Literary critics point out that there is a tie between form and content; an author’s mode of expression has a bearing upon what he is saying. The last few years have been marked by the appearance of a number of short national histories whose length is dictated not by their subject matter but by the number of “signatures” the publisher plans to sew or glue between the book’s covers. These decisions have led to books in series whose total length is always exactly 128, 160, 176 or 192 pages no matter what the topic. One doesn’t have to be a literary critic to foretell the effect of such form upon the content of these books. Therefore, whether it be a Searchlight, Galaxy, Spectrum, or Borzoi book, the teacher-historian approaches the text with a certain feeling of trepidation. As Macbeth murdered sleep, the Spectrum Book form has murdered what might have been expected to be a good interpretive text on Mexican history by a man with a fine style of writing who has studied that country for many years.

Since it is not good form to review and possibly attack a book for what it is not—an author writes the book he wishes to write not the book the reader happens to want to see—it should be noted at the beginning that this 160-page text-survey of the history of Mexico from Tepexpan Man to Echeverría had to be fairly superficial. The author had to decide between considering a large number of topics briefly or interpreting a few topics in depth in order to draw an impressionistic picture. Although a series book bears the author’s name on the title page, these choices are not his alone, but a mixture of his ideas with those of the series’ editor and the publisher, who is most anxious about the book’s audience.

What then is the audience for this book? Probably a mixture of culture vultures and young freshmen and sophomores panting after knowledge. Therefore, such books must give a rapid overview of Mexican history and thus they can also serve as a “spine text” tying together “readings” assigned by an instructor with a supplement of his own lectures and thoughts. In my opinion, however, neither audience would excuse the text in hand for being just banal. Both the material and the presentation are commonplace with a few exceptions. Some sections are so studded with tired clichés they make the reader wonder if this is the same man who wrote An Affair of Honor: “So long as the feeble hand of Spain rested lightly on the colonies . . .” (p. 38). Most distressing, however, is the absence of much of the new research going on in Mexican history and the constant stream of new ideas and reinterpretations. In many ways this book reads like a boiled-down version of a traditional text; what we get is warmed-over Lesley B. Simpson and Wilfred H. Callcott. This book is adequate for its purpose, but not more than that. Let the culture vultures do what they will, my students will have to await the arrival of another “spine text”