Caroline Dodds Pennock’s book explores the theme of gender complementarity in the context of the life cycle and the practice of human sacrifice in Aztec culture. She uses often-relied-upon sources, especially the Florentine Codex, to examine these themes in an ethnographic way, that is, to show how Aztecs themselves thought about and experienced their culture. She aims to return both humanity and individuality to a people often treated as brutal automatons who are of interest today primarily for their exoticism and because they endured a horribly violent, destructive conquest.

As a work of description, the treatment of the life cycle is informative. An introductory chapter lays out an interpretation of Aztec gender roles, emphasizing what Pennock calls a “binary model” according to which “men and women possess distinctly different, complementary, roles” (p. 10). The next chapter, “Living with Death,” underscores the prominence...

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