Between 1850 and the Great Depression, much of Latin America experienced a degree of economic and social change unparalleled since the sixteenth century. New investments, new forms of communication, and new exports brought greater integration into the world economy. As a result, markets increasingly displaced custom and religion as social and economic arbiters, divisions between the public and private became more defined, and commodity relations penetrated work and exchange. Second Conquest surveys the production histories of three of the exports closely associated with these changes: coffee, “typical of the food crops that dominated the first part of the export boom”; henequen, “the sort of agricultural product with industrial applications that became increasingly important toward the end of the nineteenth century”; and oil, “the engine of the third Industrial Revolution” (p. 270) during the twentieth century. These histories make it clear, the authors argue, that the late-nineteenth-century export revolution was not simply a “conquest” of foreign capital backed by gunboats, but involved instead negotiated, and constantly renegotiated, arrangements among overseas investors, national elites, and local peasants and workers, negotiations conditioned both by the particular local situation and by the specific historical moment.

Each commodity had its own “career” (p. 4). Coffee, Steve Topik shows, was widely diffused in Latin America and exhibited a broad range of relations of production, from large plantations and slave labor to small family farms and free wage workers. In the case of henequen, by contrast, the Yucatán peninsula was almost the sole commercial producer in Latin America. For this reason, Allen Wells chooses to compare it with Philippine manila, henequen’s closest competitor in “fickle” (p. 88) world markets. Finally, enormous capitalization requirements and high levels of foreign participation, as well as its centrality to all industrialization after 1900, put oil in a class by itself. Contradicting, perhaps, received wisdom, Jonathan Brown and Steve Linder find that petroleum multinationals resisted extending crude oil drilling to Latin America until forced to do so by local competition. And when they did they quickly found themselves embroiled in production and political problems entirely foreign to the experience of coffee and henequen producers.

In her essay, “An Alternate Approach,” Mira Wilkins looks at the 1850-1930 period from the perspective of international business history but reaches much the same conclusions as do the other authors: that market forces more than liberal ideology or state intervention guided the export revolution. In the process, she offers one of the book’s more starding understatements, suggesting that “the sharing of rewards in Latin America during the period in question more often than not was altered sharply by government policy” (p. 206), and her conclusion that “multinational enterprises . . . neither aid nor retard a host nation’s economic growth and development” (p. 206) should spark classroom discussion.

The last chapter of Second Conquest compares coffee, henequen, and oil by grouping discussion around topics such as “Foreign Control of Production,” “Developmental Consequences,” and “Exports and State Building.” An epilogue briefly traces the main trends past 1930. With an eye on the 1990s, the book concludes by warning that while nineteenth-century economic liberalism generated previously unimagined wealth, it also concentrated this wealth in only a few hands, hands determined less by the market than by preexisting class and social advantage, and thereby aggravated social and political tensions.

Second Conquest is well written, thoroughly documented, and attractively put together. And the authors are all recognized and widely published experts in their respective fields. It offers at once a useful general introduction to Latin America’s late-nineteenth-century export boom and a starting point for a more detailed study of any of the specific commodities treated. It is highly recommended for advanced undergraduates and graduate students or, indeed, for any novice to the field.