Cattle in the Backlands is one of the most thoroughly researched histories of cattle ranching in Latin America written to date. Robert Wilcox uses a case study of the seemingly marginal state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, to make a bold argument: that ranchers in Mato Grosso from roughly 1870 to 1950 “established many of the technical and economic inputs that have been duplicated in most other tropical cattle sectors of the Americas” (p. 3). While this argument is compelling—if not conclusively proven, as Wilcox admits—the book's major contribution lies not in this broader claim but in its fine-grained analysis of how geographical, ecological, and economic realities in the region dictated the possibilities of ranchers and shaped long-term processes of human settlement, land tenure, and the introduction of new technologies and cattle breeds. Wilcox argues that the slow and uneven evolution of ranching...

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