With the backdrop of the ever-intriguing Andes mountains,Â The White Rock, Hugh Thomson’s intoxicating history of the Inca people and their heartland, is a thrilling mix of information and adventure. The author, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker and explorer, expertly weaves accounts of his own discoveries and brushes with danger with the history of those who preceded him—including the explorer Hiram Bingham, who discovered Machu Picchu; the twentieth century South American photographer, Martín Chambi; the poet Pablo Neruda; and the SpanishÂ conquistadoresÂ who destroyed the Inca civilization—and the eccentric characters he meets on his travels.
So entertaining and appealing is Thomson's story of his exploration of the Inca empire that readers will wish they could take off and follow in his footsteps. The British documentary filmmaker relates his travels 20 years ago deep into the Inca empire, through the high Peruvian Andes and Bolivia, and a second trip 17 years later, to the last Inca stronghold in the Amazon basin. In his early 20s, he launched a successful expedition to find the lost Inca city of Llactapata. Believing that "what really was important was understanding what the ruin was about," Thomson began a decades-long study of Inca history and culture. The marriage of his intellectual and physical exploration is at the center of this compelling book. Thomson is a terrific storyteller, his skills apparent in both his recreation of the violent destruction of the Incas by the Spanish and his description of the ruins he discovers, the people he meets along the way, and the hardships and pleasures of traveling the abandoned Inca highways. Erudite and charming, Thomson is capable of comparing a carved Inca rock to the work of Henry Moore, and equally capable of conveying the satisfying incongruity of being on a crowded bus in the Peruvian outback, listening to a Spanish song titled "La Cosita," the little thing the story of Lorena and Wayne Bobbitt. Thomson's wit, eye for detail and reverence for humanity set him apart from the average travel-adventure writer he is as good a companion as a traveler could hope for. 45 b&w photos, 3 maps.