Wolf drew on anthropology, archaeology, history, and geography to mold a magnificent, sweeping, and beautifully written synthesis. With style and deep personal engagement he unraveled the complexity of Mexico and Guatemala's past with its multiple ethnicities, many languages, and environmental diversity. Wolf was as comfortable with the pre-Columbian world as the story of Spanish conquest and the social and political developments of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He gave full credit to the role of Africans and the indigenous population, to religion and folklore, and to the manner in which urban and rural settlement patterns developed over long stretches of history. Wolf offered no prognostications in 1959. "The rooster has cried a coming dawn," he wrote, "but in the gray daybreak the shadows still lie in dark pools about the doorway and alley." His circumspection has been well justified, for Guatemala certainly, and even in some respects for Mexico. Armies of graduate students have challenged many of the details, but the book stands as a monument to a time when social scientists were able to think large thoughts and write elegant English.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Western Hemisphere From This Issue