scope that will most likely stand as the definitive account of these people.


“A skillful mix of extensive research, insightful analysis,
and masterful storytelling”

Anthropologist and documentary filmmaker MacQuarrie’s entertaining narrative is a work that scholars, students, and history enthusiasts alike will enjoy. With a skillful mix of extensive research, insightful analysis, and masterful storytelling, MacQuarrie deftly explores the Incas’ last days and the forces that brought their civilization to an end. The book begins with a gripping description of Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu, travels back to Spanish contact and the ultimate collapse of the Incan nation, and ends with an exploration of evolving 20th-century historical interpretations of the Incas’ fall. In the process, MacQuarrie tells a rather balanced story of 16th-century Peruvian history that does not fully demonize or idolize any of the historical players; he puts the tale into a historiographical context that is invaluable to readers’ understanding of the historical process. By combining history with the study of history, MacQuarrie not only portrays the importance of the story itself, but also the importance of how the story is told. The result is an educational, entertaining work valuable to all readers with an interest in the history of the Incas and their demise at the hands of the Spanish empire. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Two-year Technical Program Students; Professionals/Practitioners.

Choice (Current Reviews for Academic Libraries)

“This is an excellent book…a detailed, highly accurate and thoroughly engaging narrative of these events.”

—Dr. Brian S Bauer
Inca specialist, University of Illinois at Chicago
The Historian

The Last Days of the Incas reads like a novel…a delightful, eminently readable account”

The St Petersburg Times

“Hooks the reader right away with its flowing, novelistic language…a ripping good yarn. And [it] would make a great movie, too.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                — The Roanoke Times

“Kim MacQuarrie’s detailed, gripping account of the destruction wreaked by Spanish conquistadors following their arrival in the Incan empire in 1532 is a stand-out read. It’s compelling, brutal and hugely revealing about the plight of the Incan people.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   – History Revealed

“Fascinating and enthralling…the direct narrative brings alive people who existed 500 years ago. Truly a work worth Inca gold.”

The History Magazine

“Meticulous research and compelling storytelling”

National Geographic Traveler


The South American Explorer Magazine

“A wonderful history of the Spanish conquest of the Incan empire…a great read about fascinating human events.”

“I highly recommend The Last Days of the Incas to anyone interested in this fascinating civilization”


“This is a wonderful book.”

“This is a wonderful book about one of the most epic struggles of history, a conquest that transformed a continent. Out of the crucible emerged the Pan Andean culture, a civilization more vibrant and alive today than at any time in the last centuries. To understand the politics and passions, the hopes and fears of the peoples of the Andes one must begin with the cataclysm that in a generation destroyed an Empire and gave birth to a New World. The Last Days of the Incas is a great place to start.”

—Wade Davis
Anthropologist and Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Society
Author of One River

“It’s a delight to return to a world shrouded in mist and mystery…”

“I grew up reading adventurer writers like Ryder Haggard, so it’s a delight to return to a world shrouded in mist and mystery. Kim MacQuarrie has explored well-trod ground to produce a book that surprises, delivers history, and reads like a great yarn. He starts with Hiram Bingham’s magical discovery of Machu Picchu and rolls through a story of savage Spanish conquest (the throttling of Inca ruler Atahualpa, the Manco Inca revolution, the death of the last Inca emperor Tupac Amaru) and makes you excited about the far reaches of the globe and the places we simply don’t know well enough. I’ve read yards of books on the Incas but this one took me out of the classroom and into that long-lost world. It’s a well-turned ride through the death of the Inca Empire. As MacQuarrie, quoting Rudyard Kipling, exhorts: ’Something hidden. Go and find it!’ Indeed.”

—Keith Bellows
Editor in Chief
National Geographic Traveler

“A superbly crafted historical narrative.”

“Kim MacQuarrie’s The Last Days of the Incas is a colorful, superbly crafted historical narrative that masterfully demonstrates that when cultures collide, unforeseen and tragic consequences follow. MacQuarrie also pulls off a memorable adventure story, revealing the modern Indiana Jones-type characters that unearthed, and continue to discover, lost parts of the Inca Empire. Are there lessons for us from 500 years ago? I think so. We only have to look to Tibet of the 1950s, and Iraq today, to observe how history repeats itself. The Last Days of the Incas is historical writing at its best, partly by revealing who we, as humans, are.”

—Broughton Coburn
Author of Everest: Mountain Without Mercy

“Superbly written.”

“The story of the European conquest of the fascinating and fabulously rich empire of the Incas is one of history’s most engaging and tragic episodes, previously known largely to scholars and history buffs. Thanks to The Last Days of the Incas, Kim MacQuarrie’s superbly written new treatment of the subject, it is now accessible to the much broader audience it deserves. Readers will also appreciate his exciting account of the ongoing efforts of latter day explorers to unravel the bloody history of Vilcabamba, the mysterious jungle redoubt of the last of the Incas.”

—Vincent Lee
Author of Forgotten Vilcabamba


Selected as a “Notable Book” by the Kiriyama Prize Committee

Chosen as an “Outstanding Academic Title” by CHOICE (Current Reviews for Academic Libraries)