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 Essay Review    


The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics
Edited by Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy J. Henderson
Duke University Press, 2003
Paperback, $24.95 (808 pages)
ISBN: 0-8223-3042-3



Since its arrival several months ago I have pored over The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics. It is an exciting, comprehensive, truly superior collection of Mexican literature.

Auburn University at Montgomery professor Timothy J. Henderson and Yale University professor Gilbert M. Joseph have put together a massive eclectic mountain of marvelous material beginning with “The Mexican Character,” a splendid profile written by Joel Poinsett, who was U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in the 19th Century.

Included here is arguably Mexico’s finest writer, Octavio Paz, whose essay “The Sons of La Malinche” delves into the deep blending of the various Indian cultures and the history that brought them together to form the complex and unique Mexican world.

Because my wife Sally and I once met the great Mexican comedian and movie actor, Cantinflas, at his small posada on a hillside overlooking San Miguel de Allende, I particularly enjoyed Roger Bartra’s “Does It Mean Anything to be Mexican?” in which he likens Cantinflas and Charlie Chaplin. And the writer is careful to point out the differences, the subtle use of dress and demeanor, “the elusive language that allows him to slip out of any predicament.”

From the arrival of the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes in 1519 who marched his troops inland to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, where he defeated Montezuma’s forces, to the mean streets of Mexico City in the waning days of the 20th Century when it became the largest city in the world, The Mexico Reader carries the aficionado of that culture through nearly 500 years of fascinating fabric of society.

In its final pages the book explores the border between the U.S. and Mexico and how it developed from a frontier over which 20th Century revolutionary Pancho Villa led his men to attack an army fort in Columbia, New Mexico, to the drug smuggling and the politics of opposing the revolutionary party that had ruled Mexico since the time of Villa.

The changing values from the first revolution in 1810, when Father Miguel Hidalgo led a small uprising against Spanish rule, a revolution that was won 11 years later, through the time of Maxmillan and Juarez, through the long reign of Porfirio Diaz, through the rebellion of Villa and Zapata, and the emergence of a democratic government, all fill the pages of The Mexico Reader.

In all of my reading about Mexico -- and I have read extensively the old and the new -- I have never experienced a better and more thorough collection of works about this mysterious and marvelous country.


Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews

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