Latin Americanists can easily boast of the fine shape of their health historiography. José Amador's new book takes up the well-worn mantra about Western medicine's status as a herald of positive change. More specifically, Amador focuses on the period after 1898, to match the onset of US imperial expansion over the Americas and, especially, over Brazil, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. In so doing, Amador attempts to explain how medical elites in the region understood the link between health improvements and the end of local backwardness, and he concludes that, to them, modernity meant “first and foremost the triumph over disease” (p. 2).

Such assertion by health experts of the paramount importance of medicine is self-serving and not surprising at the time. But given that national elites in this story also proposed things like European immigration and improved agriculture as civilizing forces (p....

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