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The White Rock [Paperback]

Hugh Thomson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 15 2010
The lost cities of South America have always exercised a powerful hold on the popular imagination. The ruins of the Incas and other pre-Colombian civilisations are scattered over thousands of miles of still largely uncharted territory, particularly in the Eastern Andes, where the mountains fall away towards the Amazon.

Twenty-five years ago, Hugh Thomson set off into the cloud-forest on foot to find a ruin that had been carelessly lost again after its initial discovery. Into his history of the Inca Empire he weaves the story of his adventures as he travelled to the most remote Inca cities. It is also the story of the great explorers in whose footsteps he followed, such as Hiram Bingham and Gene Savoy.

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From Publishers Weekly

So entertaining and appealing is Thomson's story of his exploration of the Inca empire that readers will wish they could take off and follow in his footsteps. The British documentary filmmaker relates his travels 20 years ago deep into the Inca empire, through the high Peruvian Andes and Bolivia, and a second trip 17 years later, to the last Inca stronghold in the Amazon basin. In his early 20s, he launched a successful expedition to find the lost Inca city of Llactapata. Believing that "what really was important was understanding what the ruin was about," Thomson began a decades-long study of Inca history and culture. The marriage of his intellectual and physical exploration is at the center of this compelling book. Thomson is a terrific storyteller, his skills apparent in both his recreation of the violent destruction of the Incas by the Spanish and his description of the ruins he discovers, the people he meets along the way, and the hardships and pleasures of traveling the abandoned Inca highways. Erudite and charming, Thomson is capable of comparing a carved Inca rock to the work of Henry Moore, and equally capable of conveying the satisfying incongruity of being on a crowded bus in the Peruvian outback, listening to a Spanish song titled "La Cosita," the little thing-the story of Lorena and Wayne Bobbitt. Thomson's wit, eye for detail and reverence for humanity set him apart from the average travel-adventure writer-he is as good a companion as a traveler could hope for. 45 b&w photos, 3 maps.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Part travelog, part history lesson, this narrative by documentary filmmaker Thomson (Out of India, Great Journeys: Mexico) recounts a successful expedition he led in 1982 to "refind" Llactapata, the "lost city of the Incas," and to explore other Inca sites spanning three countries. Among pages of encounters with flora, fauna, and fermented beverages, Thomson provides a good dose of Peruvian history: the Inca emperors come off as heroic defenders of the land, but we also learn that they had built their empire by subjugating other tribes, exploiting forced labor and other spoils of war. When the Spanish came, some of these conquered tribes were only too glad to help. Thomson returns in 1999 (after the Shining Path guerrilla group is gone) to visit Vilcabamba, the "last city of the Incas," where the final Inca emperor retreated before turning himself over to the Spanish Viceroy. Thomson is an impressive adventurer and an equally skilled writer. Recommended for academic and public libraries.
Lee Arnold, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover
Reviewers have noted Thomson's strengths and occasional lapses. I read this after "At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig," John Gimlette's comparable Paraguayan travelogue, and both books feature young British who find themselves returning to a land they happened upon in their youth (circa early 1980s?) in decades since, contrasting the changes and recording that which endures. Thomson's account avoids Gimlette's overwritten prose, but its own lack of adornment may fail to keep all readers excited. He eschews New Age dippiness or "us vs. them" cute encounters for a more workaday narrative. He tells what he saw, who saw it earlier, and what we know about it--given the wide lack of hard evidence. He always relies on the locals, has an admirably nimble way with translating his excellent Spanish as he conveys his conversations with them, and avoids stereotypes on all sides--except for those ubiqitous German tourists we've all encountered ahead of the rest of us in the most remote places!
I wish he had invigorated his account a bit more with less recapitulation of his own often humdrum reactions, but he does this to counter the often romanticised visions of Hiram Bingham, Victor van Hagen, and many others who have explored the terrain before him--and not always as thoroughly as he has. The encounter with the titular White Rock, for example, is nearly subdued, but it sets off the mystery better than purple prose.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Into The Land of the Incas Feb. 27 2004
Format:Paperback
A good travel and exploration book, if not a great one.
Hugh Thomson regales readers with two periods of exploration he took into the deep Andes to rediscover and discover Inca ruins. First as a twentysomething "it beats working" trek with like-minded buddies, then later as a more mature filmmaker who returned after a few decades to visit areas he missed the first go around.
This book has the same theme as some of Bill Bryson's or David Horwitz's travelogues. The history is interspersed with tales of the journey, giving background and understanding as to why certain places are worth visiting. Thomson does not have the wit or humor of either, nor does he try to force it. Some humorous events are recounted because they happened and happened to be humorous, but this author does not ply the wry observation or witty discourse.
The result is a solid travel book, if at times less than entertaining. The reader is treated to a good geographic illustration of the high Andes as well as snapshots of life in and around those mountains today. The history of the Inca people after contact with the conquistadors is interspersed with tales of Thomson's journeys in a way that I suspect will give almost every reader a much better understanding of what happened during the clash of these two empires. Flashbacks are also provided of the famous explorers who led the way toward western appreciation of Inca roads and cities and whose material allowed Thomson to discover some sites only hinted at in the 1800's by his predecessors.
The author does delve into what apparently is an age-old enmity between archaeologists and explorers.
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Format:Hardcover
If you are planning a hiking trip to the Andes, this book may interest you. By reading it, you will know what awaits you up there(including bowel problems and insect plagues) and get a feeling for the country and its inhabitants. The White rock tells the story of about twenty years of treks by Hugh Thomson and his British pals in the Andes region, mostly along ancient Inca paths. About all the interesting sites, both natural and man-made, are covered: Machu-Pichu, Cuzco, Lake Titicaca, etc.
If you are interested in the Incas but only moderately so, in other words if you want to know more about this ancient people but do not have enough time or enthusiasm to read a detailed scholarly study about it, you may consider buying this book. In its pages, you will get small doses of Inca history interspersed among more contemporary material.You will also learn about the ancient and contemporary explorers of the land, starting with Pizarro and ending with present-day archeologists,travelers and photographers like Von Hagen, Chambi, etc.
If you are looking for a finely written travel account with strong literary flavor, this book is NOT for you. Contrary to what is stated in the reviews on the back of the book, the author is a not a great writer at all. He is quite incapable to describe either the landscape or the inhabitants with real talent.Also owing to his poor writing skills, he completely fails to conjure up the magical atmosphere of the great ancient sites and recreate for you the lost world of the Incas. The travel narrative itself, besides being quite uneventful, is quite plain and completely lacking in romanticism. At many points, it is even anticlimactic, like when, in his first expedition, Hugh Thomson rediscovers the lost Inca fortress of LLactapata.
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5.0 out of 5 stars If you are going to Peru... get this book. Dec 17 2003
Format:Hardcover
If you are going to Peru... get this book.
I live six months a year in the Andes, in Peru. My house overlooks the beautiful valley of Cachora, and from my porch I can look up at the mountain where the newly excavated ruins of Choquequirao are (a "must see"). Now, when my friends come to Peru, to see Machu Pichu and/or the ruins of Choquequirao, I give everyone a copy of "The White Rock".
Hugh Thomson has done a great service to all those visiting these ruins. He has not only written an engaging, and often funny travel log, but he has given us a history of the Incas. He shines a new light on Inca life and customs. Their principle cities: Machu Pichu, Choquequirao, Vilcabamba and Chuquipalta [the White Rock] are discussed in the book..

But, this book isn't just about Cusco, Machu Pichu or Choquequirao - but it really is. It isn't about the Inca's culture and their vast empire (c.1438-1572) - but it really is. It's not about various unique, brash, daring, larger-than-life individuals who Thomson encountered, but it is. Nor is it about Hugh Thomson and his extraordinary journeys through the Inca heartland - but, then again, it really is. This Book is an incredibly accomplished blending of all of these, as well as a lively, dauntless travel log of an exception explorer.
Thomson's pendulating writing has the unique ability to freely swing back and forth between various perspectives. He writes as an anthropologist, a historian, an archeologist, an explorer, and a traveling bum. He weaves these perspectives together while never losing the story line - The White Rock.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very good.
Published 2 months ago by Lorne Fisher
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic journey
Thomson is a captivating writer as he tells he tale of exploration of Peru and the Incas while he was in his early twenties. Read more
Published on July 24 2012 by John Robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars engrossing, informative, and immensely readable
this is an engrossing book that combines the writers own exploration and travel with the history of inca exploration of explorers who went before him, while telling the stories of... Read more
Published on Sept. 26 2003 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing book
If you are looking for a book that will entertain, educate, and take you on a trip all at the same time, this is the book for you. Read more
Published on May 13 2003 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A Highly Enjoyable Reading Experience
Any young history student can tell you the story of the Incas. Bedazzled by stories of cities built of stone and overflowing with gold, children dream of hidden treasures in South... Read more
Published on May 10 2003 by Bookreporter
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read and great fun.
While planning a trip to Peru, I bought a copy of Thomson's book to get a different spin on the place than that offered by the typical guides and histories. Read more
Published on April 28 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Inca Past, Explorations Past, Explorations Present
Where does an explorer go these days? There is no more "terra incognita" on the maps, and ballooning, sailing, or crossing Antarctica are often reduced to webcasted... Read more
Published on April 8 2003 by R. Hardy
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