Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Cinco De Mayo!

In honor of Cinco De Mayo here's a book review which I posted on my other blog last year:

I have recently finished reading two books about the Mexican Revolution, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution by John Womack, Jr. and Villa: Soldier of the Mexican Revolution by Robert L. Scheina.

I enjoyed both of these books very much. However, if you are reading history for pleasure, I would recommend the Poncho Villa book over Womack's exhaustive microscopic look at the movement in the Mexican State of Morelos led by General Emiliano Zapata, whose image appears at left.

It is easier to describe what Zapata and the Mexican Revolution is not than what it is. The book is not a biography of Emiliano Zapata. It is also not a general history of the Mexican Revolution. This book is an exhaustive and detailed treatment of the Mexican Revolution in the State of Morelos, the events leading up to the Revolution, and the events following the assassination of Zapata and the end of the fighting. This is excellent history which is rich in detail. This reviewer's only criticism is that the book is so detailed that it is easy to get lost in the details.

By contrast, Villa: Soldier of the Mexican Revolution is a gold mine of information contained in a fast paced, well written narrative. Although the book is only a little over 100 pages long, after reading the book, I feel like I was riding along with Villa's army on campaign. Poncho Villa must go down in military history as one of the great captains. A master of light cavalry tactics and the lightning raid, Villa learned how to "get their first with the most," and conduct what the Germans would later call blitzkrieg. Although almost illiterate and uneducated, Villa was a natural soldier who mastered logistics. I was fascinated by Scheina's narrative, which explained the reason behind all those old photographs you see of the Mexican Revolution with all the soldiers sitting on top of railroad boxcars. Villa's soldiers rode on top of the train because their horses rode in the boxcars. Villa would transport his entire army by train near where he wanted to attack, unload the troops and horses, and let them have it.

The byzantine politics behind the Mexican Revolution are too detailed to go into here, but after reading these two books I probably know more about the politics of Mexico in the years 1910-1920 than I do about the politics of the U.S. in 2009. The story of Zapata and the small farmers of Southern Mexico is the endless struggle of the weak against the strong, the poor and disenfranchised against the rich. The Bad Catholic highly recommends both books.

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