San Martín: Argentine Soldier, American Hero

In This Review

San Martín: Argentine Soldier, American Hero
By John Lynch
Yale University Press, 2009
268 pp. $35.00
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The veteran British historian Lynch has written a worthy companion volume to his acclaimed biography of Simón Bolívar. Liberator of Argentina, Chile, and Peru, José de San Martín (1778-1850) lacked the intellect, passion, and guile of Bolívar, who famously dispatched his rival with apparent ease when their ambitions collided over Peru. (What historians would give to have had a third party at these two men's single, private encounter in Guayaquil!) Nevertheless, Lynch unearths many similarities between the two early Latin American heroes: both began with republican ideals yet abhorred social rebellion and mob anarchy and became obsessed with their desire for strong government; both were driven more by grand ideas than by lust for material gain; and both of their glorious military campaigns ended in embittered, painful exiles, having been defeated not by opposing armies but by factional politics. Beautifully crafted, Lynch's history firmly roots the two continental leaders in the urgent and divisive philosophical debates, multilayered social conflicts, and countless political intrigues of their times. The book also contains one particularly timely footnote: as ruler of Peru, San Martín personally outlawed all forms of torture.