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March 27, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE AZTECS by Richard F. Townsend (Thames & Hudson: $14.95; 224 pp.). In this balanced overview, Townsend describes the achievements and weaknesses of the opulent, savage culture of the Aztecs. He explains the source of many popular misconceptions: Motecuhzoma did not believe Cortes was the god Quetzcoatl; the story was invented after the fact by an Aztec writer attempting to rationalize the Emperor's ineffectual behavior. As an introduction to the last and, in many ways, the greatest of the Mesoamerican empires, "Aztecs" lacks only a thorough pronunciation guide to the complex Nahuatl names.

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