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Capsule Review

The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir

In This Review

The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir

The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir
By Fernando Henrique Cardoso with Brian Winter
PublicAffairs, 2006, 291 pp. $26.95 Purchase

In this most engaging and very personal history of twentieth-century Brazil, a genuine philosopher-king recounts how he combined principle and pragmatism to transform a harsh military dictatorship into a hopeful, modern democracy. Targeting a general audience, the two-term president paints colorful vignettes of his mercurial, irresponsible predecessors to explain Brazil's earlier democratic breakdowns -- and to underscore the errors he would avoid repeating. A former sociology professor, Cardoso argues that he kept faith with his empiricist training and social-justice agenda, even as his views evolved on how best to accomplish his goals. His youthful radicalism -- he once rode in a car transporting guns to underground guerrillas -- was a reaction to the stark injustices of the times. The mature Cardoso, a committed democrat, is impatient with some leftists' refusal to accept the exigencies and recognize the benefits of the global marketplace. What emerges is the self-portrait of a well-bred, charming, disciplined, and smartly networked political realist -- not at all an "accidental" president. Cardoso offers a brief review of his administration's major economic and social achievements (cumulatively, these reforms eroded his domestic popularity), but surprisingly, he says rather little about foreign policy, other than to express profound admiration for Bill Clinton and distaste for George W. Bush. Readers with even a passing curiosity about Brazil will enjoy -- and all aspiring Latin American politicians should study -- this rare "lessons learned" memoir by one of the foremost statesmen of our times.

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