In addition to his books on West African history, Toby Green has written two general historical books, Inquisition: The Reign of Fear (Macmillan, 2007; St Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne, 2009) and the hybrid utopian novel/history Thomas More's Magician (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004). Both books were critical successes, and Inquisition has been brought out in numerous foreign language editions and become an international bestseller.
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Inquisition: The Reign of Fear is based on years of research in the inquisitorial archives of Portugal, Spain and the Vatican, and brings together Toby Green's considerable archival research with his practical knowledge of the Iberian worlds of Europe, West Africa and Latin America.
Drawing comparisons from reviewers to Arthur Miller's The Crucible and Emmanuel Ladurie's Montaillou, the book received major reviews in most of the national broadsheets of the UK, was the subject of major features and reviews in Brazil, Holland and Portugal, and has also been praised by specialists in the field.
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Thomas More's Magician is a one-off. It is on the one hand, a biography of a fascinating and little-known figure, Vasco de Quiroga, who arrived in Mexico in 1530, less than 10 years after Hernando Cortes's violent conquest of Tenochtitlan, and set up communes modelled on Thomas More's "Utopia". And on the other, the book is modelled on the structure of a utopian novel - Toby Green's own homage to More - hence the book's subtitle: "A Novel Account of Utopia in Mexico".
Vasco de Quiroga's story provides a gripping way in to understanding the reality of the conquest of Mexico and the ideas that lay behind it. Arriving in Mexico, Quiroga finds himself in the midst of an appalling genocide, with the Amerindians collapsing on all sides through butchery, despair and disease. In Mexico, he discovers Thomas More's Utopia, which was written just 15 years before and set in the New World. Fired with enthusiasm, Quiroga tries to establish his own utopia, based on the book.
As well as being the story of this unique endeavour, however, Thomas More's Magician also tells the story of Toby Green's alter ego travelling to Mexico in search of Quiroga and the idea of utopia. Borrowing the structure of the utopian novel, the book asks what has happened to the concept of political idealism in the modern world, and if it could ever be resurrected.
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Reviews of Inquisition: The Reign of Fear
An exceptional study of the original terror states Scotland on Sunday
[a] masterful account of arguably the longest running reign of terror in human history [Green] has a knack in switching the narrative from examples, to analysis and on to politics and back again in such a way that the book retains a strong forward thrust that carries you through the cases of individuals caught in the Inquisitions net simply beggar belief Peter Stanford, Independent on Sunday
[Greens] scholarship is thorough and careful He is particularly good at the many scams and rackets In an excellent quasi-Freudian summing-up, Green points to neurosis, repression and a distorted view of sexuality as key factors in the mental world of inquisitors. Alas, their descendants are still with us and at work in Guantanamo Bay. Frank McLynn, Independent
There is much in Toby Greens engrossing parable of persecution that is unexpected Green is a sensitive and disciplined historian, who eloquently recovers lost stories, experiences and emotions from these yellowing, crumbling files Greens subject-matter may seem archaic, but his message is frighteningly modern Malcolm Gaskill, Sunday Telegraph
Drawing on a range of archival research, [Green] offers a series of pertinent, well-written episodes that leave us in no doubt that the Inquisition's activities were marked by considerable cruelty This thoughtful book warns us of the dangers of a system of conviction that persecutes those who do not share its values. Jeremy Black, Daily Telegraph
Toby Green's meticulous account of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, pieced together from crumbling archives, gives us a sobering blast of the horror inflicted over the three centuries these institutions held sway It was, Green argues, the beginnings of totalitarianism and racism as we know it today and has provided a blueprint for persecuting state institutions thereon in. Metro
A vivid version of the Inquisitions long and sorry history Sunday Times
In the Inquisition we have, mutatis mutandis, the apparatus of the police state. The excusing ideology is not the Aryan ascendancy nor Marxist inevitability but the preservation of truth it remains with us today, and so we still seek scapegoats it is virtuous to hate Toby Greens book is a salutary but uncomfortable reminder that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely Catholic Herald
The Inquisition might appear quintessentially medieval. But Green sees it as a precursor to modern totalitarianism Greens work in the archives focuses on individuals, which prevents the victims becoming mere statistics The Inquisition cast a long shadow, and in the 20th century many learnt from its techniques Financial Times
A powerful study of intolerance Just as Arthur Miller used the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 to comment on McCarthyite America, so in this book Green appears to be using the Inquisition to comment obliquely on the "war on terror". He makes no explicit comparison, leaving the parallels to speak for themselves Green argues persuasively that the Inquisition's vast bureaucratic reach into the private lives of its citizens makes it a forerunner of the modern totalitarian state, while its obsession with limpieza de sangre or "purity of blood" is an awful forewarning of fascism. Ian Pindar, Guardian
A cracking read Sunday Herald
Toby Greens book is a tour de force which shows that when fear takes a grip it does not easily let go and that many suffer until it does. It is a real lesson for us from history - Tribune
A fascinating read thoroughly recommended for history fans South Wales Argus
A fascinating read almost impossible to put down once you have started. Moreover it is unusual in that it gives the story of the Inquisition in Portugal as much space as the more famous Spanish Inquisition, and the story moves from Seville and Lisbon to remote areas of South America, Goa, the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands Part of the fascination of this story derives from the fact that the Inquisition maintained extremely detailed records. As Ladurie showed in his famous study of Montaillou, inquisitorial archives can be used to reconstruct the daily lives of communities in almost photographic detail. - Malyn Newitt, Anglo-Portuguese Society Newsletter, September 2007
This fascinating examination of the impact of the Spanish Inquisition in Europe and as far away as Africa and South America has many modern resonances The Inquisition provided the first seeds of totalitarian government, Green observes, and of institutionalised racial and sexual abuse. A splendid insight into the human mind, with surprises on every page. New Zealand Listener
"A magnificent and detailed history" - Miguel Winazki, Clarin (Argentina)
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Reviews of Thomas More's Magician:
"The most richly idiosyncratic book of the year...a learned and quixotic account of an attempt to establish a 16th-century utopia in Mexico" Independent Books of the Year
A good and captivating story of great interest and resonance in the modern world Spectator
A fascinating, moving story [Green] beautifully describes the austere landscapes of Spain and Mexicos water-dripping, flower-twined lushness, a paradise about to be destroyed Daily Telegraph
[a] remarkable book this is that rare publication, a serious work of history and philosophy which reads with all the compelling interest of a page-turning novel Morning Star
A vivid account of this visionary explorer thoughtful and imaginative, Green has borrowed the structure of the utopian novel, with its random encounters and rampant fantasies, to discuss what he sees as the key issue: can utopianism work today? Sunday Times
A witty exploration of utopianism and its place in modern thought Scotsman
Green has researched Quirogas extraordinary life as well as anyone could and writes very well Observer
[a] sincere fusion of satire, history and philosophical inquiry [Green] is a serious scholar with an intuitive sense of how currents of human sorrow course underneath the patina of history Independent
A fascinating study of a utopian project in 16th-century Mexico Scotland on Sunday
An account rich in history and personalities and an absorbing read The Hamilton Spectator (Ontario)
At the heart of Toby Greens book is the extraordinary story of Vasco de Quiroga and the small oases of civilisation he managed to build amid the barbarism and greed of Spains new colonies. Green uses this story as a springboard to launch himself into the wider issue of the value of utopian thinking. To do this he adopts an original form for the book, moving between historical description and fictionalisation of his own encounters while on Quirogas trail he resurrects the undeservedly forgotten story of an honourable, decent and obstinate mans struggle to prove that utopia could thrive in the real world as well as in the imagination Books Quarterly
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