Book Review: Enrique Krauze’s “Mexico: Biography of Power”

Book Review: Enrique Krauze’s “Mexico: Biography of Power”

A great place to start studying Mexico

Mexico has been my home for a number of years now and I am interested in knowing more about this great country. I grew up in California visiting the Spanish missions up and down the coast. The shared history fascinates me. Since I have been living in Mexico I want to know about more of the post-colonial history. Enrique Krauze’s book “Mexico: Biography of Power” is an excellent summary of almost 200 years of history. I want to know who all those streets are named after and what those people did. And since I am starting the naturalization process I figured this would be a good book to read as I study for the citizenship exam.

Enrique Krauze The Historian

The name Enrique Krauze comes up a lot in the mainstream media. He has been writing for a very long time and elicits strong feelings. People love him and others hate him. I was told that he writes the official government record and I read that he is a harsh government critic. By today’s standards I think he is somewhere in the middle. In the 1970’s even mild criticism was radical.

As I was looking for books on Amazon the name Krauze really stood out. As I skimmed his biography I figured this would be a good place to start. I was originally looking for books in Spanish written for a Mexican audience. While I can read in Spanish, complex texts are a lot more work. Realizing that ‘Mexico: Biografía de Poder’ had been translated into English made the decision a lot easier.

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. Not just the act of reading the book but discussing it with just about everyone around me. You couldn’t shut me up while I was in the process of reading it. I had questions for just about everyone I had contact with and couldn’t wait for family gatherings to see what my in-laws thought about different people and topics.

I was able to pry conversation out of a rock. People who couldn’t care less about politics had an opinion about something: history, architecture, religion or a figure from their home state. Mexico has a history of oral tradition. Listening to people tell stories about the characters in this book made the experience richer.

A Very Long Summary

Biography of Power is a long book. I have not finished a lot of books of this length. That being said, it is very brief summary of a very long period of time. It moves very quickly, and for the most part, really hold your attention. I have found myself deep in Wikipedia looking for more detailed stories running tangent to the characters in Krauze’s book.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of Mexico than Biography of Power is a great place to start. As the title suggests, the book is about the people who have led this country in one form or another. One of Krauze’s thesis’s statements is that rather than ideals, movements followed leaders. To really understand what was going on in a given period of time you need to understand the people, flaws and all, that were making the decisions at the time.

Biography Of Power gives a lot of context

One of the most important benefits of reading this book is having a context for future reading. Battles in the Desert by Jose Emilio Pacheco takes place during the administration of Miguel de la Madrid. Understanding the explosive economic growth and crony capitalism of that era helped me better understand the storyline of a work of fiction. I also understand why Guadalajara has this fascination with Miguel Hidalgo when most of his story took place in the state of Guanajuato.

Biography of Power has become something of a reference for me. Krauze references four churches as the best examples of Mexican baroque architecture (Mexico City, Querétaro, Taxco and Tepotzotlén). I have seen CDMX and Taxco, and I am dying to see Querétaro and Tepotzotlén to make up my own mind.

A while back I was in Chimalistac and heard about the hand of Álvaro Obregón. The first place I turned to was my Krauze book. Krauze set the stage as I looked for further details about the monument to Alvaro Obregón and the macabre story of the amputated hand.

Conclusion

I have read, reread and continue to read chapters from this book for curiosity sake. If you are curious about the names you see on street signs and monuments you should consider picking up a copy. Even if you only read selected chapters it will satisfy a lot of curiosity. For those of us who moved here after high school it is nice to be able to reference shared culture.

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