The title of this delightfully written and informative volume is misleading. This reviewer anticipated a contribution to institutional, economic, political, or sociological history. What he found was none of these, but twenty-six essays presenting a panoramic view of how the Argentine estancia evolved from its primitive state in the sixteenth century to the highly sophisticated economic enterprise known today. The author begins with the simple cattle and horse raising activities of Hernando Arias de Saavedra, the Jesuits, and the nuns on the frontier, and she ends with a description of the various types of modern estancias. The latter require highly skilled operators, considerable capital, and even computers. Singly or as part of an integrated group, estancias nowadays specialize in dairy farming or in raising pure bred cattle, horses, or sheep for national and international markets. Many also raise wheat for export.

Some essays stress the economic functions of the estancia, others the past owners of the estancias and the history of the areas in which they are located. The distinctive characteristics and functions of estancias in every geographical region of Argentina are vividly described. At the same time, the effects produced by the railroad, by barbed wire, and by the introduction of the Shorthorn, Hereford, and Corriedale breeds are not overlooked. The impression left with the reader is that foreign estancieros, especially French, Portuguese, English, and Irish, were primarily responsible for the transformation of the estancia. These enterprising men had to contend with initial failures, Indians, bandits, and soldiers, but they were seldom discouraged. In still other ways they contributed to the economic and cultural development of modern Argentina. They were real estate developers, colonizers, and authors of important literary works. They introduced polo in 1875, and they organized the Jockey Club, the Sociedad Rural de Argentina, and the Hurlingham Club.

The author relies for her data on important biographies, direct observation, and conversations with the present managers of the estancias. Her estancieros have more substance than her estancias, but the importance of both is made forcefully clear.