Journalist Jim Tuck has produced a well-written narrative of Cristero military operations in the Los Altos area of eastern Jalisco during the 1926-29 period. The book is somewhat less successful in the “regional analysis” its subtitle proclaims, for the causes and significance of the rebellion in Los Altos are given short shrift. Tuck bases his work primarily on secondary sources, although he does make use of several private archives and oral interviews with former Cristeros. He begins by discussing the cultural and social uniqueness of Los Altos, as a region largely European rather than mestizo, and composed mainly of small ranchers, tenant farmers and day laborers rather than of the social types found on large estates. The balance of the book is a detailed description of military actions, with a focus on infighting among the Cristero leaders.
The Holy War in Los Altos is not so much historical scholarship as it is a synthesis of previous work. Tuck relies heavily on monographs for documentation; one-third of his footnotes alone are to the late David Bailey’s ¡Viva Cristo Rey! and Jean Meyer’s La Cristiada. Tuck did consult some interesting new primary material, such as that contained in the archives of Padre Salvador Casas in Guadalajara and in the parish records of San Miguel el Alto. Yet much of this documentation is used only to provide anecdotal information about Cristero chieftains and technical details of military operations. Tuck apparently did not consult recent monographic work on the Cristiada, such as the dissertations of Timothy Clarke Hanley on Cristero leadership (1977), and Ramón Jrade on the agrarian social structure of Jalisco (1980). Tuck might have benefited, particularly, from Jrade’s study of how market forces affected the Cristero or government partisanship of rural communities in Los Altos and other parts of the state.
Tuck’s lack of new research or access to recent scholarship could be behind his book’s lack of an analytical framework. After he establishes the uniqueness of Los Altos, he does not explain the connection between the region’s characteristics and support for the rebellion. Other parts of Mexico without one or both of these features, such as Colima, Durango, Michoacán, and Nayarit, saw similar uprisings during the same years. Tuck does not discuss the significance of the Los Altos rising to the Cristero War nationally, nor does he deal with the meaning of such a regional revolt in the sweep of Mexican history. As an exciting description of Cristero campaigns and personal feuds in Los Altos, by someone who knows the area well, The Holy War in Los Altos is very good. Tuck’s book is less complete as an evaluation of how the Cristero movement originated and why it was important.