Few, if any individuals outside of Argentina have followed the career of Juan D. Perón as closely as Robert J. Alexander. Thus he is well prepared to undertake a detailed analysis of the accomplishments and shortcomings of the Argentine dictator and his impact upon Argentina and its neighbors. Juan Domingo Perón: A History is indeed a very welcome addition to the growing list of monographs by U.S. scholars on Argentina.

Since Perón was one of the Latin American area’s most controversial figures over the last four or five decades, there is a tendency in books and articles about him either to attack him as the source of all Argentina’s problems or to present him as one of the greatest leaders of modern times, if not for all recorded history. Alexander has tried hard to be objective. He gives Perón credit for such accomplishments as getting on with industrialization, nationalizing the foreign-owned railroads, and providing labor with substantial economic, social, and political benefits. At the same time he faults Perón for his neglect of agriculture, wasteful conduct of Argentine financial affairs, and his deleterious impact upon the Argentine society by provoking political confrontations and relying upon dictatorial methods barely masked by a façade of constitutional rhetoric and make-believe. Alexander quite properly points out Perón’s failure to provide for a viable Peronist successor. Indeed, Perón soon eliminated any Peronist who showed any evidence of not following precisely where Perón chose to lead.

There are some significant aspects of the Perón story which are passed over rather quickly—for example, the involvement of Juan Duarte, Perón’s brother-in-law and private secretary, in the black-market meat scandal which preceded Duarte’s alleged suicide. The army general who at Perón’s orders investigated the scandal and uncovered Duarte’s major role in it, was one of the ringleaders of the 1955 coup. Duarte tried to escape to Europe but Perón’s henchmen headed him off at the airport. As porteños were wont to say at the time, “We know Juan Duarte committed suicide but what we don’t know is—who shot him?”

There is no discussion of the abortive military coup of late 1951 in which Alejandro Lanusse (president, 1971-1973) was involved. Lanusse was imprisoned, for his participation, until Perón’s overthrow in 1955.

Moreover, in 1951, organized labor took to the streets to create barricades and demonstrate support for Perón. In 1955 that kind of support was lacking. One of the reasons was Perón’s public and scandalous involvement with teen-age girls. Alexander states that one of them was a certain Nellie Rivas, who became Perón’s mistress. He does not mention that she became Perón’s mistress at age thirteen. Even the most ardent labor supporters of the regime were likely to be shocked at that. Furthermore, the spectacle of the Commander-in-Chief of the Argentine Armed Forces leading troupes of his teen-aged companions through the streets of Buenos Aires on motor scooters—en route to fun and games at the presidential residence—was hardly calculated to please the country’s military leaders.

Finally, in discussing the contract with a Standard Oil of California subsidiary (to develop Argentine petroleum resources), the part which alienated Argentines of all political opinions is omitted. It provided that, in case of a dispute between the company and the Argentine government, the final arbiter would be an international oil expert—not the Supreme Court of the Argentine Republic!

There are a number of points in this volume on which specialists in the field of Argentine affairs will differ with the author. One of the most obvious ones is Alexander’s use of material obtained from an interview with Perón in Madrid on September 1, 1960. He states that Perón lied to him on a number of points yet presents the interview without annotation to guide the unwary reader through the labyrinth of lies, half-truths, and distortions with which Perón tried to beguile him. In this reviewer’s opinion, there is a substantial mass of reliable evidence to indicate that Perón was a consummate and perhaps pathological dissembler and liar. One can understand Alexander’s reluctance to annotate the interview. Properly done, that would require going through it, not paragraph by paragraph or sentence by sentence, but word by word. Nonetheless, he should either have done just that or not included it in his study of Juan Domingo Perón. Otherwise, as published, it could give an unwary reader a seriously distorted picture of Perón and his times.