While Lázaro Cárdenas is without doubt Mexico’s most humane and most heralded twentieth-century president, the sources of his grandeur remain largely hidden. Historical documents of the period, include his own diaries, simply do not evoke well the man. Nor do they capture the sort of overarching transformation he sought to create in Mexico, a transformation that was deeply cultural.

Ben Fallaw’s Cárdenas Compromised traces Cárdenas’s efforts to remake the state of Yucatán during his 1934– 40 presidency. Deeply political, the book reveals a great deal about political machinations in Yucatán. More than that, Fallaw’s monograph demonstrates much about the basic day-to-day workings of politics in this complex state. It is also true that, despite Fallaw’s claims, this is not a book that understands politics culturally, nor culture politically. The thinking of the new state formation paradigm is largely absent from this book.

Instead, Cárdenas Compromised creates a rich, if partial,...

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