The Spanish, according to the author, were peculiarly susceptible to romantic fantasies, and this is a history of one such fantasy— the quest for El Dorado. The book provides a study in the persistence of a legend, an inventory of the accumulating conquest mythology, and a catalog of the numerous attempts to locate the Land of Gold. These began early in the sixteenth century, when the magnet was Lake Guatavitá, somewhere in the highlands of Cundinamarca. They continued through the various efforts to find El Dorado of the Omaguas in the Amazonian interior to the last official search for Manoa and Lake Parima somewhere in Guiana late in the eighteenth century.

Directed primarily to the general reader, the work presents the quest as “. . . an epic of human folly, really, a case history in the power of man to bemuse himself with myth” (p. 407). This pursuit of the fabulous, however, produced some of the most remarkable feats of discovery, exploration, and human endurance to be found in Spain’s conquest of the New World. As a consequence, the book will be of value to students interested in all sixteenth-century exploration. The writing is excellent and informed.

Because the legend was so remarkably durable, the list of entradas made in its pursuit is correspondingly long. The author gives substantial discussion to the entries of Diego de Ordaz, Alonso de Herrera, the Welser conquistadores (Ambrosius Alfinger, Georg von Speyer, Nicolaus Federman, Philipp von Hutten), Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, Sebastián de Belalcázar, Gonzalo Pizarro, and Francisco de Orellana, Pedro de Ursua, and Lope de Aguirre (“. . . perhaps the single most villainous figure in the annals of the Spanish conquest” [p. 207]), Antonio de Berrio, and Sir Walter Raleigh (“. . . the last of the compulsive Doradists . . .” [p. 387]). Numerous lesser seekers also receive mention in the account. In fact, the only real shortcoming of the work is its occasionally too-enthusiastic effort to tie more of the Conquest than is justified to the theme of the search for El Dorado. The lure of the fabulous was indeed strong, but there were other powerful considerations motivating soldiers, priests, explorers, and officials.

There is a useful six-page bibliography listing primary sources and secondary authorities. Documentation, while very limited, is adequate to direct the interested reader to the source of directly quoted material. The quotations, drawn both from chroniclers and secondary authorities, are numerous and sometimes lengthy, but they are always well chosen and add significantly to the popular appeal of the work. There are numerous brief statements in the text on the historiography of the conquest which will guide the serious student to the available contemporary chronicles and key secondary studies. Points of controversy and conflicting interpretations are identified, and the author is forthright in indicating his preference, but there is little effort at criticism or reconciliation. The narrative is faithful to the sources and reflects modern historical scholarship.