This fascinating and elegant study of transformations in attitudes about race, popular culture, and national identity in Brazil suffers from a misleading title. It is not a book about samba, and to the degree that it is a mystery story it is unsatisfying, for it fails to offer a convincing explanation of the mystery to which the title refers (how samba evolved from a marginal genre of a few predominantly black neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro into the most prominent symbol of Brazilianness). What it does offer is a lucid and concise explanation of the sudden intellectual embrace, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, of miscegenation as the wellspring of a unique Brazilian cultural vitality.

This embrace depended on, first, the inversion of a century of gloomy racist lamentation over the pernicious effects of African influence on the Brazilian body politic; and second, the nimble intellectual deployment of hybridity...

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