The Penguin History of Latin America

The Penguin History of Latin America - Edwin Williamson Williamson's history of Latin America succeeds far more than one has any right to expect. He has struck the perfect balance between breadth and depth -- a daunting task considering the amount of time, geographical area, governments, and personalities he must describe. All of this could be overwhelming when dealing with only one Latin American country, let alone all of them. Certainly the book should be considered an introduction: read it to get a relatively quick and quite substantial grounding, not to learn everything there is to know about Latin America. Especially the closer you get to the present, there's just too damn much going on, and you're just going to have to bite the bullet and read a few more books to get a grasp on it (especially as this history ends at about 1990).

Finally, here are a few of my favorite things about the book:

1. Reading about people like Cortes and Coronado for the first time since about the fifth grade.

2. Realizing how vital an understanding of Latin America is for a true understanding of my own country.

3. Williamson anchors the first and second halves of the book in two fascinating chapters on the arts, especially literature -- an apt technique in attempting to tie together such a diverse history in an area of the world where poets and novelists have played such a vital role in social and political developments (up to and including becoming senators and presidents).