Perhaps the highest accolade a book can receive is that it renders intelligible things that had not made sense previously. José Rilla has written such a book, decoding a number of mysteries of Uruguayan history, politics, and historiography. In part this achievement owes to Rilla’s thesis that history, politics, and historiography are inseparable, that writing history in Uruguay is always a partisan act, and that Uruguayan politicians have forever been obsessed with creating historical narratives, myths, and traditions in which to insert themselves. While none of these insights is entirely original (indeed, Rilla spends 60 pages tracing methodological antecedents in the recent historiographies of France, Italy, Zapatista Mexico, and post-Communist Rumania, among other places), it is his balanced and profound command of Uruguayan political history that makes Rilla such a sure-footed guide.

The book operates on two levels. At one level, Rilla examines...

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