Letter to a King

by Huamán Poma.Dutton, $10.00. Huamán Poma was a native Peruvian aristocrat who, around 1600, sent a letter of instruction and remonstrance to Philip III of Spain. (It wound up in Copenhagen.) This rambling document has been translated by Christopher Dilke, who explains that heavy editing was required to obviate what one commentator described as “the torment of reading it.” There is no torment in reading Mr. Dilke’s version, which rolls along quite briskly, presenting odd facts about Inca history and habits, vivid sketches of what the Indians endured under Spanish rule, quirky personal reflections, and wildly improbable schemes for correcting all the ills of society. There are also Poma’s illustrations. The work has not previously been available in English, and anyone interested in Peruvian history owes Mr. Dilke thanks for revealing it. Index.

Phoebe-Lou Adams


Robert Sheckley is a science-fiction writer whose novels include Mindswap and Dimension of Miracles. His latest book, Crompton Divided, was published in November.

Benjamin DeMott is professor of English at Amherst College and the author of Supergrow and Surviving the Seventies. He is a contributing editor of The Atlantic.