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The Penguin History of Latin America Paperback – Illustrated, February 23, 2010
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About the Author
- Grade Level : 12 and up
- Item Weight : 1.08 pounds
- Paperback : 705 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780141034751
- ISBN-13 : 978-0141034751
- Product Dimensions : 7.84 x 5.14 x 1.2 inches
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Revised, Updated ed. Edition (February 23, 2010)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0141034750
- Reading level : 18 and up
- Best Sellers Rank: #215,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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On balance, given that my prior knowledge of Latin American history was very limited, I would have found it easier-going to have started with a shorter summary.
It's main theme is the search for identity both across central and south America and within individual nations, particularly after the collapse of the Spanish empire with the Napoleonic invasions of the Iberian peninsula, and in view of the difficulties of government in profoundly unequal societies riven by racial and cultural differences between those of pre-Columban, native Indian extraction, and those whose descent is from the Spanish creoles, or of mixed heritage. or, especially in Brazil, from African slaves.
The question that hangs over the book, particularly in the chapters dealing with the twentieth century, is why Latin America, so blessed in natural resources, has fallen behind in development compared to Asia, and why its post-colonial societies and governments have been less stable than other states where democracy, although later in development, appears to have taken firmer root? Edwin Williamson's argument is founded upon the failure of Latin America to form an accepted cross-cultural, unifying identity to succeed that of the Spanish and Portuguese Catholic empires after Independence, with the post-colonial states instead becoming divided societies with differing political and social traditions that find it all but impossible to coalesce around a shared identity and a multicultural and multiethnic but inclusive understanding of a shared past. And it is these fundamental divisions about who are the Latin Americans, between the indigenous and those of extra-American origins, between the Catholics and the liberal secularists, and between the Left, often represented by Marxist social revolutionaries, and the Right, with its association with autocracy and dictatorship, that lie at the heart of the region's inability to maximise its potential.
However, while this search for a unifying identity may have undermined the Latin American countries' political and social development compared to those of others on other continents, there is no doubt of the huge cultural achievement of Spanish and Portuguese America, particularly in literature, with poets like Paz and Neruda, and novelists like Gabriel Marquez and Vargas Llosa, matching and often exceeding the achievements of their European contemporaries, and this Williamson explores in a lively and enlightening chapter.
Latin America and its history are vast subjects, but Williamson in this one volume does a sterling job of bringing all the threads of over five hundred years of the past into a manageable form for the general reader, and while he provides no conclusive answers, his questions and the themes he explores help to make more comprehensible what are often seen as enigmatic central and south American societies, at least to the British reader more familiar with the old world histories of Spain and Portugal.