In This Review

The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics
The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics
Edited by Robert M. Levine and John J. Crocitti
Duke University Press, 1999, 576 pp

A stellar collection of texts on Brazilian history and contemporary life. No ordinary reader, this volume goes below the surface to introduce an American audience to Brazil's complexities and diversity. As editor Levine points out, Brazil is Latin America's largest country but (unknown to most Americans) it is linguistically, culturally, and historically distinct from its Spanish-speaking neighbors. The selections range in subject from the colonial period to the present, including a close look at Getœlio Vargas, Levine's specialty. Vargas, who first came to power in a 1930 military coup and later served as a popularly elected president, profoundly influenced Brazil's politics and economics. Levine neatly captures the combination of populism, nationalism, oligarchic patrimonialism, propaganda, and social welfare that marked Vargas' rule. The book also gives popular culture and social history their due, including sections on rural and urban slum life, television personalities, and music. A fine section on race relations offers a lively autobiographical sketch by the late Leslie Rout, recounting his bittersweet experience as an African-American jazz musician and historian who confronted Brazil's myth of racial democracy -- and found out the hard way that the Brazilian racial paradise was not all it was cracked up to be.