When they first heard English professors talking about “culture” — a concept that they thought they had invented — anthropologists felt peculiar. Some even said, “How dare they!” My response? I said, “If they do ‘culture,’ I’ll do creative writing.” I did, and now I have a drawer full of rejects. So much for that. But then I happened upon John Brenkman’s Culture and Domination (Cornell Univ. Press, 1987) and began to understand that in “Culture Studies,” culture may conceal power, or it may expose it. So I use this review of Modern Latin American Culture as an opportunity to see how that happens in Latin America, my principal area of concern since 1962.

“Modern” in the title applies to the countries south of the Rio Grand once they gained independence from Spain and Portugal. On the other hand, “Latin American” begins in...

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