In This Review

Simón Bolívar: A Life
Simón Bolívar: A Life
By John Lynch
Yale University Press, 2006, 368 pp

This timely and stirring narrative, with breaks for interpretation and a final pause for empathetic appraisal, is the first major English-language biography of "the Liberator" in half a century. Daring military commander, bold architect of republican constitutions, sardonic social commentator, and passionate lover of many mistresses, Bolívar remains a brilliantly colorful and highly contested personality. In 1998, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez renamed his country "the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela." Protective of his great man, the British historian Lynch accuses Chávez of distortion and heresy, of inventing a "populist Bolívar." Lynch's Bolívar, in contrast, is a wealthy white aristocrat fearful of mulatto rebellion, a learned student of the Age of Reason who strove mightily to balance authority and liberty, and a skillful diplomat who turned to the British Empire to protect South America from Bourbon Spain. Bolívar's overreach into what are now Peru and Bolivia, driven by illusions of an Andean confederation, had a strategic military logic (to preclude Spain from using Peruvian bases to retake Colombia). Particularly poignant -- some would say prescient -- are Bolívar's oft-quoted, if politically incorrect, laments about the flawed character of his "ungovernable" America. Overall, Lynch's Bolívar is a splendid, engrossing work by a mature scholar.