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Brazil: Five Centuries of Change
By Thomas E. Skidmore
Oxford University Press, 1999, 272 pp.
A Concise History of Brazil
By Boris Fausto
Cambridge University Press, 1999, 368 pp.
The doyen of U.S. historians of Brazil, Skidmore has produced a useful, workmanlike primer for readers encountering Brazil for the first time. The story begins with the arrival of the Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500. Cabral's stopover in Brazil was in fact a fortuitous accident -- the unintended consequence of the opening of the European-Indian route around the Cape of Good Hope. With their eyes initially focused on Asia's riches, it took decades before the Portuguese took Brazil seriously. In the seventeenth century, however, the boom took off as Brazil's sugar production dominated world markets and attracted the covetous attention of the Dutch. The first modern gold rush of the following century built up settlements in the interior. During the 1820s, the peculiar Brazilian independence movement was guided not by republican revolutionaries but by the eldest son of the Portuguese monarch, who became independent Brazil's first emperor. With its territorial integrity and monarchy intact, independent Brazil was a striking exception in the hemisphere. Skidmore concludes by devoting his attention to the twentieth century, and he gives a fine, lucid overview of modern Brazil's continuing dilemmas: the struggle for social equity, the economic disappointments, and the ambiguous future of South America's giant as it reaches its first half millennium.
Fausto covers much of the same ground as Skidmore does. However, he takes a more analytic approach to tackle the historiographical controversies surrounding the major conflicts in Brazilian history: regional revolts against the center; the tense relationship between the federal government and the states; and the host of political issues now reappearing in the wake of the economic crisis. Unfortunately, the book is also sometimes marred by clumsy translation. Otherwise, a fine introduction to Brazilian history.
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