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El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City Hardcover – November 24, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“An impassioned and melancholy history of Mexico’s most complex, boisterous, and exhilarating city.”

San Antonio Express-News
“Meticulously researched and imaginatively reported, "El Monstruo" is not your typical history book. No dry, crinkly prose here. As it does in Ross' journalism, Mexico erupts, like PopocatÈpetl, from the page.”

San Antonio Express-News
“Like having the world’s best guide show you around.”

The Indypendent 
"Ross’ book is part people’s history, part Gonzo journalism, with a wry and humorous style."

Denver Post
“El Monstruo is a valentine to place and useful chronicle of an epoch that has seen Mexico’s people find their voice…Ross’ quarter-century as witness does us the invaluable service of putting events to come in a context to understand them.”

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
“Vividly impressionistic survey of a fascinating urban panorama, El Monstruo makes for addictive reading.”

“Monstrously entertaining and tenderhearted…”
“…a brave, stirring love letter, cautionary tale and travelogue…”

Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Planet of Slums
“From a window of the aging Hotel Isabel, where he has lived for almost a quarter of a century, John Ross sings a lusty corrido about a great, betrayed city and its extraordinary procession of rulers, lovers and magicians.”

Iain Sinclair, author of Lights Out for the Territory and London Orbital
“Coruscating and necessary. Here is one of those rare books that convinces from the first sentence: a writer embedded in his writing, wholly present in the subject, leading us with savage grace to the heart of the beast.”

Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
"John Ross is uncompromising in his dedication to the poor, the downtrodden and the victims of empire. He is not welcome on the television talk show circuit frequented by journalistic elites and political players, nor is he invited to the cocktail parties of the rich and powerful. He is most at home among the people in the slums and barrios of the world. John Ross is the personification of the peoples' reporter, a troubadour for justice who has chosen to cast his lot of conscience with those who have the will to live and the heart to resist against all odds. Simply put, John Ross is the Robin Hood of journalism."

About the Author

John Ross is a poet, freelance journalist, and activist currently residing in Mexico City. His articles have appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Nation, CounterPunch, Texas Observer, The Progressive, and La Jornada. His book Rebellion from the Roots won the American Book Award and his somewhat autobiographical memoir Murdered by Capitalism won the Upton Sinclair Award and was a San Francisco Chronicle Book of the Year.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; 1 edition (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568584245
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568584249
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #550,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tim Withee on March 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Ross, the venerable veterano of US expatriate writers in Mexico City has written a very readable history of Mexico City -- "El Monstruo" -- from the pre-Columbian era to the present day. Ross himself has lived in El Centro -- the heart of the city -- since the earthquake of 1985 and in the past quarter-century has been an eyewitness to some very remarkable events. Among these have been two stolen presidential elections, a devastating earthquake, the awakening of civil society among the masses and other major and minor upheavals in the political sphere. He has witnessed the day-to-day struggle of the average person in the city and surrounding areas, knows them well and can discuss their situations with passion and empathy -- and with good humor all at once.

Some other reviewers have noted slight inaccuracies, but all told, and while I agree they exist and that his editor should have caught them, I don't think they take much away from this book. In his words, Ross takes you there -- whether it's in the midst of the Revolution of 1810, or the revolutionary chaos of first quarter of the 20th Century, to the immense protests in the Zocalo subsequent to the election fraud of the 2006 presidential election. He almost seems to have been an eyewitness to these events and it makes for page-turning reading.

One thing that Ross's book shows is the incredible, unrelenting violence in the city -- and the country at large -- resulting from extreme class inequalities and the corruption that these inequities have fomented. I find it remarkable that the Mexican people continue to persevere -- even when they know from bitter, first-hand experience that the deck is stacked against them. You gotta have a sense of humor to live in that giant city -- and a whole lotta soul, too.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Ross has written a terrific history of Mexico City. He intersperses his narrative of the past thousand years with vignettes of the people he's come to know at the Café Blanca, his kitchen and dining room in the gloriously seedy historic core of Mexico City where he has lived for more than 20 years. The book methodically covers the highlights of Aztec and Spanish development before the 20th Century, but hits its stride with the murderous debacle that was the Mexican Revolution, the Revolution's cultural success in the 1920s, and its redemption by Lazaro Cardenas, the first (and only) president to take it seriously. We are brought through the "miracle" of development through the middle of the 20th Century to the massacre at Tlatelolco on October 2, 1968, the eve of the Olympics, that began the slow death of the PRI, Mexico's ruling party. Ross steadily gains depth and color as he moves through events he witnessed himself, up to the present moment. The book has a deceptively transparent, conversational style; it shimmers with the experiences, conversations, and readings of a man saturated for decades in his subject. Anyone who is curious about Mexico City, or Mexico itself, which is hopelessly centralized and rooted in its Capital, would profit by reading this book.
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This was John Ross' last book. As he reveals in the book, he was battling liver cancer as he finished the book, a cancer that would claim his life this past January.

The book is a massive undertaking as it tries to collect and synthesize the almost 700 year history of Mexico City. It is not a typical academically written history book, which has been laboriously fact checked and consists of mostly blandly presents facts. It's more of a narrative of the history of the city as he perceives it. Using both historical documents, books, newspapers and stories gathered from people he knows, Ross tried to make sense of a chaotic metropolis.

Does he mess up some facts? sure. Does he push his extreme left wing ideology into telling his story? guilty as charged. But what Ross does best is to tell you the story of the city in a very entertaining and picaresque way. Ross might not always get the facts straight, but you will get the gist of the story and be very entertained reading about this monstrous city.

While I don't embrace his politics or his view on some of the events, what impressed me the most about this book is Ross' love for the city. Despite knowing it was slowly poisoning him, constantly disappointing him with it's corruption and crime, and even trying to kill him, (courtesy of one of Mexico City's many speed demon drivers) John Ross manages to convey his love and devotion for the place.

I highly recommend this book, specially if you have ever lived in Mexico City. It's a great telling of the story of the city, while trying to make sense of the history of the place.
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and I read it straight through, but the author confuses a populist approach and opinion with carelessness about the facts. The book is sprinkled with old canards repeated as fact, ranging from things as simple as the origins of the word "gringo" to statements like "Pancho Villa sodomized nuns." Is that last one fact? Old propaganda from the Cristero war? There is no way to tell, since the author writes it as a declarative sentence and does not provide sources for anything. So I am still looking for a popular history of Mexico City to add to the cronicas of Carlos Monsivais and the portraits of the city in Paco Ignacio Taibo II's books.
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