This sweeping study of the history of violence in Latin America by historian Michael Riekenberg is both fascinating and frustrating. It is fascinating for its many insightful empirical observations and conceptual understandings gained from an extraordinarily broad utilization of social science and cultural studies theories. But over stretches it becomes frustrating precisely because of at times far-fetched, circuitous, abstract theoretical discussions. As announced in the subtitle, the book wants to offer a global interpretation of Latin American history via its regimes of violence.

Riekenberg's main thesis is that before the modern age—which he sees as dawning at the nineteenth century's very end—Latin America experienced violence mostly by nonstate agents. The state was merely one among many agents of violence and acted like the nonstate actors. Before the twentieth century, Latin America did not have states strong enough to impose their violence on...

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