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Book Review


Virginia Garrard, Peter V. N. Henderson, and Bryan McCann, Latin America in the Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. lv + 694. Bibliography and Index. $39.95 (paper).


     With the new textbook, Latin America in the Modern World, Virginia Garrard, Peter V. N. Henderson, and Bryan McCann have created a fine piece of scholarship, duly situated in the understanding that Latin America has deep global roots, stemming from continual interactions and influences since the founding of these republics in the nineteenth century to the present day. This trio of authors places the region on the world's stage, highlighting the place of the Americas among the most consequential revolutions and political economic movements of the past two hundred years.

     The book divides its treatment of the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries into four main sections. Part One takes the reader to 1875 and outlines the difficulties that Latin Americans faced when creating stable nations from a colonial past. The authors situate the political processes of this era alongside those occurring in other nations, explaining how events often are intertwined. Napoléon's continental ambitions, for example, caused havoc well beyond Europe. His invasions "unleashed a series of events that triggered opportunities for change" for the Spanish- and Portuguese-American colonies as an influential external factor (12). The authors run through the familiar list of the big names of the independence (Miguel Hidalgo, Agustín de Iturbide, Dom Pedro I, Simón Bolívar) and early state-building (Benito Juárez, Juan Manuel de Rosas, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, Gabriel García Moreno) eras, keeping in mind that the histories of everyday people mattered as well. Through contemporary photographs, for example, they ask the student to critically think through and explore the effects and conditions of slavery in Brazil (163) and the near total destruction of Paraguay after the War of the Triple Alliance (138–139). The Conservative and Liberal divide stalled early progress almost everywhere, but by the end of the century the place of the Catholic Church had been largely reduced from its colonial height.

     Part Two, spanning 1875–1929, highlights the growing global connection of Latin America through interventionism and modernization. The authors recognize that the production of commodities radically transformed regional political economies as "nearly every Latin American nation specialized in at least one valuable product for export that would satisfy market demands in the United States or Europe" (209). Foreign investment encouraged industries for beef, wheat, bananas, petroleum, rubber, nitrates, and cacao, each explained with insights on the legacies of extraction that recognizably draw from current historiographical interventions on these goods. This money flow also entailed a rush to create necessary infrastructure such as railways, an influx of immigrants both from Europe and East Asia, and of course, military conflict. US interventionism defined the start of the twentieth century for Nicaragua and Cuba, and the War of the Pacific gave Chile "a sense of preeminence in South America" at the expense of Bolivia and Peru (261). This section ends with concise history of the Mexican Revolution, an impressive feat considering that these authors coherently assess the chaos and turmoil of a decade in only nine pages (323–331).

     Worldwide crises in the twentieth century define Part Three, 1930–1980. Caught up in new international challenges, Latin American nations redefined themselves in radically different ways, often following the currents of prominent Western nations. We see how the global Great Depression put the brakes on the export boom and reduced Latin America's "ability to purchase US and European manufactured goods" (348). The result was a strong economic nationalism and policies to promote light and heavy industries domestically, today often known by the shorthand ISI (Import Substitution Industrialization). Part Three demonstrates a keen interest in writing history from below with intimate portraits of those who experienced these tumultuous changes firsthand. Garrard's, Henderson's, and McCann's survey of labor (355–362) takes the reader from north to south (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico) and explains the place of workers in constructing and challenging their governments. Chapter Nine, in particular, brings the voices and experiences of Afro-Latinos, indigenous peoples, and women to the fore as each made themselves present in the national arenas of politics and culture. Of course, they do not shy away from detailing the disastrous effects of the Cold War in the region. Military leaders committed many crimes and atrocities in their Dirty Wars (with reminders of complicity of the School of the Americas and the United States Government), and the authors give the microphone to the victims and survivors who suffered brutally. For example, the image of Salvador Allende's broken glasses after suicide (467) and the details of Pinochet's "war without mercy" (506–508) ought to open wide the eyes of any student to the alternate meaning of September 11 to South Americans.

     The last section, Part Four, brings students into a history that coincides with their lifetimes, from 1980 onward. For those born and raised in the United States, the final three chapters and epilogue will illuminate recent events and how the nations of our Western Hemisphere are deeply intertwined. For those from Latin America, these histories are critical to explaining the push factors that brought them here. The late Cold War, combined with the implementation of neoliberal policies from the north, led to increased human rights violations, and new military struggles with the emergence of guerrilla insurgencies, like the FARC (Colombia), FMLN (EL Salvador), URNG (Guatemala), EZLN (Mexico), and FSLN (Nicaragua). The path to democracy in many nations coincided with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank tightening their reins (noose), which produced unexpected results. While feminist struggles against patriarchy, political disenfranchisement, Church-sponsored legislation (prohibition of divorce and abortion) may have arrived seemingly late to Latin America, the authors remind us that "the region relatively quickly elected women to political office, at least compared to the United States, which has never yet elected a women to its highest office" (658). The final section (691–694) brings Latin America into the personal lives of its readers with a careful consideration of how US heritage is more than simply "Anglo." More than just a rising population, the widespread usage of Spanish and assimilation of cultural traditions (including music, food, celebrations) all suggest that the northernmost border of Latin America may not be in fact the Río Grande.

     The question of how to define Latin America subliminally runs throughout the entire volume. Garrard, Henderson, and McCann make it a point to go beyond retelling the well-known histories of the three largest countries (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina) to include in-depth analyses of smaller nations like Guatemala and Paraguay throughout the three-century span. Their dual-focused approach is clear: each nation of Latin America possesses distinctive experiences and a great diversity of history and culture, while at the same time, there exist "themes, topics, people, and intellectual currents that help to knot the history of modern Latin America into a coherent category of study" (xxvii). The Caribbean, however, seems to challenge this definition. The multilingual Antilles with its colonies and nations today do not have a constant presence in their narrative in comparison to Cuba. Could it be because they are not entirely Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking? The Haitian Revolution gets its rightful time on the stage, for example, as a key Latin American event, but the subsequent decades of political turmoil receive much less attention. Clearly the populist rise (and tragic fall) of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide echoes the concurrent trends happening in the rest of Latin America. Along those lines, the Guianas and Puerto Rico hardly appear at all, possibly due to the difference of language and political divisions today. Likewise, the Dominican Republic gets sadly forgotten over the course of several maps, either without being shaded to indicate its affiliation in Latin America (Maps 0.2, 1, and 5), or as ever having a separation of Church and State (Map 3.1) like other nations, or an end date for slavery (Map 5.1). I do wonder, could the authors have also included more on Spanish territories in the Pacific (Philippines, Guam, Saipan, Marianas)? If José Martí lived a life worth telling (243–245), then there can be no doubt that his Asian contemporary, José Rizal, deserves mention too. Both rallied hard against colonial oppression, produced critical texts read worldwide, and died as celebrated national heroes. But then again, this inclusion might complicate an already confusing boundary of what exactly constitutes Latin America globally. Nonetheless, these points do not take away from the quality and clarity of its content.

     Whether as the main text for a class, or a reference volume on one's shelf, Latin America in the Modern World speaks to both instructor and student needs. It could be used in a number of different courses: the standard modern Latin America survey, combined with other texts to cover the Americas in general, or as a primer for "Latin America and the World." Its affordable price should also encourage students to obtain it and actually inspire them to read. For world historians seeking to include more of the region in their own courses, this textbook gives a fine background and introduction. National historic episodes are condensed into concise and critical summaries, easily approachable and with a talented weaving of relevant historiographical arguments. Its constant theme of considering Latin America in a global context will invite practitioners from other disciplines to see relevant comparative connections.

Phillip Anthony Ninomiya is a PhD candidate in history at the University of California, Irvine. He studies colonial Latin America, and his dissertation, "Colonial Cosmopolitanism: Pacific Goods, Intermediary Merchants, and Local Consumption in Mexico, 1620–1670," seeks to understand the cosmopolitan heritage of New Spain through Asian commerce. He tracks the trade and movement of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Philippine imports into various locations through the merchants who handled these goods. He can be reached at


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