This superb volume deserves a place on the short list of books on colonial Latin America that one can give undergraduates, graduate students, professional scholars, and nonacademic friends and expect each to derive both pleasure and profit from it. That list includes Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517–1570 by Inga Clendinnen (1987), Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World by Greg Grandin (2014), All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World by Stuart Schwartz (2008), and Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages by William Taylor (1979), and perhaps a few others.

Martin Nesvig's approach is to tell a large story by braiding together a variety of small ones, each based on deep, meticulous research. The book's overarching claim is that Spain's hold over its colonies was tenuous, particularly in...

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