Fire and Blood

Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico
 © 1973 T.R. Fehrenbach
675 pages

Fire and Blood is an epic history of Mexico, one that begins at the dawn of time and takes its time moving on.  Case in point: the 20th century is addressed in the last 10% of the book.   If nothing else, Fehrenbach should be lauded for a historical survey that focuses more on the past rather than the recently-expired present.  Fire and Blood is dauntingly comprehensive, taking no shortcuts; not only are the cultures of the Aztecs and Maya plumbed, but when the 16th century arrives Fehrenbach pauses to render a history of the Spanish empire, and readers are continually fed with changes on its evolution as they affect Mexico.  The arrival of the Spanish is a pivotal moment,  as they destroyed the old tribal order — and imperial order, while easy to declare, was  harder to realize.  A dominant theme within the book is a search for Mexican identity, and it begins with the Spanish disruption.  Spanish authorities organized their new domain into a multitude of racial castes, with varying privileges and duties depending on whether one was a Spaniard born in Spain, a Spaniard born on the peninsula, or racially mixed in some way. Over time, and especially after the Spanish empire collapsed of its own corruption with Napoleonic assistance,  the mixed Spanish-and-Native population was dominant,  but even so Mexico still writhed trying to create social, economic, and political order for itself. Some wanted a republic, some a monarchy; some wanted to destroy the Church utterly, some to embrace it.  Struggles over land a la the brothers Gracchai also drove politics.  All this turmoil tended to produce autocratic leaders, not principled democrats,  and even once democracy had established itself one political party held sway.

Prose-wise, Fire and Blood is approachable history; the history itself, however, as the title indicates, is harsh, unforgiving, and often violent.  It took me several weeks to finish, with frequent breaks,  because the constant strife seemed relentless.  The content an style make this a valuable resource for those interested in learning about the roots of Mexican culture, however.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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6 Responses to Fire and Blood

  1. Mudpuddle says:

    i lived in Mexico for a while, and i noted a definite divide between the Tarahumara indians, the mestizos, and the latin american residents… and i remember the Gracchi from Gibbon… i should read this book… interesting, tx…

  2. Stephen says:

    It was a recommendation from R.T. after I read another book on Mexico last year, as I remember. Were you working in Mexico at the time of your visit? I imagine there's enough there to keep geologists busy.

  3. Mudpuddle says:

    actually i was a clarinettist in la sinfonica de la noroeste, based in Chihuahua, altho we toured around quite a bit… you're right, tho, the geology there is unusual; not too far south east of there, if i remember right, is where they recently discovered that underground cave with gigantic selenite crystals…

  4. R. T. Davis says:

    Thanks for your superb review. I should read the book and learn about one source of our hoards of border crossers. I guess I should also learn Spanish. Hmmm.

  5. R. T. Davis says:

    Correction …. I must read it again. It’s been awhile, and I’ve forgotten almost everything.

  6. Stephen says:

    Thank you for the initial rec. I personally enjoy trying to understand other languages, though I still play it safe by sticking with Latin alphabet-based languages..

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