This is a book about unexpected connections among colonial authors we thought we knew well. It is also about the traffic between literature and history that historians adamantly seek to police on the grounds that our discipline is allegedly about facts, not fiction. The key to this complex book is the “polemics of possession,” the mid-sixteenth-century debates spearheaded by Bartolomé de las Casas on whether Spain had the right to rule the lands and peoples of the Indies. The details and chronology of these debates are well known, and Adorno builds on the scholarship of Lewis Hanke, Anthony Pagden, and Sabine MacCormack, among many others. Claims of rightful possession, or lack thereof, we have been told, ultimately rested on philosophical and religious arguments over the “quality” and accomplishments of Amerindian minds and societies. Adorno, however, goes a step further and demonstrates that the polemic colored every subject and touched every...

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