Biographical studies are valid when they meet the test of presenting new insights regarding an important historical character. Great biographies provide an expansive view of the society and of the social forces that produced that individual. Emiliano Zapata was certainly the product of a society, culture and economy in crisis. Indeed, during the Mexican Revolution the campesino village economy and indigenous culture was trying to save itself. Zapata was the archetype agrarian zealot produced by his times, defender of the faith, of a way of life. He was a man who understood his own people, saw good in them, loved them and learned how to fight.

This study adequately and sometimes with great insight and excellent prose describes the man and the immediate economic and political conditions of the village in eastern Morelos at the beginning of the Revolution. It presents a strong, intelligent, patient but believable Zapata biding his time until the right moment to revolt. Early in his revolution Zapata avoided the pitfalls of premature banditry and the readily proffered alliances with dubious and sometimes treacherous allies.

Zapata’s well known successes and failures during the course of the Revolution are skillfully traced and placed in the broader context of events. As his overall political and military situation deteriorated, intensive strife developed within the Zapatista leadership. Officers and troops deserted, cliques formed, internecine killings took place including that of Zapata’s own brother. More importantly, Montaño and the other future agrarian bureaucrats who surrounded Zapata began to show a willingness to compromise with the government. One suspects that Zapata understood that “compromise” with the Constitutionalists under the guise of “agrarian laws” meant only a face saving gesture and the fact of absolute village capitulation to the national sovereignty.

Curiously Parkinson reports Zapata’s death as a form of victory rather than the singular defeat that it constituted. He declares that the Zapatista army was the “backbone” of the victorious Obregón forces that defeated Carranza and that agrarian reform was then carried out by Obregón. In the first paragraph of chapter one a minor but curiously typical flaw appears. Cuauhtemoc is described as the leader of the Aztec defense of Cuernavaca. The error detracts from the valid historical perspective of post-conquest Mexican society that that author wishes to convey. Anenecuilco is not recognizable in the romantic but inaccurate physical description offered.

The agrarians are given only a limited historical identity. The book does not concern itself with the now available statistical charts or data concerning the deepening plight of the rural working class or of precursor agrarian rebellions so prevalent in that geographical area since colonial times. Zapata’s long-standing invitation to the Magonista PLM to establish its headquarters in Morelos is not considered. Neither Ricardo Flores Magón nor his Zapatista emissaries are mentioned. Finally, like so many Zapata studies this one tends to portray the man as basically unchanged in political philosophy by the revolutionary events that whirled around him. Zapata is almost the same simple defender of village integrity in 1918 that he was in 1910. The presence of radical ideologues such as Díaz Soto y Gama has no measurable effect. The increasingly sophisticated Zapatista appeals to the nation are not presented in the context of a revolutionary man growing and responding to revolutionary events but as little more than obvious attempts to recruit allies.

Despite the infinite complexities of Mexican history which trip up so many efforts, this is a well written, sensitive and thoughtful study. The Mexican agrarian revolution of the south is given post-Vietnam insights by a scholar who obviously knows that subject well. The research sources consulted, although limited, have been blended into a balanced and useful perspective of a man whose times and cause are still not fully appreciated by the western mind.