Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story

S. & S. Aug. 2019. 320p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781501104244. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781501105029. HIST
Blood, treasure, and faith define Latin America, according to this detailed, elegant, lightweight history by Arana (Bolivar), a former book review editor at the Washington Post. To illustrate, Arana follows three people—a Peruvian peasant, a Cuban refugee-turned-criminal, and a Catholic priest—who embody these themes. She also uses the nitty-gritty details of history to make her points. After destroying the ruthless Aztec and Incan empires, Spanish conquerors forced their indigenous subjects to mine gold and silver under horrendous conditions, creating an extractive and exploitative economy still typical in Latin America. Propensity for violence and strong Roman Catholic beliefs, along with indigenous and syncretic religions, similarly have shaped Latin America from the start. Conquests, revolutions, “wars to the death,” tyrannies, and cartels have forged Latin America, while just as characteristic are its churches, missionaries, and social conservatism. Arana suggests Latin American bloodshed and tyranny to be inevitable. “It’s just our nature,” she laments, hammering home a stereotype of Latin America as uncivilized and intractably so.
VERDICT This polished narrative with a rigid thematic structure lacks space for deeper nuance and context. Readers seeking a general history of Latin American should opt for Chasteen’s Born in Blood and Fire.

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