The three political scientists from the University of Texas who wrote this book were making a political, not a historical study; but they have produced a book useful to the student of history. They study the political backgrounds and effects of assassinations and their distribution on a worldwide basis during the half century from 1918 to 1968, and for the student of political violence in these years their work offers some interesting insights, especially in its comparisons of Latin American assassinations with those elsewhere in the world. Ten case studies are presented: Henrik F. Verwoerd of South Africa, Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Huey P. Long of the United States, King Alexander of Yugoslavia, Hasan al-Banna of Egypt, Álvaro Obregón of Mexico, Jean Darían of France in Algeria, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, and Rafael Leonidas Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. The only assassinated president of the United States falling within the time span, John F. Kennedy, was not included, it is to be noted.
Chapter 3 analyzes the distribution of political assassinations in 39 countries that existed throughout the period studied and which experienced major assassinations, concluding that assassination (of national figures) was most common in the Middle East and in Latin America. In the latter eleven heads of state were killed 1918-1968: Guatemala 3, Mexico 2, and one each in six other countries. The distribution in time is random, the authors conclude, although there is a high chance of the assassination of one chief executive each year somewhere in the world (p. 28). The authors’ most interesting conclusions are (1) that most assassinations have involved little conspiracy and (2) that they have had little or no effect on the political system. The most notable exception among the ten cases studied was that of Trujillo, in the sense of careful political planning and follow-through (p. 148). The chance of assassins gaining political office is almost nil (p. 150).
The authors have relied largely on secondary sources, including some unpublished M.A. and Ph.D. theses, and only occasionally have documented their study from original sources such as newspaper accounts and reports of investigating bodies. But their use of these materials has been critical and their analyses of the assassinations will be useful to the historical student. Their call for more study of political assassinations at what they call an “intermediate level” below that of chief executive (p. 152) is an interesting challenge, both to historians and to political scientists.