In this book, Terry Rugeley's fourth on southeastern Mexico in the nineteenth century, soggy Tabasco plays the starring role. Rugeley casts it as a “spoiler of empires,” lumping it together with Afghanistan and Vietnam as places that successfully defied great powers. The powers defied by Tabasco were not so great as those repelled by Afghanistan and Vietnam: Agustín de Iturbide's fledgling monarchy, a centralizing Mexico, the US navy of the 1840s, and Mexican allies of the French expedition in the 1860s.

Rugeley credits Tabasco's success in these contests mainly to circumstance. He lists five factors that help spoilers of empires: a forbidding geography (in Tabasco's case, swamps); a peripheral location; a lack of resources, which reduces the effort that great powers will invest in conquest; a lack of governing institutions, which prevents a place from being conquered by crushing a single foe;...

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