Donald E. Worcester, well-known for his scholarly articles and monographs on Spanish America and as coauthor of a leading textbook on the history of Latin America, has now produced an eminently readable survey of Brazil from its Portuguese origins to the 1970s. Designed for a lay audience, it dispenses with footnotes and other references to sources, but includes a useful chronology of major events and a bibliography of 90-odd titles in English, nearly half of which are translations of works by Brazilian authors. The 250 pages of text are divided into eleven chapters and a brief epilogue, which give roughly equal treatment to the periods before and after the establishment of the republic in 1889. The author begins by tracing some 2,500 years of the history of western Iberia, from the arrival of the Phoenicians to the departure of Cabral, and places the early overseas ventures of the Portuguese in the context of socio-religious and dynastic events in their tiny kingdom. The evolution of Brazil as colony, viceroyalty, and kingdom is dealt with in two chapters. Here the author stresses the contributions of New Christians to the formation of Brazil’s plantation economy and culture, and the role of the Church and especially of the Jesuit Order as a unifying force in the scattered Portuguese settlements in South America. The highlight of the three chapters devoted to the independent Brazilian empire is the lucid synthesis of the regency decade of the 1830s. Worcester deals somewhat harshly with Dom Pedro II in his handling of the Paraguayan War, but otherwise largely follows the traditional account in evaluating the accomplishments and shortcomings of the monarchy. The history of the republic is recounted in five chapters, which carry the story to mid-1972, administration-by-administration. Appropriately, Getúlio Vargas receives almost as much attention as do the other twenty presidents of Brazil. The political events of the past decade are treated dispassionately and in ample detail. In the three-page epilogue the author evaluates the political evolution of Brazil since independence, to conclude that “Brazil has never found a form of representative government that has worked properly and effectively” (p. 250).

A unique feature and one of the chief strengths of Brazil: From Colony to World Power is its emphasis on the evolution of Brazilian letters. For each period of the nation’s past there are excellent summaries of literary trends and brief accounts of the leading essayists, poets, and novelists from Gregório de Matos to Guimarães Rosa. Musicians, painters, and playwrights, particularly those of the twentieth century, are also noted.

Despite its many excellent qualities, this volume perpetuates some hoary myths—for example, that the first Portuguese sailor ashore in Brazil was eaten by cannibals—and suffers from some of the distortions inherent in reducing such a long span of history to brief compass. In this vein the review of the colonial economy is compressed so tightly that developments of the seventeenth and even the eighteenth centuries—such as cattle ranching in the interior and in the far south, the wrapping of tobacco in hides, and the rise of the mule trade—appear to have blossomed in the sixteenth. Numerous minor errors in names and dates further limit the book’s usefulness as a reference work for the specialist, but should not affect its value to the reader seeking an introduction to the broad sweep of Brazil’s political and cultural history.