The population of Minas Gerais by 1770 had become the greatest concentration of people in Portuguese America. Makeshift camps of the early gold prospectors were transformed into bustling towns, resplendent with baroque churches. In many respects Minas stood in the intellectual and artistic vanguard of the colony. José Ferreira Carrato is concerned with the religious, educational, and economic configuration of Minas society during and after this golden age.

Skillful use is made of diocesan records, especially parochical visitations, to extract demographic and behavioral information and demonstrate the occupational distribution and status hierarchies of selected Minas communities. This part of the book includes a fascinating discussion of concubinage, a vital element in the process of Europeanization and miscegenation, which is of relevance to the debate on comparative slave societies, and points to important data awaiting more extensive research.

The author has probably exaggerated the religiosity of the Minas church. He forgets that much of his material comes from the church’s attempt to enforce codes of conduct. Certainly the primitive Minas clergy were a sorry coterie of rogues, and the church’s sanctions sporadic, but the evidence suggests the establishment of strong family units, notable for their stability and propriety. By carefully extending clan networks many of these families were to become the powerful Mineiro aristocracy of the nineteenth century.

The education of this emerging elite is dealt with in some detail, and Professor Ferreira Carrato provides a good account of the reforms of the Marquis of Pombal. The activities of the Mineiros who returned to the captaincy from the University of Coimbra with their doctorates in the natural and applied sciences indicate the success of Pombal’s measures. These young men with their utilitarian zeal for the welfare of the state, and their cosmopolitan culture, were very much sons of the Enlightenment.

The picture of unmitigated collapse after the exhaustion of alluvial gold needs qualification. Overall population in some of the older zones did decline, but substantial population redistribution within the captaincy took place, and while gold output fell, agriculture was developing. Mineiros were quick to exploit the growing urban market of Rio de Janeiro, and many who left the captaincy did so to employ their capital more profitably elsewhere, not because of poverty. In fact the overall concept of the culture of decadence in Minas needs more rigorous analysis, something that might well begin with some attention to the work of European historians on similar problems.

But such quibbles may be unfair. The author makes no claim to have written a definitive history. And this is an important work, based on wide–ranging research in archives and published materials, opening up many new perspectives. Well indexed, and with a fine map of the region at the end of the colonial period, it is essential reading for those interested in eighteenth-century Brazil.