Paul Garner, Cowdray Professor of Spanish at the University of Leeds, has written a rich and much overdue business biography of Weetman Pearson, the British engineer and oil magnate who became Lord Cowdray in 1910 and viscount in 1917. Although his career involved engineering projects worldwide, Pearson’s work and fortune is linked to Mexico. In recognition of that fact, Pearson endowed a professorship at Leeds for the study of Spanish. It is befitting, then, that Garner decided to examine Pearson’s career in light of a historiography that treats him as the embodiment of Britain’s “informal” empire in Mexico (p. 21). Garner concludes that the historiography, nationalist and with a structuralist bent, misses the trees by focusing on the forest. He argues instead that Pearson was an agent of Mexican development, in its late nineteenth-century Liberal version.

Garner gives plenty of credit and historical...

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