Thursday, June 18, 2009

Querétaro Literary Society

We don't usually plug books written by people who have not bought us drinks in the past or hinted they might in the future, but if you're looking for a slim, highly-readable volume about the War of Independence to help get you ready for next year's Bicentennial, we're very much enjoying The Mexican Wars for Independence by Timothy J. Henderson.

Especially eye-opening was the portrait he paints of Father Miguel Hidalgo, who's sort of considered both the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson of Mexico despite spending ten of the war's eleven years with his severed head hanging from the corner of a Spanish fort in Guanajuato. Aside from his personal dickishness - he had a fondness for summary executions and saw raping and pillaging as a legitimate way to maintain troop morale - Henderson suggests that Hidalgo's Rumsfeldian collection of tactical, strategical and political blunders made the revolution a lot longer and bloodier than it ever needed to be.

And the fact that the independence plotters disguised themselves as a book club will give your own book club something to think about between sipping white wine and gossiping about the members who didn't show up this month.

Also new on our bookshelf - or, more accurately, on the counter in the bathroom where all the best reading material is kept - is Mexico: In Statistics, which is exactly what the title implies. A reference-geek's dream! And given the lack of good statistical data in this country, it's valuable as well. (That's not entirely accurate - the Mexican bureaucracy is meticulous to a fault about collecting data, just not so good about aggregating and disseminating it.) It's not quite a good as our favorite book of all time, the Statistical Abstract of the United States ("Percentage of Americans age 75 and older who visited amusement parks in 2002: 9.6"), but that's a lot of ask of such a young country.


Anonymous said...

Sergio Aguayo, the editor of Mexico: In Statistics is a respected researcher, one of the founders of La Jornada and holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. While the book could be seen as nerdy it does present a good selection of the many statistics made in Mexico. Many of these statistics can also be found at the INEGI website.
INEGI does a quite good job with the national censuses (I have been counted in both the 1990 and the 2000 censuses) plus making a host of other surveys. Perhaps you should keep back on the Duff beers next door and and dig a bit deeper before jumping to conclusions.

Burro Hall said...

I'm quite familiar with Sergio Aguayo, thanks, and am pretty sure that I was paying his book a compliment. I'm not sure what conclusions you're accusing me of jumping to, other than that good statistical information is hard to find (your having been counted in two censuses notwithstanding), which is what makes Aguayo's book so valuable.

And don't carp on my drinking. I got enough people doing that.

MexFiles said...

You may well think, but I would never say that since statistical analysis as as a policy-making tool was invented by a Mexican (Fray Bartolome de las Casas); that statistical data has been collected (and used) in policy decision making since the 1500s; that such statistical data has always been available; that Sergio Aguayo's well-publicized campaign to make such data more accessible to ordinary citizens (and researchers) led to a more comprehensive "open records law" than that in the United States might in some way suggest that I have an inkling that Burro Hall is buying into the "gringo-centric" belief in the unreliability and unavailability of Mexican statistical data.

I would, however, question the historical interpretations of Timothy J. Henderson. Henderson's book seems to assume the Mexican War of Independence was purely a political movement, and not a class war. Interpreting Hidalgo as a "Mexican Thomas Jefferson" suggests Independence was solely a political movement and "should" in some ways have followed the U.S. example (which liberated the "haves", and not the have-nots: slaves and Indians for starters).

Enjoy Henderson, but take him no more seriously than Marxists who claim the 1910-20 Revolution "failed" because it didn't follow their formulae.

Burro Hall said...

Weirdly, being a gringo has given me a somewhat gringo-centric view of the world. Call it identity politics. Anyway, my (obviously poorly articulated) point was that this clueless gringo has been unable to find good statistical data, and now it's here in a bathroom-sized volume. If I've in any way offended the magnificent Mexican bureaucracy, let me hasten to apologize, because god my relationship with it is tenuous enough as it is.

Henderson, meanwhile, does acknowledge the class war, pointing out one of the bigger problems with the independence movement - that there several different classes, and their interests did not line up neatly into "us versus them," making for a coalition that didn't exactly have "winner" written all over it.

[Burro Hall readers are again urged to buy Richard's book, by the way. Do we have to keep reminding you people?]