This is a collection of the author’s essays and lectures of the early 1970s. Most have been published previously in newspapers and popular magazines. Three are published here for the first time. All are related by a certain topicality: some were obviously prepared for the sesquicentenário celebrations of independence held in 1972; one commemorates the centennial of the Free Womb law of 1871; an essay on the historical roots of stock exchanges corresponds with the surge of interest in stock speculation in Brazil at the time of its publication (1971). Among the most interesting articles are two on the Inconfidência of 1789 in Minas Gerais. Tiradentes is rehabilitated in their pages as a legitimate popular hero, and D. João VI is referred to, rather jarringly, as an “assassin king” (p. 85) for his role in smothering early sentiment in favor of independence. A parallel essay recounts the “martyrdom” of Frei Caneca, a leader of the Pernambuco revolt of 1824; the emperor Pedro I is the “lying, hateful, inhuman” (p. 132) leader of the counter-revolution in this case. The passion and patriotism of these essays suggests another dimension of topicality which links them. In most cases the nominal subjects are placed at the service of the author’s opinions about servile historiography and the present political situation in Brazil. The latter is referred to, indirectly and directly, as dominated by an “exceptional regime,” and a pair of essays on Getúlio Vargas twist the knife by positing a “liberticide” tendency common to persons from Rio Grande do Sul.
There is probably no reason to require more internal cohesion than this from a book of essays by one of Brazil’s eminently erudite and distinguished historians, but the author does force the point. The book, he maintains, gains unity from its eschewal of the passing and transitory fact—“accidents, crimes, entertainment, futebol” (p. 13)—in favor of the true stuff of history. Yet Capistrano de Abreu thought Tiradentes a trivial figure, and recent observers have begun to doubt that there is anything “exceptional” about the present Brazilian government. Professor Rodrigues clearly has his own ideas about historical significance, and these are the true challenge of this book, which finally stands more as an intellectual document of the 1970s than as a dissection of the past.