This monograph, a product of the kind of thorough research we have come to expect from Chilean economic historians, gives a detailed and useful account of the colonial economy of Tarapacá, a district located on the northern fringes of the Atacama Desert, that originally fell within the southern coastal region of Peru, but was subsequently incorporated into Chile after the War of the Pacific. The south was the driest part of the Peruvian coast, and most of its population lived in narrow irrigated valleys and quebradas that ran down the western slopes of the Andes rather than on broad alluvial plains close to the shore, as was the case farther north. The main sources of wealth and income in the region were mining and viticulture, and with a large number of relatively small landholdings, the often tiny valleys seem to have supported as large a Spanish population in proportion to their cultivated area as any part of Peru.
The book provides an excellent account of the varied geographical characteristics of the region of Tarapacá, which extended from the high punas down the western Andean slopes and across the arid Pampa de Tamarugal (the site of several experimental irrigation projects in the eighteenth century) to the coastal range and shores of the Pacific, where Iquique was and still is the principal port. It recounts the history of the early encomienda of Tarapacá and its possessors, providing information on their economic activities (those of one encomendero, Jerónimo de Villegas, were previously examined by Lockhart in his Spanish Peru), and on Indian population and tribute payments. The most detailed and interesting parts of the book deal with mining and agriculture, especially wine production, during the eighteenth century, providing a wealth of data on ownership, irrigation, technology and production techniques, and labor arrangements garnered from local notarial and judicial records now found in Santiago.
The book is stronger on the eighteenth than on earlier centuries, and it is more concerned with describing a static situation than examining changes over time. It does not attempt to deal in much depth with the social implications of economic patterns, beyond outlining the kind of general structure of exploitation by those who monopolized wealth and power that has usually been assumed. Since there seem to have been a considerable number of relatively poor Spaniards living in the area, supporting themselves both from mining and agriculture, one would have liked to find out more about their activities, though such data are admittedly hard to come by. Villalobos was not writing a social history, however, and as economic history, his book is a major contribution to our knowledge of colonial Peru.