A refinement and updating of her widely cited dissertation, this book by Helen Delpar provides a history of Colombia’s Liberal party, covering a period in which it was first the dominant party (1863—85) and then the party of opposition (1886-99). The subtitle conveys the theme of the study with greater precision than does the title Red Against Blue, for the focus is on the evolution of the Liberal party rather than on the struggle between Liberals (red) and Conservatives (blue). Delpar’s study is well written in its narrative portions and firmly grounded in extensive research throughout; the only significant bibliographic omission is the voluminous correspondence collection of Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, held in the Archivo Central del Cauca, Popayán, Colombia.

Chapter 1 contains one of the best available summaries of the development of Colombian Liberalism from the 1820s to implementation of the Constitution of 1863. The following four chapters, analytical but somewhat tedious, examine the mechanics of the electoral process and the bases of party alignment, tracing the Liberal profile and the evolution of Liberal ideology. Among Delpar’s major conclusions in these chapters are that Liberal factionalism was frequent and severe but not fatal to the party, the Liberal party was heterogeneous in terms of its regional bases and the socioeconomic origins of its members, and “the range of economic interests represented by the Liberal leaders … was generally similar to that represented by their Conservative counterparts” (p. 58). Narration of the history of the Liberal party from 1875 to 1899, condensed into the last three chapters, offers balanced accounts of the period’s major events—the election of 1875, implementation of the Regeneration by Rafael Núñez in the mid-1880s, and the outbreak of the War of the Thousand Days in 1899.

Delpar’s book will occupy a prominent position in the sparse historiography of late nineteenth-century Colombia, not only because of the lacunae it fills, but also because it offers a more complex interpretation than that found in the recent book Coffee and Conflict in Colombia, 1886-1910, by Charles W. Bergquist, who argues that one must look primarily to economic factors, specifically Liberal ties to the import-export sector, to account for the differences between the two parties, the success of Liberalism up to the 1880s, and its subsequent failure. In contrast, Delpar concludes that Liberals and Conservatives were not significantly differentiated on the basis of economic interest and that Liberal behavior was shaped primarily by considerations of doctrine and regionalism.