Puerto Rico: A National History

Princeton Univ. Apr. 2024. 296p. ISBN 9780691231273. $29.95. HIST
Meléndez-Badillo (Latin American and Caribbean history, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison; The Lettered Barriada) explores the history of his native Puerto Rico in a thorough, accessible exposition. Beginning with the archipelago’s Indigenous Taíno people, back when Puerto Rico was called Borikén, the book traces a history of imperialism as the land was colonized by the Spanish and then by the United States. Puerto Rico’s roughly two centuries under Spain’s rule saw efforts at revolution, as elsewhere in Latin America. Like other colonial situations, foreign powers stripped natural resources from the land, impoverishing the Indigenous population. The archipelago was susceptible to hurricanes, and Meléndez-Badillo illustrates how its infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate in modern times, which led to devastation during 2017’s Hurricane Maria. Writing with controlled but apparent anger, Meléndez-Badillo explains how Puerto Ricans have been denied the agency to address their deficient economy, which has fomented the populist demonstrations of today. He questions whether Puerto Rico should become a U.S. state or an independent nation, as the current situation is unsustainable.
VERDICT Meléndez-Badillo does a good job of explaining Puerto Rico’s complicated history. An essential addition to most libraries, for general readers of all types.
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