a casahistoria reading list - latin america  

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 Reviews of Books on aspects of the History of the Americas


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Malcolm Gaskill: Between Two Worlds

Gaskill makes comprehensive use of personal testimony and primary records to show the relationship between north American settler and the English mother country during the period of early colonisation in the 17th century. This is not a story of independently minded Puritans heading off across the Atlantic to leave early Stuart tyranny behind and build a new world amongst the forests of New England. Rather, Gaskill presents a much more complex situation where not only settlement and economic exploitation but also political and cultural development remained very much dependent on England, an England that was also bound to the life-experiences of the early settlers and increasingly to the business model the new colonies produced.

The book looks at colonies in their broadest sense. There is a focus on Virginia and New England, paying tribute to the earlier English conquest and settlement of Ireland which offered the earliest (flawed) model for colony building, but the sweep takes in the Caribbean and later spread to the Carolinas and up the Appalachians. Here was embedded English society, given an opportunity to farm and trade through a series of Royal Company Patents, not self governing but administering themselves locally under the umbrella of the English crown, much as an English town or County might have done at the time. The settlements of new England with a higher (but not overwhelming) proportion of Puritan households saw these oligarchic assemblies dominated by those who considered themselves the elect. Further south in Virginia and in the Caribbean, it was the rapidly growing large estate owners who held sway. Just as the 17th century upheavals in England of Civil War, Restoration and 1688 revolution affect attitudes to power at home, Gaskill shows this being tightly followed and reflected in the Americas. Only after 1688 does the divergence which is to lead to revolution in the next century begin to become evident. England becomes more imperialist, more focused on the economic gains of overseas possessions, less inclined to consider the interests and protection of the colonists as a priority.

Apart from the social and political there are other themes running through the work. The siezure of Indian land is a given, the inevitable Indian wars which do so much to foster the "frontier mentality" of the American are reported by contemporaries in the same violent manner in which Irish rebels were described in the 1640's. Some settlers go native, others try and convert "praying" Indians but for the majority they were a population to be feared, exploited and pushed back for their land. The reality of colonial life in mid century is well treated in Chapter 14.

One of the chapters looks at the cultural isolation felt by many of the settlers (not uncommon even today as expatriates with internet, skype will agree with). England is always "home", many attempted to create their idea of an English idyll in an alien environment, with mutant twists. Where estate owners in the south could not get landless labourers to help achieve this as they might have done on an English estate, they ship in Africans in ever increasing numbers.

Gaskill is a specialist on 17th century witchcraft, so it may not be a surprise that the climax of the work is the Salem witch trials of 1692-3. For Gaskill the almost immediate reversal of the trials and discrediting of the Puritan testimonies represents the collapse of the Puritan stranglehold on the mood of the northern colonies. Dominant in setting the initial culture of New England, like their counterparts in England the latter part of the century sees this being discredited and replaced by particularist pragmatism. It is this change he argues that does so much to force a parting of ways between London and the northern colonies.

Apparently the work is based on a course presented by the author. It may be easier for the more general reader if chapter headings were less literary and obscure and perhaps given titles more immediately relevant to their content akin to seminar meetings. This would allow for easier selection of reading for students unable to read all the book. The wealth of contemporary evidence whilst clearly forming the structure of the argument can be overwhelming and the point in hand (as well as attention) can easily be lost to the multitude of characters and places presented to the reader.

Between Two Worlds is a worthwhile read. Students of the period perhaps will use it best with careful reading of the excellent Epilogue to help search out key themes and then make judicious use of the Index to follow their development.

June ’15 (****)


Ben Macintyre: Forgotten Fatherland, The Search For Elisabeth Nietzsche

Ben Macintyre is now best known for his espionage books including Agent Zigzag and his latest on Kim Philby. This is one of his earlier publications (perhaps the back catalogue being re-released on the back of these later, more successful works.) and is not about spies. Rather it combines two unlikely themes in an offbeat but readable way.

Going off to Paraguay, Macintyre looks for evidence of German colony founded in the 19th century by the sister of Friedrich Nietsche. In 1886 Elisabeth Nietzsche, set up a 'racially pure' colony in Paraguay together with a band of blond-haired fellow Germans. Macintyre describes his travels as he crosses the inhospitable centre of Paraguay to find actual survivors of Nueva Germania still living an isolated existence in the remains of the bizarre colony. 

However, Forgotten Fatherland is more than this. It is written in a "double style" retelling not just the narrative of colonial settlement but in tandem the more intriguing story of how Elisabeth came to hijack her brothers legacy and turn him into a cult to serve her own nationalistic and racist ends. Nietzsche, the stalwart of the individual, anti church, anti imperial and anti nation (he himself refused to support Nueva Germania) is transmuted into the intellectual rock behind National Socialism, Elisabeth's shrine for her brother in Weimar becoming a place of pilgrimage for Hitler, Mussolini and other assorted nationalists of the far right during the 1930's and early 1940's.

This has elements of Pimblet's Paraguay history/travelogue, Inflatable Pig but is probably also a straightforward primer in understanding what Nietzsche actually does represent. Well worth looking out for.

December ’14 (****)



  John Keegan: The American Civil War

The US Civil War has always been one of the black holes in my history background - an area I have neither studied or taught directly. So I purchased John Keegan's "American Civil War" in the hope that this would help fill the gap. And largely it has. Keegan, a war historian best known for his surveys of 20th century warfare writes well and clearly. I should imagine that the book provides more than sufficient detail on the campaigns and key meetings between both sides to satisfy most students researching the conflict (however some reviews have expressed concern with accuracy). What is irritating is the habit of repeating points made earlier on in the narrative. The battle maps are particularly useful (although I must admit to moving quickly through some of the land campaign details, lack of personal familiarity with the basic geography of the area trying my patience a little. This though is a personal failing, not one of the authors.). What is made very clear is how inexperienced and unprepared both sides were in the craft of warfare and it is interesting to read the process of natural selection required to find able military commanders.

Keegan also provides a number of chapters prior to and after the conflict that are extremely useful articles in their own right on key aspects of the conflict (such as the Life of the Soldier, Generalship, Nature of the Civil War Battle, Home fronts, Black soldiers). In many ways these are just as valuable as (if not more so than) the account of the war itself. One omission is a discrete chapter focusing on the war role of Lincoln himself, which is a pity.

Given Keegan's interest in 20th century warfare there are many instances where he shows how the Civil War displayed and introduced features of later wars (as well as how it did not and drew rather on earlier conflict experience in Europe). All in all this is an easily recommendable narrative cum basic analysis of the war if what is required is a primer.

March '11 (****)

  Greg Grandin: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City

Grandin writes of Henry Ford's attempt to build a settlement in the Amazon jungle during the 1920's and 1930's. Ostensibly to provide rubber for Ford's factories and so break the monopoly of the Dutch, French and British plantations of the Far East, in reality Fordlandia was an attempt by the US industrialist to build what he considered a model industrial settlement in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest.

Grandin tells the story well, of how Henry Ford was hoodwinked into buying a 5,000 square mile tract of land which he might have gained for nothing from the government; how a New England type town was built in the middle of nowhere for brazilian and expat workers complete with company shops, golf course, barn for square dancing and clapboard hoiuses each with a garden ready for planting flowers; and how ultimately the project collapsed.

But the story is more than this. We are taken on an enlightening journey into the mind of the founder of Fordism and his theories of small planned industrial communities which he had already tried out in Michigan. Here was paternalism at its height. Quality housing, above average wages, planned communities with clinics and schools. In this Ford also displayed some ideas recently quite fashionable: dislike of big banking, direct government control and monopoly producers. His communities were planned where possible without any of this. But the downside was company control. No organised labour, intolerance of those who failed to think as Ford men should, entertainment outside the (Ford) approved parameters (ie alcohol, gaming, close-up dancing) frowned upon. There was also a disdain for specialists in favour of individuals who were self trained, who learned from experience.

All of this was to come to a head in Brazil. Fordlandia becomes the island of homely "mid-western" modernity in the Amazon. Well laid out housing, clinics and schools combined with above average wages to spend in company shops selling at reasonable rates to encourage the purchase of clean clothing. But the cracks appear. The dislike of experts mean the Ford team in the Amazon have to learn on the job (the pretty houses were solid, but their thick walls and tin roofs made them like ovens to live in). More importantly scant attenton was paid to cultural differences. Clocking in helped produce a riot that destroyed much of the early settlement.

And the rubber? That came secondary to Ford's attempts at social engineering. It was also a disaster. Brazil's latex was traditionally cut from isloated rubber trees in the wild - and for good reason. Far eastern-style plantations with close planting such as at Fordlandia meant blight and bugs spread easily in the damp heat of the Amazon. Plantations at Fordlandia and a new site further north were devastated by disease. Agronomists could have told this to the Ford team of car engineers before they went to Brazil. Eventually after World War II Ford's grandson sold Fordlandia to the Brazilian government. It is now overgrown and much is used for soy production (ironic as soy was one of Henry's pet projects. He loved the plant and tried to find uses for it in the US. Now Brazil is the world's second largest producer).

Fordlandia is shown though to have had other, perhaps more significant impact. The inexperienced Ford technicians did devise a new way of cross cutting plants to improve them genetically that was soon to be copied across the globe. More controversially it was a visit to the Ford plantations that inspired Brazil's dictator Vargas to make his 1940 "March to the West" speech that formally announced the drive to open up Brazil's interior. In a final irony Grandin explains how this has since led not only to the erosion of the rainforest but also to the explosion of an industrial region in the mid Amazon with squalid living conditions that are the antithesis of Ford's hopes fo rhis Fordlandia. And the irony? This industrialisation is based on the unskilled assembly of parts made elsewhere - the essentials of those Fordist principles which made Henry his fortune.

An intriguing and provoking book for students of Fordism as well as for general interest. Reads well and is accompanied by many instructive photographs. Sept '10 (****)
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  Dee Brown: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

Dee Browns (at the time of writing he was Western historian and head librarian at the University of Illinois), 1970 "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee" is about the demise of the north American Indian tribes at the hands of the 19th century US military, government and population. And what a depressing read it has been. Brown shows clearly, and with a regularity that begins to distract, how the Plains Indians were dealt with one by one from the 1850's to the 1890's as they fell foul to a combination of the white man's greed, lack of humanity and an almost universal desire to rid the growing USA of an unwelcome people.

When it was written forty years ago the use of the word "genocide" was not one in general use. However this is what Brown is describing. Villages wiped out, tribes herded onto reservations where the land was worthless, meaning they had nothing to hunt or could not grow anything. Then when something of value was found - gold for example - they were moved on to another reservation. All this despite signing supposedly binding agreements with Washington. The Indians were innocent, naive, unable to grasp at first the self interest of what Brown describes as the military-washington-reservation complex which saw them and their original lands (and later on the provisions provided by Washington) exploited for personal and commercial gain. Even those who adopted the "white" lifestyle advocated by Washington: who settled in one place, grew crops and went to church were eventually dispossessed through trickery and military force.

With only limited exceptions noted by Brown, very few whites understood or attempted to understood the Indian position -that they were trying to live with the whites and a culture alien to them but were forced to resist when their lands were illegally settled on or buffalo being hunted out of existence. The old chiefs tried hard to restrain their younger members realising that the white man's power was much greater and resistance would only bring even greater retribution.

This role of the white civilians west of the Mississippi are not shown in the most honourable way - especially those in what became Colorado. During the US civil war they help create conflict with the tribes to ensure local young men are recruited to serve nearby, not on the battlefields further east. Later their greed drives the Indian off the land west of Denver in a series of underhand manoeuvres.

Then when finally they realised the true determination of the growing white population to push them out of the way it was too late. The tribes were too few in number, too divided in intention and left facing an arrogant US military busily building forts across their original lands, equipped with the latest technology (magazine loading rifles, mobile artillery, and the beginning of long distance communications) and using them to ride out and deal with Indian problems and ultimately to round up the survivors of their raids and campaigns and imprison them on reservations. In 1970 this had definite echoes of US military policy in Vietnam but depressingly still equally for modern Iraq. So the tactics developed against the north American Indian continue to drive US military policy

Given it was written in an era when traditional cowboys and Indian films still dominated white culture with cowboys and cavalry as goodies and Indians as universal baddies (with some notable exceptions - The Lone Rangers companion Tonto!!) Brown uses an odd mechanism to increase the readers sympathy for the Indians - the narrative is written as if by the Indians themselves. This is strange at first but eventually the reader gets used to it. Today however, this can seem patronising and an encumbrance to a reasoned understanding of the aboriginal position, and although the work is widely sourced, it makes sourcing what is written difficult. Nonetheless the work remains a powerful piece of writing, if not strict history. Aug '10 (****)

  Rowland White: Vulcan 607: The Epic Story of the Most Remarkable British Air Attack since WWII

This is the story of the first Black Buck V-bomber raid on Stanley airport during the Falklands/Malvinas war. It recalls much that is to be admired from a purely logistical and management aspect: the ingenuity of the engineers as well as the planners, coaching the old superannuated nuclear bombers (due to be scrapped in June 1982) into service and planning a massive in-flight refueling programme to ensure one Vulcan made the islands and was able to disable the runway and prevent its use by Argentine jets, so ensuring the eventual success of the British campaign. A role that has perhaps been underplayed in the past. It also paints a magnificent picture of two of the legendary V-bombers, Vulcan & Victor, at work.

However the cover has a quote recommending the book written by BBC petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson which sets its tone quite accurately. This is very much a "Boys Own" account which makes only a limited attempt to view the raid in a broader context than the RAF and the crews involved. This is served especially poorly by brief anecdotal inserts that appear to tell the story of some of the islanders after the Argentine landings. The sources listed at the end are extremely thin on Argentine materials/interviews.

This may be a good beach read but it is no Frederick Taylor (Dresden) or Leo McKinstry (Dambusters). July '10 (**)

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  Neal Bascomb: Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi

Adolf Eichmann was the SS officer behind the removal and logistics that sent millions of Europe’s Jews to the extermination camps of eastern Europe. Bascombe follows the likes of UKi Goñi in showing the growing cold war disinterest outside Israel for following up Nazi criminals like Eichmann and the role played by the Catholic Church as well as Argentina’s Perón in offering them an escape route and refuge.

This story of how Eichmann escaped capture in 1945 and fled Europe to Argentina where he was then captured in 1960 by Israeli secret agents is a real page turner which I couldn’t put down. Meticulously detailed it shows the chance way by which Eichmann’s new identity unravelled and how it was picked up by the Israeli’s who determined to capture and bring him back to Israel for trial. In fact it is so detailed I could clearly picture the suburban Buenos Aires streets in Olivos and San Fernando where the action took place. The whole mission was a masterpiece of organisation and planning and Bascombe makes this very evident. At times though as the cast of those involved grew, I would have like a list of characters to refer back to. Ultimately I found the book quite moving as the reader is carried along by the euphoria of the successful capture.

Less obvious to me before reading this was the hidden agenda behind the arrest and trial. From the start the Israeli government leadership hoped a high profile trial would do more than try an SS officer central to the Final Solution. Rather it was to refocus attention on the holocaust for a new, postwar global generation in danger of forgetting the genocide. In this it undoubtedly succeeded, especially in Germany where as a school student myself in the post Eichmann years I remember the much greater emphasis laid by the Bonner Government in education and the media on maintaining a high awareness and confronting the issues raised by the Final Solution.
Oct '09 (****)


Tim Tzouliadis: The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia

The "Forsaken" are a small group of US citizens who move and settle in the USSR to escape the Depression and work in a society they believed promised more than the capitalist USA in the 1930's.

Within a couple of years all goes wrong as they get caught up (as dangerous "spies") in the 1930s Terror. One by one they disappear and this is where their tragedy begins. Innocents caught in Stalin's and then the NKVD's paranoia they are siezed off the street, tortured, forced to confess then shot or sent to the Siberian Gulags to be worked to death and vanish without trace. Just like the anything up to 20 million other Soviets that Tzouliadis includes in the narrative.

What is especially appalling about these US victims is that they are disowned totally by the US. The Embassy ignores appeals for help (In fact it fails to even protect its own employees from disappearance. One of its key figures in the 1930's is Kennan of the containment telegram fame. He also sees little point in pushing to help these US citizens, who are perceived by many in officialdom as pinks and reds linked to US unionism.  The lame response of FDR himself to the tragedy of the US citizens and the failure to perceive the true nature of the Stalin regime helps understanding of Churchills frustration with FDR-Stalin relations at the wartime meetings. It also provides a wider survey of the process of arrest, horrendous Gulag conditions, execution and disappearance during not one but three waves of Terror including US troops seized during and after World War II and how the process came to an end of sorts. 

"The Forsaken" is a valuable addition to the work on Stalin's Russia. Perhaps it will also start to show a wider audience that Stalin was no better than Hitler, in all probability much worse, in creating a society that dehumanised its members and eliminated millions. May ‘09 (*****)

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  Walter Nugent: Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion

Looks at the expansion of the USA from independence to today & identifies this in 3 stages (Empire I, the period of internal expansion, Empire II, the Pacific and Caribbean imperialism and Empire III, post 1945.) Most focus is on I & II and what a depressing tale he tells. It did not take long for the (thoroughly European Great Power) diplomatic skills of duplicity and selfish ambition to appear. Greatly assisted by an early ability to take advantage of Great Power problems elsewhere to acqiure territory by Treaty & Dollars, the young Republic is also quite happy to undermine states that helped it gain independence (most notably Spain) and attack neighbours (British Canada, Mexico) in search of the expansion of what it considered its manifest destiny.
Worst of all though Nugent shows the impact of Manifest Destiny on the native population. Pushed, shoved, but most of all decimated by the diseases of what Nugent calls the Anglo-European settlers they are all but wiped out to become little more than another ethnic minority by the 20th century. At times the depth of detail of the early Spanish wars can be overwhelming, not to say tedious, but Nugent's book needs to be recommended reading for anyone who believes the US was isolationist before Teddy Rooosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. As I said at the start, a depressing read.
Feb '09 (****)

H.W. Brands: The Age of Gold: The Story of an Obsession That Swept the World

Brands provides a well detailed account of the California Gold rush of 1848-9, placing it in its national (and international) as well as Californian context. Especially valuable are the descriptions of the journeys taken by the argonauts (the hopeful gold prospectors) by sea (round the Horn, across the Pacific, through the Panama isthmus) and by land across the plains, deserts, Rockies & Sierras. Some of the dangers encountered are new to me - for example the high mortality rate from cholera as the wagons moved west. The destructive impact of the western migrants on the buffalo herds so vital to the Indian tribes is also made clear. Unfortunately, the 491 pages of small, dense type would have benefited from tighter editing. The post Gold Rush period especially seems to take on a life of its own (which perhaps should have been a separate book) but loses focus as a consequence of trying to cover too much. Brands' previous book, the Reckless Decade, on late 19th century US was more concise and all the better focused for being so. August '08. (***)



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Peter Chapman: Jungle Capitalists: A Story of Globalisation, Greed and Revolution

Charts the economic rise and pervasive political influence of the first globalised company - the US United Fruit Company, precursor for the activities of today's multinationals. By building railways and the acquisition of land rights from central American states it created monopoly banana production and determined the politics of the region. By the 1930's the company had created a "vast feudal state" of plantations, worker settlements and client governments scattered across central America. The simple Banana may have been the product, but to ensure its continued profitability (ie keeping production costs low and free from native involvement) United Fruit was not averse to heavy involvement in aggressive politics. Support for coups was common, most clearly seen in the 1929 Santa Marta massacre of 1000+ demonstrators in Colombia and the Guatamalan coup of 1954. But Guatamala backfired - it frightened the US government into starting anti trust procedures that would see United Fruit shrink into "Chiquita" in the 1980's; Ernesto Guevara witnessed the coup and it helped convince him of the need to use force to gain national freedom; the US press, heavily manipulated by United Fruit decided to pursue more personally investigative styles in future (Herbert Matthews went off in search of Castro on a personal quest for "truth" which was to give such positive press for Castro in the US). However the author warns for today: Chiquita has admitted to paying nearly $2 million to right-wing death squads in Colombia and Chapman cites the example of Costa Rica, (the only central American country to escape United Fruit and create a more welfare-orientated state) where modern multinationals working within a free-market economy are causing severe problems of social inequality. This book is timely and testimony to the survival of United Fruit and how well it has continued to cover its tracks outside latin America. May '08 (****)



Robert Carver: Paradise with Serpents

Carver's travel tales of Paraguay in 2001-2 see him comparing it with amongst others, the Congo, Albania, and the one I like best: pre partition 18th century Poland.... In places amusing, in others sadly pathetic this is a good companion to John Gimlettes Inflatable Pig (which has a more historical focus and which Carver is gracious enough to praise). Carver is well read and this gives a depth to his stories as well as allowing him to put modern Paraguay in a context with its neighbours. Starting off an enthusiastic investigative tourist, Carver ends desperate to leave and running for a seat on one of the few planes out of Paraguay for São Paulo. It may be good armchair adventure but I am not sure if this will encourage less intrepid tourists to travel far beyond Ciudad del Este though! April '08 (***)


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Paul Blustein: And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out): Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina

A readable account of the 2001-2 Argentine economic crash and how it emerged out of the growth of the 1990's. And at the end, where does Blustein point the finger of blame? To be sure, slack Argentine policies throughout the period and the impetuosity finally of Cavallo (where was President de la Rua at the time?) carry much of the final responsibility for the eventual collapse. However he argues that the real culprits are the international bankers - too willing to lend, to convince the Argentine government to issue more & more bonds and to push rates of repayment ever higher. The IMF? Blustein sees them as being blinded by what he calls "poster-child syndrome" ie unwilling to be tough & give unwelcome advice and support (especially post 1998) other then more loans, when "tough love" rather than more debts was needed by the country it had over-promoted as the free market success of the 1990's. Sept '07 (***)



  Ian W. Toll: Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy

A huge tome that tells the story of the origins of the US Navy (It started with just 6 frigates...) in the late 18th/early 19th century. Written by a journalist rather than a historian so is not quite a US N.A.M. Rodgers but is well written and reads easily. Still it is perhaps one for the ship anorak rather than the general reader. Interesting to see the early potential wealth of the newly independent US: able to build a fleet and a state capital at the same time! Equally valuable are the links drawn at the end that connect this early growth directly to the Monroe doctrine and Thedore Roosevelts Great White fleet. Feb '07 (***)


Robert Harvey: The Liberators

Sympathetic & comprehensive narrative of the latin American Wars of Independence. Gave a new appreciation & respect for the social values of Bolivar and San Martin especially. Unfortunately, all were unappreciated in the ensuing states that they fought for - in particular by the criolla landowning families who undermined their reforms thus creating the years of chaos that followed - very much to the present. A worthy reference on the period but too heavy on military details for the general reader and limited on recent Spanish language scholarship. Aug '06 (***)

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Patrick Wilcken: Empire Adrift

Did you know the Portuguese Royal Court all up-sticked and headed for Rio during the Napoleonic Wars? This explains the why's and how's. A good read, describing the growth of Rio - as well as the duplicitous role of Britain. This may have been where Britain first began to influence latin American internal politics through the back door. Jan'06 (***)


David Sinclair: Sir Gregor Macgregor and the Land That Never Was

Story of a 19th century Scots fraudster, Gregor MacGregor and his scheme to make a fortune selling land in a non existent country in central America. The tale is an interesting one covering the MacGregors exploits in the Americas (where he fought alongside Miranda and Bolivar) and Europe as well as in Britain, but more judicious editing (especially of the independence campaigns MacGregor actually fought in) with a greater use of footnotes might make it both more useful to historians and efficient to read. Nov '06 (**)


Peter Nichols: Evolution's Captain

The story of Robert FitzRoy who took Darwin around the world. FitzRoy's life is shown as tragedy, from his early attempt to "civilise" the natives of Tierra del Fuega to his realisation that having facilitated Darwin produced the massive attack by Science on his own fundamentalist beliefs. Written not by a historian with an understanding of the sea but by a yachtsman with a sound grasp of the history this is a very readable account - although the paperback is much in need of a good map of Patagonia! Sept '06 (***)



Tomás Eloy Martínez: The Tango Singer

A short but intriguing novel set in 2001 from Eloy Martínez, a writer whose work battles between history and literature. Whereas 'Santa Evita' (****) and The 'Perón Novel' (****) saw history dominant, here it is the literary side that provides an (ale-gorical?) framework for an almost mystical search through the horrors of Argentina's recent history. Best read if you have a knowledge of Buenos Aires and Borges - and a map handy!. July '06 (***)


John Gimlette: At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig

Ostensibly a travel book, this was the surprise bestseller of 2003. It has a silly title, and a surreal cover (even more so in the US) but it is a knowledgeable voyage through the 19th and 20th century history of the Guarani homeland.

In this grimly amusing book Gimlette reveals the horrors and absurdities of the past as well as the present, but reading between the lines he has an affection for this blighted country, incarcerated in the centre of a continent and the pawn of its larger and stronger neighbours - whose politicians though are no brighter than those of Paraguay. Pobre paraguayos....

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