Brian Hamnett, a historian with a long and distinguished career working on late colonial and independence-era Spanish America, has written an important new book that reassesses the breakdown of the Iberian empires in the Americas. This is a topic that has attracted a great deal of scholarly interest over generations, whether one thinks of works on creole patriotism, the legal and intellectual history of constitutionalism and republicanism, or the histories of the insurgencies themselves, including their popular elements. In this crowded field Hamnett takes a slightly different approach, focusing on what he refers to as the “disaggregation” of the empires, rather than, say, the origins of the independence movements or the development of protonational sentiment. While one might question the decision to separate these often overlapping processes, his perspective, which is a glance backward more than forward, places the long-term, structural problems...

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