A History of Latin America. George Pendle. Pelican Books, 4s.
Latin American Politics in Perspective. Martin C. Needier, D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 12s.
These two books are intenced to serve as introductions to the vast and too little known areas of Latin America. One might as well start by saying that neither of the two volumes fulfil our expectations, though for different reasons.
George Pendle’s A History of Latin America is outweighed by the scope of its subject: it is impossible to give a picture of Latin America—or even of the Spanishspeaking or Portuguese-speaking regions separately—in such a brief space and in the terms the author chooses to employ. In large part the book consists of generalities that are either highly questionable (e.g. Pendle claims that José Enrique Rodó’s Ariel ‘. . . is the most influential book ever written by a Latin American author.’ p. 180) or otherwise factually misleading (e.g. ‘even on the Atlantic side of South America there are no extensive coastal plains.’ p. 13, surely the coastal plain of Buenos Aires province with its sea-side resorts is extensive enough.) Perhaps even more damaging is Pendle’s use, in a manner that suggests precision, of spurious suprahistorical categories which can only feed Anglo-American confusions about some universal but typical Latin-American political scene. For example such various figures as Juan Vicente Gómez, Juan Domingo Perón, and Getulio Vargas cannot be definitively referred to as simply ‘caudillos’ as Pendle appears to believe. It is also of some significance that Pendle underplays the importance of British Imperialism in the making of modern Latin America: until the second World War British investments were as large and as profitable in Latin America as those of the United States, indeed for a long period they were much larger. The more remote aspects of British influence are mentioned (e.g. a reference to the activities of bankers in 19th century Argentina, p. 112) but his account of the Roca-Runcman Treaty of the thirties shows clearly on which side he places himself in such matters.
Martin Needler’s Latin American Politics in Perspective tries to confine itself to a single field of inquiry, that of politics, and to stress ‘the regularities of informal political life rather than . . . the provision a of formal institutions of government or . . . the general cultural factors that relate to politics.’ p. 3. Needler avoids Pendle’s impressionistic approach to his material but his contration on ‘regularities’ blurs the very important distinctions to be made between the republics; to evoke only one significant variable Venezuela is as rich as West Germany, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world.