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Central America history book-filter
April 17, 2012 8:46 AM   Subscribe

If I could read just one history of Central America, what would it be?

I'm thinking about traveling in (the safe parts of) Central America, and I'd like to read up on the histories of the various countries. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of time for casual reading, so if possible I'd like to begin with one of those magisterial histories of the whole region that addresses many elements (politics, war, culture)--something comparable to Judt's Postwar.

I'm not picky about the exact scope, but I'm more interested in the recent past (say, the last 100 years) than earlier than that. I should also say that while my strong preference would be something that covered more than one country, if there is an incredible history of Nicaragua, for example, I might be interested in that.

Does something like this exist?
posted by Beardman to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Depending on how depressing a book your looking for, Open Veins of Latin America is an excellent read. Lots of great history, unfortunately most of the history of Latin America is white people killing and raping everyone.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 9:29 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eduardo Galeano also wrote a three part series about Latin America called the Memory of Fire trilogy. Broader historical context, almost poetic in language and well worth the read.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 9:40 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding Galleano's Memory of Fire; if you want to concentrate on the last 100 years, go for the third book, Century Of The Wind.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:54 AM on April 17, 2012


Should probably add, though, about the Memory of Fire series: it is VERY broad in topic. Galleano includes cultural, sport, and social history as well as political, geographical, and the like; and he tackles North, Central and South America. He also tells it as a series of two or three-paragraph vignettes -- a vignette about Eva Peron getting ready to go make a speech then jumps to Glen Miller and then to a street scene in Mexico, say. It will be very unlike any "history" you've ever read; mind you, that's exactly why I recommended it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:58 AM on April 17, 2012


Open Veins of Latin America is an excellent read

It's also a pretty one-sided view (and mostly South American history). There is lots of Latin American history that involves brown people killing/exploiting other brown people as well and particularly a very, very rich history of brown people killing/exploiting/oppressing browner peoples (be they Native American, African, Costeno, or some mix thereof). Honestly, for an overview the Penguin History is not terrible as an overview. The Borzoi Readers (Vols I and II) are pretty comprehensive, but may be a bit more than you were looking for.

Did you have an idea of where you want to go and what time period you want to read about?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:59 AM on April 17, 2012


There is lots of Latin American history that involves brown people killing/exploiting other brown people as well and particularly a very, very rich history of brown people killing/exploiting/oppressing browner peoples (be they Native American, African, Costeno, or some mix thereof).

Arguably, though, the aforementioned wars-between-the-shades-of-brown may not have happened without the machinations of European colonization. Which is a topic that is not addressed all that often by most mainstream histories, I've found.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on April 17, 2012


Arguably, though, the aforementioned wars-between-the-shades-of-brown may not have happened without the machinations of European colonization.

At least according to Galeano, and it's the "arguably" part that makes shoving Open Veins out as THE go-to primer on Latin American history a little squicky. There are other, more objective books, written by historians as opposed to socialist journalists, that tell about the same events without as much of the objective of pointing blame at outside white guys. Don't get me wrong, I think everybody should read his books, but after getting an overview first.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:12 AM on April 17, 2012


I'd actually chalk Galeano's perspective up to being "citizen of Uruguay as opposed to North America" rather than it being "socialist," but you make a fair point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:20 AM on April 17, 2012


I'd actually chalk Galeano's perspective up to being "citizen of Uruguay as opposed to North America" rather than it being "socialist,"

True dat, I certainly didn't mean "socialist" in any sort of snarling, Tea Party sort of way. He's definitely not coming at things from a right-of-center point of view, even for a South American though!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:23 AM on April 17, 2012


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