One scarcely knows how to begin a review of what surely must be one of the strangest and most remarkable books to be written on the early Mexican Revolution in the last twenty-five years. Thackeray was right when he quipped: “Nothing like blood, sir, in hosses, dawgs, and men.” As a rule of thumb, sons should not attempt the biographies of their fathers; Pablo González’ hagiography of the famous constitutionalist commander of the Ejército del Noreste underscores the admonition.

Thirty-five years in preparation, this huge volume is not simply a laudatory biography of General Pablo González (although it is that) but also a challenging historiographical critique of the official histories of the Revolution. It is outrageous but provocative, difficult to read but interesting, iconoclastic yet curiously orthodox. An engineer by profession, the younger González does not possess the supreme redeeming attributes of the non-professional historian: a good command of the language and a facile pen. What makes the study especially worthy of note is that it is based on a previously untapped 60,000-document archive:the Archivo Gral, de Division, Don Pablo González Garza.

Part of the problem rests with Ing. González’ technique of presentation. He interlaces a chronological text with extensive documentary publication (some four hundred previously unpublished documents are included) and a series of previously published debates with other historians. As a result the narrative is jumpy, repetitious, uneven, and laden with awkward transitions. Within the eleven hundred pages there is a good deal of new material, and even a few gems, but it requires a reader of considerable patience to seek them out.

More significant than the questionable organization is the fact that the author has fallen into the trap of attacking the official historians of the Revolution on their own ground. He fails to appreciate that the community of Mexicanists can no longer accept that the first decade of the Revolution should be portrayed in terms of the good guys versus the bad. He has simply shifted the categories around somewhat. His heroes are four: Ricardo Flores Magón (“el sublime anarquista”); Francisco I. Madero (“el titán de la democracia”); Venustiano Carranza (“el enérgico defensor de nuestra dignidad y soberanía”); and, of course, Pablo González (“el más fiel centinela del constitucionalismo”). In the coterie of villains he includes Álvaro Obregón (“el mas grande traidor que ha producido México”); Emiliano Zapata (“traidor a la patria”); Félix Díaz; the Vásquez Gómez brothers; Gildardo Magaña; Felipe Ángeles; Otilio Montaño; Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama; and Manuel Peláez. The goals of the Revolution, the solutions offered and their applicability to the problems then besetting the nation are never brought into question. Just as the official historians he condemns so passionately, González is concerned with demonstrating who were the orthodox Revolutionaries and who were the apostates.

It is not unreasonable to accept González’ general thesis: his father has been treated unfairly in the official histories of the Revolution. He is less than convincing, however, when he assumes the initiative and undertakes to document the general’s pivotal roles in the overthrow of the Huerta regime and the subsequent defeat of the Villistas. His documents simply do not prove, or even strongly suggest, that General González’ victory over Huerta’s federáis at Monterrey (April, 1914) was as decisive as Villa’s victory at Zacatecas (June, 1914); even less do they demonstrate that González’ triumph at Ebano (March, 1915) proved more telling than the smashing setback Obregón handed Villa at Celaya (April, 1915). When he sets out to demonstrate that Zapata was in league with all of the important Mexican reactionaries, the argumentation becomes especially fallacious.

The most original and valuable portion of the text is that which debunks an entire series of Obregón myths. Although most readers will be unwilling to accept that the author has proven Obregón’s guilt in the assassination of Carranza, when considered in conjunction with the new documentation in Volume XIX of the Documentos históricos de la Revolución Mexicana (México: Editorial Jus, 1971), González’ treatment of the topic does provide food for thought. The circumstantial evidence he introduces (motive, testimony of participants, and relationship of the actual assassin to the party allegedly responsible for issuing the order) is exactly the same type of material which the official historians of the Revolution have used for years to “prove” Victoriano Huerta’s assassination of Francisco Madero. Although the evidence is insufficient to impute guilt categorically in either case, the case against Obregón is not much weaker than the one against Huerta.

Had the author been more restrained in his condemnation of other historians and less lavish in praise of his father, he would have written a much better book. As it stands it is still valuable, but as a polemic.