In This Review

Americana: The Americas in the World Around 1850
Americana: The Americas in the World Around 1850
By James Dunkerley
Verso, 2000, 642 pp

One of the unanticipated benefits of the Cold War's end has been to liberate Western Marxian historians from the straightjacket of orthodoxy and to transform dull "New Left" publishers into sparkling innovators. Verso's new book by James Dunkerley is an immensely rewarding and handsomely produced work that offers a wholly fresh approach to the history of the Americas during the mid-nineteenth century. Although the author provides little in the way of truly global comparative detail (as his subtitle would suggest), he offers a marvelous array of sources that makes his excursions into byways and unanticipated interconnections an exhilarating experience. As he examines religion, culture, political economy, and international relations, he takes each topic as if it were a multifaceted diamond refracting light from a common source. Dunkerley also penetrates the conflicting world-views of immigrants, native populations, slaves, rulers, and adventurers, providing a revealing window on U.S. history by placing it within a hemisphere-wide and Atlantic context. He artfully links all his segments by three court cases: a treason trial from Dublin, a complex Dickensian case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and a case in Bolivia. Each leads him into a transcontinental maze and gives the reader a direct connection to the complexities of the period. Dunkerley's huge cast includes Karl Marx, General Winfield Scott, Charles Darwin, Anthony Trollope, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, and General Santa Anna. Most unforgettable is the formidable 18-year-old Eliza Lynch, who captivated the portly dictator of Paraguay, General Francisco Solano López, in Paris when he was at the Gare St. Lazare, on his way to visit Napoleon III. All told, an irresistibly good read.