What are stochastically the best books to read about Latin America?

by on February 1, 2018 at 12:52 am in Books, History | Permalink

This list is aggregating from my reader recommendations:

Jorge Castaneda “Manana Forever” on 21st Century Mexico isn’t as polished but it’s pretty informative.

“To count, the book must have some aspirations to be a general survey of what the country is…” Mexico: Riding, Distant Neighbors, — definitely. Being up to date is not that relevant for attempting to show “what the country is…”. As good or better: Octavio Paz, El laberinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude) (1950) and Charles Macomb Flandrau, Viva Mexico! (1908)

El Laberinto also came to my mind as a better candidate on Mexico. And then there is Understanding Mexicans and Americans: Cultural Perspectives in Conflict (Rogelio Diaz-Guerrero and Lorand B. Szalay) originally published in 1991.

https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4899-0733-2

If you are going to go with a dated option for Mexico, Paz’ “Labyrinth of Solitude” is considerably better than “Distant Neighbors”.

El Nicaragüense by Pablo Antonio Cuadra (for Nicaragua)

On Mexico: Enrique Krauze’s book “Mexico: Biography of Power” has the reputation of “best book about [modern] Mexico,” but I’ve struggled to read it.

For Peru:

The textbook answer should be “The Peruvian Experiment Reconsidered” ed. Cynthia McClintock & Abraham F. Lowenthal.

My personal favorite is another book by McClintock (the aforementioned editor and GWU Professor of Political Science and International Affairs) titled “Peasant Cooperatives and Political Change in Peru.” Unlike the broad surveys of political and economic history given in the McClintock and Lownthal edited book, “Peasant Cooperatives” gives a great case study of agrarian co-ops and the socio-economic horrors of military rule.

On Nicaragua: Stephen Kinzer’s “Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua”

On Guyana: “Wild Coast” by John Gimlette

And Michael Reid’s “Forgotten Continent” is a useful book about South America.

For Brazil: “Brazil – The Troubled Rise of a Global Power” by Michael Reid – http://amzn.to/2CFGYax

Nicolas Shumway, The Invention of Argentina, extended essay on Argentina books here.

Argentina (classic) Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism

1 extramsg February 1, 2018 at 1:22 am

Jeffery Pilcher’s “Que Vivan Los Tamales” is a great book that not only gives a history of food in Mexico post-Conquest, but ties it in with the rise of nationalism and urbanism.

I’m currently reading TR Fehrenbach’s “Fire and Blood”, a history of Mexico from ancient to modern times and enjoying it. He seems to be trying to cut through the propagandist narratives and myths. And, of course, this is the season for “Fire &” books.

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2 Sr robert February 4, 2018 at 12:37 pm

Read that recently and enjoyed it immensely.

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3 Outsider February 1, 2018 at 1:26 am

I don’t really understand the title of this series of posts. Why “stochastically”? Doesn’t that just mean randomly, in which case the approach should be top assemble the largest number of books and apply a random number generator? And it seems like the placement of the word in the sentence is a bit odd.

I am sure this is an inside joke of some sort, just a little to inside for me, I guess

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4 Mike February 1, 2018 at 1:45 am

It’s not just you. Too clever by half?

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5 Outsider February 1, 2018 at 4:06 am

Maybe it’s like the Emperors New Clothes. Nobody gets it, but I am the only one stupid enough to admit it

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6 Lex February 1, 2018 at 10:07 am

You two are not the only ones.

The non-Staussian interpretation: “Stochastic” implies a bounded but unpredictable process designed to produce a best guess (whereas random is just random).

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7 DJK February 1, 2018 at 9:51 am

I agree. “Stochastically” doesn’t make any sense in this context; the title makes much more sense with “stochastically” left out. Maybe TC understands a different meaning for stochastically to the rest of us, or maybe he inserts long, technical words at random —- stochastically, you might say — to make a random thought sound more erudite than it really is?

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8 WB February 1, 2018 at 10:19 am

There are no widely accepted criteria for identifying the “best” books. That’s why I think he inserts stochastically into the titles of these blog posts. Whatever standards I use to determine best will likely differ from you. Some of us, perhaps most of us, may be giving suggestions without even thinking about criteria in a meaningful way. We may simply be suggesting books that we remember and thus consider best. Or some of us may be suggesting titles that we haven’t yet read, in an effort to appear knowledgeable and cultured on an anonymous forum. (God knows why someone would do that, but people do screwed-up things all the time.) Anyway, these lists–like all “best of” lists–are driven by random or highly variable factors.

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9 DJK February 1, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Clearly there is no absolute standard to judge a book. It still doesn’t make a set of judgements stochastic, even from a random selection of people. Perhaps “assorted” conveys the meaning better, as in “Assorted recommendations of the best books about Latin America.”?

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10 Will February 1, 2018 at 1:39 pm

It’s still better than inserting the term “mood affiliation” into every post regardless of relevance.

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11 Matthew Young February 1, 2018 at 1:32 am

When I Was Puerto Rican
by Esmeralda Santiago

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12 Charbes A. February 1, 2018 at 3:47 am

For Brazil: Por que me ufano de meu país (Why I Am Proud of My Country) – Afonso Celso de Assis Figueiredo Júnior, titled Count of Afonso Celso by the Holy See.

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13 edgar February 1, 2018 at 4:26 am

How To Travel Without Seeing – Andres Neuman

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14 Diogo February 1, 2018 at 4:55 am

Three highly recommended memoirs: on Peru, Mario Vargas Llosa’s “El Pez en el água”; on Brazil, Roberto Campos’ “A lanterna na popa” and Joaquim Nabuco’s “Minha formação”.

Llosas is self-explanatory. A word on the Brazilians: both were ambassadors to the US. Nabuco, the first one ever; Campos, as a representative of Brazil’s last democratically elected government before the 1964 military coup d’état (whose regime he came to serve later, as its first [highly pro-market] finance minister and, later, as ambassador to the UK). Nabuco was Brazil’s major abolitionist figure and a nineteenth century man of letters. Campos was arguably the most important economist in Brazilian history: he started out as a diplomat, studied under Schumpeter, was present at Bretton Woods and moved from the left to the right in a public career spanning over four decades.

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15 londenio February 1, 2018 at 5:07 am

For Argentina (an Latin American Populism in general) “La Novela de Perón” , by the Tomás Eloy Martinez.

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16 Todd February 1, 2018 at 8:11 am

Alejo Carpentier: just about anything, but maybe mostly “Music of Cuba” and “Reasons of State”.

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17 WB February 1, 2018 at 9:11 am

LATIN AMERICA
Alama Guillermoprieto, The Heart That Bleeds

MEXICO
Oscar Lewis, The Children of Sanchez
Enrique Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power

PERU
Mario Vargas Llosa, A Fish in the Water

COLOMBIA
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, News of a Kidnapping

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18 Aaron Jordan February 1, 2018 at 10:20 am

It’s always a good bet that there will be more scholarship on countries that have more fraught relations with the United States. Populations size and ethnic diversity are secondary factors. For instance, I’ve lived in the three Northern Triangle countries and Guatemala is the most covered by far, then El Salvador, and then Honduras.

For Guatemala, the definitive book about the 1944-1954 revolution is Piero Gleijeses’ masterpiece Shattered Hope. Daniel Wilkinson’s Silence on the Mountain is also quite good and covers a more modern period. John Wertheimer’s journal article Gloria’s Story is the best piece of scholarship on the everyday lives of Guatemalans.

Joan Didion didn’t spend much time in El Salvador but I would still probably pick her book as the best on the country. The country is still cleaved by the Civil War so I don’t think the 1980s time period makes it less valuable.

Honduras offers the slimmest pickings. Enrique’s Journey is probably the finest book about Honduras. The fact that it is about the titular character leaving the country is telling in a multitude of ways. It also does an excellent job of placing one everyday individual’s tale into the country’s macro trends.

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19 Jevon Jaconi February 1, 2018 at 1:34 pm

Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot by Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza

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20 King Cynic February 1, 2018 at 7:18 pm

This may be relevant to the title:

https://imgflip.com/i/23slt8

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21 E.P. February 1, 2018 at 9:33 pm

For a Latin America of the far future – I have read it, and remember liking much of it, but do not remember why – Gene Wolfe’s tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun, although his Latin American cities seem an awful lot like the parts of American college towns where you can buy alpaca wool inexpensively from people who clearly do not need to make a profit at their stores, and where there are several restaurants offering vegetarian meals that are astonishingly similar in taste to each other despite the implied claim that those meals were made from random choices – stochastically chosen, one might say – among thousands of different Central and South American plants.

(For the record, I do remember that G.W. seemed, on that first reading, much better at characterization than at world-building. Quien sabe, maybe I was right, maybe I was wrong).

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22 Chris February 2, 2018 at 5:58 am

Any stochastic recommendations for Chile?

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23 Lotta Moberg February 2, 2018 at 9:00 am

The best book on the economic history of Argentina is “The Sorrows of Carmencita” by Mauricio Rojas.

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24 Sr Roberto February 4, 2018 at 12:33 pm

I’m currently reading “…Biography of power” and can’t understand why people seem to have a problem reading it. It is fluid and flexible in nature, but so is life. I enjoy the fact it is not textbook as some “historical”text try to be. But it’s also not a fictional account “based” on fact. It does offer lots of situations that tie into other situations that tie into other situations and so yes, you have to keep up. But, that’s like reading a scientific paper where you have to read and reread and reread parts until you get them. This book tends to be more like that in places. Maybe the fact I’m a biologist and read science articles nearly daily, Makes me more adept at reading more complex prose? It’s also not meant to be a perusal type book where you scan it and get the take home message. So, if this reviewer and others that have stated similar problems, that they can’t seem to get through the book, maybe they should stick with comic books where the pictures are more important than words. For me “Biogrphy…” is n awesome treatise on Mexican history and some of the popular figures that formed the nation.

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