Upon her husband’s becoming prime minister in 1886 Lady Salisbury was advised to pay no visits. “So I never pay any,” she later told her friends, “except to foreign ambassadresses. Of course I don’t include those of the South American republics or any others of the people who live up trees.” “The European world,” the Colombian Jose Maria Samper had complained in 1861, “has made more effort to study our volcanoes than our societies; it knows our insects better than our literature, the crocodile of our rivers better than the acts of our statesmen, and it has much more learning about how quinine bark is cut, or how hides are salted in Buenos Aires, than about the vitality of our infant democracy!” The protest, Malcolm Deas concludes in his survey of Venezuelan, Colombian, and Ecuadorian history after independence, is valid today. In the 1930s a Latin American posting was still regarded by British diplomats as a kind of exile. “Not such as he,” the novelist Ann Bridge wrote of a rising diplomat, “are sent to Bogotá.”1 As late as the 1970s I asked Harold Macmillan how often Latin America cropped up in the Cabinet during his time in office. “We once had a few discussions on Argentinian beef” was his reply. He professed—indubitably with characteristic exaggeration—never to have remembered reading a dispatch from a Latin American embassy.

The compendious Cambridge History of Latin America should do something to dispel this climate of unknowing and prejudice. The volumes under review, which cover the period up to 1930, amount to some four thousand pages, and the completed work may well run to nine volumes. A quarter of a century ago such an enterprise would have been an inconceivable and unprofitable venture. The old dismissive ignorance persisted. A handful of dedicated scholars in Europe and the US tilled a field regarded by their colleagues as marginal land.

It was Fidel Castro who changed passive indifference into active concern. It seemed to some observers in the early 1960s that a socialist revolution on a Caribbean island might infect—biological metaphor was fashionable—a whole continent. Soviet missiles appeared eighty miles from Florida. Latin America became what the Near East is today, with Castro as a secular ayatollah preaching a continental revolution. Academic interest followed political concern. Professors would supply policy makers with the basic materials on which to base a counter-revolutionary strategy consistent with the premises of liberal democracy. The Ford Foundation pumped money into Latin American studies in US universities; the Parry Committee, set up by the British government, published a report that was to lead to the setting up of Latin American centers in the United Kingdom. A generation of scholars were provided with the tools to set to work. Their researches are the foundation on which Professor Bethell has erected his vast edifice.

This renaissance of interest in the society and politics of Latin America was part of a more general phenomenon in the West: an emergent concern for the third world. Latin America was an accessible laboratory for the study of the problems of underdevelopment. American economists and sociologists arrived and unpacked their tools and prescribed recipes for political stability. Often these did not fit the nuts and bolts of societies that, unlike those of Africa and India, had an independent, Westernized political tradition stretching back for over a hundred years.

The more chauvinistic Latin American scholars regarded their Anglo-Saxon colleagues as intellectual invaders. Their technical expertise could not be denied; but they were short on empathy. The Latin American response to outsiders has always been ambiguous: José Martí, the martyr hero of Cuban independence, both admired the United States for its liberalism and feared it for its imperialism. Confronted by the academic imperialism of the Anglo-Saxons, native academics who had themselves been trained in US universities called for a “Latin American” sociology.


It was the conquest of Latin America by the Spanish and Portuguese that had provided Europe with its first extensive contact with the peoples of the underdeveloped world; volumes I and II cover the conquest and the colonial period and the creation of the first European overseas global empire. The conquest of the two native empires of the Incas in Peru and the Aztecs in Mexico was a conquest by microbes—European diseases brought a demographic disaster for the indigenous population of unparalleled dimensions—by superior technology, and by the sheer bravery and endurance of the conquistadors. Cortés—not the brutal soldier he is sometimes alleged to be, but a consummate politician who presented himself as a liberator to disaffected subject peoples—counted on the restlessness of the tribes under Aztec rule. It was the peripheral tribal groupings—centralized empires can collapse like a card castle—that gave the Spaniards the most trouble. The Araucanian Indians in Chile fought a long and costly frontier war; in the twentieth century Brazilian Indians could still massacre intruding whites who sought to drive them from their forest hunting grounds.


The first volume of the Cambridge History describes the conquered societies on the eve of the conquest. For Nahuatl poets in the years after the conquest of Mexico and for Brazilian forest Indians in modern times conquest was a cosmic tragedy: it meant the destruction not only of their material existence but of the spiritual world they inhabited. They took to the foreigners’ alcohol in order to “escape from a world which for them had become absurd and tragic.” They were then conveniently dismissed as degenerates. It is scarcely surprising that when Mexican nationalists look to their Indian past they are disinclined to recognize their Spanish heritage. A guide to Mexican archaeology published by the government’s oil corporation notes that “Iberian wreckers” pillaged the Aztec temples “to build palaces for their own bloated vanitous [sic] greedy selves.” There is no statue of Cortés in Mexico.

The conquistadors did not take the enormous risks of an uncertain voyage and settlement in a hostile environment in order to work in the fields and mines of America. Land and silver were there in abundance; it was labor that was scarce. The conquistadors soon found out that the Indians had no concept of wage labor as Europeans understood it. They must be forced to work.

This gave rise to the first great colonial controversy. Were the Indians naturally inferior and could they therefore legitimately be treated as slaves? Las Casas, the missionary friar whose denunciations of Spanish colonialism were snapped up by Protestant propagandists to forge the “Black Legend” of Spanish cruelty, argued that they were not; but his savage attack on the maltreatment of Indian labor by Spanish conquistadors resulted in the enslavement of African blacks to supply plantation labor in an empty continent where native labor was vanishing. As J.H. Elliott puts it in his thoughtful chapter on the early years of Spanish rule, “The Old World was brought in to redress the demographic balance of the new.”

No modern imperial power struggled so hard to protect its new subjects, the Indians, from the greed of its old subjects, the settlers. But the attempt to protect the “Republic of the Indians” from the rapacity of the “Republic of the Spaniards” was doomed to failure by the essential conflict of colonialism. Empires in their initial stages are made by the men on the spot, and metropolitan powers, however benevolent, need revenues that they must extract in tribute from the natives since the settlers are reluctant to bear a fair share of the costs of empire. The crown’s attempt to clip the powers of the men on the spot—the creole elites—foundered; they could not be ruled by paper directives sent out by bureaucrats sitting months away in Seville and Madrid.2 The men on the spot enjoyed “self-rule at the king’s command.”

By the early years of the seventeenth century the assumption that empire was a special signal of God’s favor to Castile had turned to pessimism. In 1631 the Count Duke of Olivares, chief minister of Philip IV, startled his colleagues at a meeting of the Council of State by musing aloud whether Spain’s conquests had not “reduced this monarchy to such a miserable state that it…would have been more powerful without the New World.” Such pessimism was rejected by the civil servants of the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies in the later years of the eighteenth century. Like their British counterparts they tried to make their American colonies pay—at least for their own defense. The imperial system had survived through inertia and neglect. It had to be tightened up.

There are excellent accounts of imperial reform in Spanish and Portuguese America. In the Spanish colonies administrative reform paid quick financial dividends; under energetic colonial civil servants like Galvez in Mexico revenues shot up. Imperial free trade—the end of the monopoly hold of Seville and Cádiz on American commerce—did something to stimulate trade and industry, particularly that of Catalonia. But the feeble economy of Spain simply could not supply Americans with the goods they needed; hence the enduring presence of smuggling, which the metropolitan powers lacked the naval power to inhibit and which the British likewise failed to control in North America. Administrative reform foundered on the realities of colonial life. The creoles did not want to be ruled efficiently; they wanted to be left to their own devices. It was all an “Indian summer.”


The European empires in Latin America might have struggled on in this “fragile equipoise,” as David Brading calls it. Just as the Hapsburg monarchy might have lingered on to a slow death but for the 1914–1918 war, so it was the Napoleonic wars, rather than the infection of independence spreading from the Europe of the Enlightenment and the new United States, that destroyed Spanish rule in Latin America. Though the creole elites had acquired a sense of separate identity and separate interests, only a few radicals wanted independence. But when the French armies invaded Spain in 1807 and King Ferdinand VII was imprisoned by Napoleon, local juntas [ad hoc committees] in America assumed de facto power in the name of the captive king in order to surmount what John Lynch calls “a crisis of political legitimacy.” It was a first step on the road to independence.


When in 1807 the French troops drove the Portuguese prince regent out of Lisbon to take refuge and set up his court in Rio de Janeiro this was a recognition, as the contributors to volume II emphasize, that Brazil had already become the economic hub of the Portuguese monarchy. Rio de Janeiro now became its political capital. “Portugal,” wrote the greatest Portuguese historian, Oliveira Martins, “was now the colony, Brazil the metropolis.” When the Portuguese liberals insisted on putting the clock back by reducing Brazil to its former colonial status, Dom Pedro, regent for his father, the king of Portugal, declared himself emperor of an independent Brazil. To Brazilian conservatives this was a safeguard against “the evils of universal democracy.”

Restored in 1814, the absolute monarch Ferdinand VII of Spain could not recover by conquest the ground lost in the Napoleonic wars. As for the liberals, once they had forced the king to accept a constitution in 1820 they showed little sympathy for colonial sensibilities and proved to be as imperialistic as the monarch. Independence came painlessly to Brazil, but for Spanish America it came after a long and bitter struggle against the military efforts of a bankrupt monarchy.

Independence for Spanish America, David Bushnell argues, brought no significant changes in economic or political structure: “The principal means of production in Spanish America continued in the hands of the creole upper class, which by virtue of independence from Spain had now also taken possession of the top level of the political system.” As in all periods of political turmoil there were dramatic instances of personal upward social mobility; José Antonio Paez, a modest cattle rancher, became the most important civil and military figure in independent Venezuela. But most of the caudillos who emerged as local political and military bosses in the early nineteenth century came from rich families; only two of Argentina’s eighteen post-independence caudillos moved upward—and then from modest to great wealth. The main consequence of the wars of independence was, therefore, the replacement of Spanish bureaucrats by the local elite. But war had brought economic dislocation. Agricultural production in Mexico was halved; mining production fell to a quarter of its colonial level. Most of the new Latin American nations increasingly sought to borrow themselves out of trouble. Mexico started down the primrose path in 1824 that, in cyclical bouts, was to lead to the huge indebtedness of the 1980s.

For much of the nineteenth century the newly independent nations of Latin America became, for outside observers, a byword for political violence; the heroes of the independence movement had failed to implant in the new nations a stable version of the liberal constitutionalism that was their political inheritance from Europe. A wider perspective makes this failure less surprising. If comparisons with the failure of “Westminster” constitutionalism in recently independent African countries are misleading—Latin America was in 1800 and still is the most Westernized part of the third world—many developed European countries in the nineteenth century themselves experienced phases of convulsive liberalism interspersed with lapses into authoritarian rule.

In Spain itself liberals failed to impose a stable constitutional regime, and the political turbulence of the former colonies can be seen as a mirror image of the failures of liberalism in the mother country. Rosas, the most ferocious and illiberal of Argentinian caudillos, did not indulge in mass executions such as those that were carried out after the Paris Commune in 1871. The Mexican revolution presented European and American opinion with a new image of Latin American violence; yet it killed far fewer people than the American Civil War. To criticisms of their indigenous violence Latin Americans could, and did, point to the West for sponsoring violence on an unimaginable scale in two world wars. It was the old world that seemed to have descended into a new world of barbarism.

Most of the contributors impute much of the chronic political violence of the postindependence period to economic stagnation. Some recovery there was, but until 1870 recovery was slow. In societies still dominated by patron-client relationships the patron had to have, in the Duke of Newcastle’s words, “pasture for the beasts to feed on.” The crumbling of political allegiance in times of economic depression remained a constant of Latin American political life; when revenues fell no rewards were available to secure compliance from significant sectors of society. The benefactor either lost his clients or resorted to force and became a “tyrant.”3

This was the fate of Porfirio Díaz in Mexico in 1910 and Leguía, the strong man of Peru, in the 1920s. Porfirio Díaz had tamed the middle classes through prosperity and jobs; both vanished in the wake of the US Depression when profits plummetted and real wages fell by half. Leguía had mobilized the middle classes against the old elite of the Peruvian “aristocratic republic”; he then used the expanding state revenues to elaborate a “system of clientelistic politics which created a new ‘official’ caste of office-holders and entrepreneurs.” In the wake of the 1929–1930 crisis his budget collapsed; official salaries were suspended.

But Leguía’s consequent fall differed from the overthrow of the classic caudillo. Whereas Leguía organized the middle class against the civilista elite, Haya de la Torre had mobilized the excluded “popular classes” in his APRA party, a nationalist, anti-imperialist populist movement. With the overthrow of Leguía, the popular classes “entered with a rush into the mainstream of Peruvian politics, never again to be wholly excluded from the national political process.”

In Argentina, the Radical party leader Hipólito Yrigoyen, whose ousting of the conservative oligarchs in the elections of 1916 is analyzed by David Rock, became a master of patronage for the middle classes while the funds lasted; when they ran out in 1930 he was unceremoniously turned out by the military. His former supporters joined the mob that burned and ransacked his home. Representative democracy, flawed as it was by his idiosyncratic political morality, fell with him. Like his contemporary Arturo Alessandri in Chile, Yrigoyen had brought politics “out of the gentlemen’s club into the street.” The conservative military dictators who took over could never quite keep politics out of the streets. President Alfonsín of Argentina now leads the party created by Yrigoyen.


If the immediate postindependence years were years of lean kine, the fatted calves arrived after 1870. This “Golden Age” is the theme of volume IV. With Latin America’s entrance into the world market as an exporter of primary products and an importer of foreign capital—largely from Great Britain—growth was spectacular. In 1870 no one in Argentina could have predicted this seemingly boundless prosperity for a country that was still fighting Indians. Between 1875 and 1914 Argentina’s exports grew at 5 percent per annum; by 1900 Buenos Aires could rival any European city in urban grandeur and urban squalor. This prodigious growth produced the middle-class clientele of Yrigoyen and a working class that sent its first members to Congress in 1904. Peru experienced unparalleled expansion between 1875 and 1919. The opera house of the Amazonian town Manaus, the private theater of the Zuares family in the depths of the Bolivian forest, became symbols of the short-lived rubber boom. The boom’s collapse was typical of the fate of third-world primary producers. Chilean nitrate and copper took off with heavy foreign investment. Italian migrant labor made São Paolo the capital of the coffee plantocracy—the chief beneficiary of the republic installed in 1889 and which turned out to be a journée des dupes for most Brazilians.

All this “development” at the behest of the demands of the industrialized countries is at the heart of the debate on dependency. To the native liberal elite at the time, laissez-faire economics and the world market sustained “civilization” against the “barbarism” of local caudillos and the limitations of local markets. According to the dependency theorists, absorption in the world economy condemned Latin America to “underdevelopment” and cheap labor—cheap labor provided in Argentina, as in Brazil, not by Indians or black slaves, but by immigrants, mainly from the European Mediterranean. If this is the case then, logically, Argentina, fully integrated into the world market, should be more “underdeveloped” than, say, Paraguay. In fact, as William Glade argues in a fine chapter in volume IV covering the years between 1870 and 1914, no overarching theory fits the facts. What President Wilson’s adviser, Colonel House, called “the waste places of the earth” could only be made fertile by foreign money; nor was any coherent alternative strategy to favor native industrial growth articulated. The US was to replace Britain as the main provider of funds; it was a most aggressive investor and US capital, unlike British capital, sought to control the enterprises it financed. This control was resented, particularly in Mexico. According to the American consul in Durango, by 1914 “hatred of the Americans is a primal instinct of the race.” American banks solicited government loans; in 1927 the president of the Central Bank of Peru went to New York to warn the banks that the loan they were trying to negotiate was too large; his advice was disregarded.

Most of the chapters in volumes IV and V that deal with economic and social developments after independence are mildly revisionist. Rosemary Thorp, for example, shows that the glitter of the Golden Age had become tarnished even before the crash of 1929–1930. Growth based on exports did allow limited industrial development in Brazil and Argentina; the “exogenous shock” of the 1930 depression was not, in itself, sufficient to promote industrial expansion through import substitution in countries flung back on their own resources as their export trade collapsed.

These contributions reflect the intense concentration of scholars in recent years on economic and social issues. In this the Cambridge History reflects a general trend, but economic historians do not always keep the lay reader in mind. Some of their chapters are hard going and could do with the illuminating instance. Economists, with all their skills, failed to read the signs and were taken by surprise in 1929–1930 just as many of them failed to diagnose the true nature of under-development in the 1950s. Nor did contemporary observers of Latin American societies always perceive the intensity of social conflicts inherent in rapid development; the relative ease with which the traditional elites adjusted after the 1870s to the new world economy deceived them. By 1910 this process of adjustment had only proved seriously faulty in Mexico.


There is not much revisionism in the chapters on Latin America’s place in world politics. The replacement of Great Britain by the US as the dominating continental power comes up in chapter after chapter. How could Britain compete with a country that could send twenty-nine agents to tout loans in Colombia? American policy was a mixture of misguided, if sometimes well-intentioned, blundering and brief whiffs of heady imperialism. Theodore Roosevelt came to recognize the limitations of attempts to exercise direct control over “thickly peopled tropical regions by self-governing Northern democracies.” But he was the author of the corollary that bears his name—the doctrine that turned the Monroe Doctrine from a shield against European intervention in Latin America into a justification for direct US intervention as “an international police power” in cases of “wrong doing or impotence.” The Caribbean and Central America were now staked out as exclusive spheres of US influence where policy was sustained by the belief that American investment was the recipe for political stability in the region. This was the rationale of dollar diplomacy. The protection of dollars was to lead to President Wilson’s intervention in Haiti—the most drastic intervention of this period. There his secretary of state was to expand the Monroe Doctrine into the claim that Central America would have to be reserved exclusively for US capital if European powers were to be prevented from exercising undue influence in America’s back yard.4

By 1926 US intervention in Nicaragua was based not on fear of foreign intervention but on the dangers of “Bolshevism.” Throughout, policy was conditioned by undercurrents of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority explicit in the Social Darwinism that replaced Manifest Destiny in the popular mind.5 Roosevelt considered the Dominicans “utterly incompetent” to govern themselves and therefore fit subjects for policing. President Wilson had a Princetonian version of the white man’s burden and the mission civilisatrice of America. This led him to intervene in Mexico in a vain search for “good men” to govern that country. There is nothing like confidence in one’s own values to lead to disaster. At the time, American liberals fought the policies that kept American soldiers in the Caribbean for twenty years. They now see this interventionism as a trial run of the policies that led to disaster in Vietnam and President Reagan’s obsession with Nicaragua.


The histories of the individual countries after independence contained in volume V are excellent. The chapters on Brazil by Warren Dean, Emília Viotti Da Costa, and Boris Fausto provide by far the best account of its history during and since colonial days available in English. Malcolm Deas writes perceptively on Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. Like J.H. Elliott he inflicts twinges of irony; perhaps it is the British disease. The chapters on Mexico seem to bear out Halifax’s dictum: “When people contend for their liberty they seldom get anything by their victory but new masters.” Cesar Chavez, the Chicano leader, makes the same point:

The idea of any revolution worries me. It probably comes from my Mexican background. We went through one and there was a lot of killing but nothing was really achieved. As far as the peasants are concerned it hasn’t made any difference at all. A Mexican boss is just as hard as any other boss.

John Womack concludes that there was “nothing historically definitive in its [the Mexican revolution’s] principal economic and social results.” Landless peasants still flock into the slums of Mexico City and slip across the border to the US.


Just as Latin America provided the West, for the first time, with the problems of governing a continental “third world,” so that continent was confronted with the difficulties of transferring and adapting European and North American political norms and value systems to newly independent nation states. In Latin America liberal constitutionalism proved to be a “unifying myth” rather than a political reality; the Brazilian abolitionist André Rebouças promoted a vision of a “rural democracy” of yeoman farmers in a country free from slavery, but nothing came of his ideas. Liberalism was replaced by a brand of European positivism deriving from Auguste Comte. Its extraordinary vogue in Latin America is well studied by Charles A. Hale in volume IV. Positivism became the “scientific” base for authoritarian politics, especially in Mexico and Brazil. Society, argued the Mexican Francisco G. Cosmes (1850–1907), rejected liberal “rights” for the bread and order that liberalism seemed incapable of supplying. “Let us try a little tyranny, but honourable tyranny, and see what results it brings.” What it brought was Porfirio Díaz, his “scientific” politicians, and the invasion of foreign capital.

In 1910 Madero’s revolution in Mexico was made in the name of liberal constitutionalism—for positivism could neither bury the old myths nor effect some symbiosis with them. (The two ideological strands jostle each other uneasily in the ideology of the university reform movement of the 1900s, which was at the same time elitist and democratic.) Liberal constitutionalism did not become the ideology of postrevolutionary Mexico. It was replaced by a one-party state managed by the PRI, an all-embracing organization that is now fraying at the edges as the old liberal democratic heritage comes to the surface once again.

By the end of the nineteenth century Social Darwinism and the racism implicit in the works of such Europeans as Le Bon—one of the most widely read popular “sociologists” in Latin America—had produced a mood of pessimistic self-depreciation. The newest nations of the world seemed ready to place themselves among Salisbury’s “dying nations.” Such racial pessimism was rejected by José Rodó, whose Ariel appeared in 1900. Ariel is one of those books whose contemporary influence cannot now be easily grasped; it “lacked literary originality, philosophic depth and specific social or political analysis.” Yet this tract against the materialism of the US and its “moral conquest” of Latin America became the “very symbol of Latinamericanism, defined for the first time.”6

The attempt to escape the gross materialism of the Colossus of the North was often to end in the cultural embrace of Europe. Rodó, like the modernist Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío (1867–1916), was much influenced by French models; indeed Darío has been accused—wrongly—of writing French poetry in Spanish. Yet his was an authentic voice, like that of Rodó and the great Brazilian mulatto novelist Machado de Assis. Machado has to display his European credentials as a sort of passport to literary (and in his case social) respectability.7

It is in these writers of the late nineteenth century that are to be found the roots of the latest Latin American literary boom, which has put some Spanish writers’ noses out of joint. Rubén Darío was the first writer to reverse the cultural balance between Europe and Latin America. It was he who influenced Spanish poets as a stylistic model, preparing the way for “the full literary modernization of the continent, visible immediately in the 1920s with the emergence of poets like Huidobro, Vallejo and Neruda.”

The world at large was less concerned with the authentic voice of the Latin American poets than with the strident tone of its lawyers. Latin American lawyers inherited the legalist constitutional tradition elaborated by theologians and lawyers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In their different ways these lawyers challenged the political and economic preponderance of foreign interests, particularly those of the US. In 1895 Secretary of State Richard Olney had boasted that “the US is practically sovereign in the continent,” a claim that Britain came to admit in practice if not in theory8 ; European states maintained they could use force and intervene—as in Nicaragua—to collect their debts and protect their nationals against unstable and corrupt regimes, by using and abusing the doctrine of extraterritoriality. Between 1868 and 1896 the Argentinian lawyer Carlos Calvo developed and defended an extreme version of national sovereignty. Foreign interests and foreign investments must be unconditionally subject to national laws, regardless of European notions of the sanctity of contracts. States must act on their interests as they perceived them, even if this entails the unilateral repudiation of debts. The Calvo doctrine became the battle cry of Latin American nationalists. “This was,” Robert Freeman Smith argues, “the classic debate between debtors and creditors, the developed and the underdeveloped, the weak and the strong.”

For most of the period covered by these volumes, H.A.L. Fisher’s aphorism holds: the poor do not turn the wheel of history. But they are a legitimate concern of social history and the strength of the Cambridge volumes is their treatment of social history. There are engrossing chapters on Indian communities, struggling to survive in a hostile world, an endeavor that sometimes succeeded; on urban workers struggling to defend their rights; on slavery in the Caribbean and Brazil.

Injustice there was, in a Latin America largely dominated by the “powerful ones”: the landowners of Argentina; the rural gamonales and civilista aristocracy in Peru—“urban gentlemen” living out a “creole adaptation of the English country squire”; the plantocracy of Brazil; the bosses of the meatpacking plants of the Río de la Plata in Uruguay; the sisal planters of Yucatan, where debt peonage was another name for slavery.

But as Barrington Moore tells us, the sense of suffering injustice “can be an acquired taste: a learned response and an historically determined one, not an automatic and instinctive human reaction.” Human beings have an awful capacity to endure suffering and “may have to be taught what their rights are.”9 Appalled by the slave revolt and the creation of the first black republic in Haiti, treated in volume IV, the fathers of independence in most Latin American countries were not inclined to teach the poor and oppressed what their rights were. Zapatas and Tupac Amarus were the exception rather than the rule in Mexico and Peru.

There is no alternative to the study of individual nations and David Stafford faces up to the difficulties of general statements about the continent given its ethnic diversity and “the paucity of systematic research.” Comparisons are largely confined to social and economic history. There are excellent chapters on demography by Nicolás Sánchez-Albornoz; a highly original study of urbanism by Richard Morse; the informative chapters on mining, a subject bristling with problems. I would have liked a comparative treatment of important institutions—only the Church gets a fair crack of the whip in an excellent chapter by John Lynch in volume IV. But what of the bureaucracies and the armies? Women get a chapter to themselves, but what of the legal systems that fashioned so much of Latin American life?

As it stands, the new Cambridge history is a superb work of reference. Its extensive bibliographies will be a boon to scholars for years to come. Carefully edited as it is, it still must suffer from the defects of any collective work: unevenness, repetition, unresolved contradictions. The treatment of art and literature is a curate’s egg: some of it is excellent, for example Charles A. Hale’s chapter of political and social ideas between 1870 and 1930 in volume IV; some of it is undercooked and descends to the quality of a handbook. A work on a grand scale, its very virtues and extensive coverage overwhelm the general reader. Its illumination of much of the social and political evolution comes from its concentration on local history and from its penetrating accounts of particular people and places.

Luckily a shorter version of the nineteenth-century history of Latin America, by David Bushnell and Neill Macaulay, is now available.10 It strikes at the heart of the continent’s problems, at the source of its fascination for social scientists and historians. “What gives Latin America its unique flavour,” its authors write, “is the combination of a dominant culture ultimately derived from the Iberian variant of Western, with a historical condition that by conventional Western standards is ‘under developed.’ ” Their book provides a clear summary of and guide to the confused politics of the continent. It is at its best when it deals with Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil.

It is to be hoped that these products of modern scholarship will have some influence on policy makers. In the strictures of some bankers and politicians on the shortcomings of the Latin American nations as debtors, one can still detect echoes of the contempt for an entire continent that infused so much of the thinking on Latin America in the period covered by Professor Bethell’s volumes. But at least the battle for seriousness and complexity has been won in the universities; the Cambridge History is a fitting monument to that notable victory.

This Issue

March 3, 1988