While the sun has long set on the British Empire, the same cannot be said about Her Majesty’s diplomatic corps. This fact is quite evident in the person of Sir Robert Marett, former ambassador to Peru during the government of Fernando Belaúnde and longtime resident in Latin America. Joining the distinguished British historian H. S. Ferns, who has contributed the only other Latin American volume (Argentina) to this series, Sir Robert has written a very competent and eminently readable synthesis of Peruvian history from pre-Columbian days to the present military regime of General Juan Velasco. Although not aimed at the specialist, who will glean few new insights into Peru’s past, the book admirably succeeds in its main task of presenting to the student and layman the principal trends, if not subtle nuances, in Peru’s evolution from colony to incipient nation state. In so doing the author exhibits a highly sophisticated knowledge of Peruvian society and history, characteristics all too often sadly lacking among his North American diplomatic colleagues.

But although Sir Robert demonstrates a solid and sure grasp of the main contours of Peru’s past, his diplomatic background and training in some ways tend to detract from his newly assumed role as historian. Again and again one sees the unmistakable hand of the foreign envoy, as Sir Robert refuses to render critical evaluations of major historical figures, political groups, or for that matter any other aspects of society. Peruvian history for Sir Robert becomes something of a Greek tragedy, in that the forces of destiny rather than the actions of men seem to have forged the country’s turbulent and unstable past. Important figures like Ramón Castilla, Manuel Pardo, Nicolás de Piérola, Augusto Leguía, Oscar Benavides, and Manuel Prado, to name a few, emerge from these pages as more or less capable, well-meaning and competent men with few if any failings. One is left with the impression that if such men were unsuccessful in constructing a viable nation state, then Peru’s chances of accomplishing such a feat in the future are doomed to failure.

When the diplomat-turned-historian comes to assess personally some of the prominent political figures whom he has known and observed during his eight years in Peru, the reader is frankly disappointed. Again Marett eschews the critical character dissections one hopes for in his discussions of such men as Manuel Odría, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, and other important politicians of the day. He does a bit better in revealing the building fervor (or, if you wish, obsession) of the architect-president, Belaúnde. “Distinguished foreign visitors to the palace . . .,” he writes, “were likely to be taken personally by the President to the state banqueting hall and shown a collection of models and plans of housing estates, hospitals, roads, bridges, dams—in short, a panorama of the new Peru of Belaúnde’s dreams” (p. 234). But even this only confirms what by now is common knowledge about Peru’s former president.

On the other hand, some of the book’s strongest sections do deal with the Peru which Sir Robert has come to known first hand. The chapters concerning the problems of economic development, agrarian reform, urbanization, and politics are without a doubt his best—although in the last he draws heavily from the analysis of François Bourricaud. Less successful is his aseptic discussion of the Indian peasantry which would have substantially profited from his reading the incisive and empathic novels of Ciro Alegría and José María Arguedas. In sum, then, while somewhat one-dimensional in character, Peru is nevertheless a solid contribution to the historical literature on this important Andean country.