In Volume 14, Los artífices del cardenismo, Luis González—in his own inimitable style—devotes nearly two hundred pages to the people and institutions that influenced Cárdenas’s rise to power. He begins with a description of Mexico’s population of more than 16.5 million, according to the official census of 1930, and notes that it had reached an estimated 18 million by 1934. González uses the following classifications of the Mexican masses: one-fifth acurrucado (Indians living almost exclusively in communities of 2,500 or fewer), one-half ranchera (rural laborers and ejidatarios as well as owners and renters of small farms and ranches), and one-third citadino (urban dwellers residing in towns and cities of more than 2,500, including one million in cities of 50,000 to 200,000 and one million in Mexico City).

Chapter 2 deals with Mexico’s principal institutions at the beginning of the Cárdenas administration: capital (e.g., the hacienda, the mine, the oil well, the factory, the railroad, the big store, and the bank); labor unions (e.g., the CROM headed by Luis Morones and the CGOCM led by Vicente Lombardo Toledano); the Roman Catholic church, with its twenty-five bishops, hundreds of priests, and millions of faithful (including some fanatics); the state, employing 150,000 bureaucrats at federal, state, and municipio levels; cultural institutions (e.g., universities, publishing houses, and newspapers); and imperialist influences (political, economic, and cultural) extending from the United States and Europe. Chapters 3 and 4 contain a wealth of biographical information concerning Mexican politicians and intellectuals who influenced the course of events both before and during the six years of Cárdenas’s presidency.

Finally, in Chapter 5, González provides a biographical sketch that outlines significant events in the life of Cárdenas from 1895 (the year of his birth in rural Jiquilpán, Michoacán) to 1934, when he was elected president as the candidate of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR). The eldest of five sons in a family of eight children, Cárdenas left school at the age of 12 and entered the world of work when his father’s health and business (grocery store with pool table) began to fail. Employed mornings in the local tax office and evenings in a small print shop, Cárdenas was able to provide a limited income for his family until 1913. In that year, following the assassination of President Francisco I. Madero, he joined the rebellion against the dictatorial regime of General Victoriano Huerta. After serving with two rebel bands, military defeat caused the teen-aged junior officer to take refuge in Guadalajara, where he worked briefly in a brewery before returning to the armed struggle in 1914.

At the end of a victorious march on Mexico City, Cárdenas found himself engaged in skirmishes with Zapata’s forces on the outskirts of the Federal District; later, his cavalry regiment became part of a Convencionista division ordered to Sonora. Upon arriving in that state, Cárdenas switched to the Constitucionalista side, joining General Plutarco Calles at Agua Prieta and helping to defend that strategic border town against Villa’s attack. This astute move made Cárdenas a colonel at the age of 20; more important, it was the beginning of a personal association with Calles and other members of the “Sonora Gang” that began dominating Mexico in 1920. González chronicles Cárdenas’s succession of important military and political posts that involved participating in the overthrow of Carranza, helping to suppress a series of rebellions (e.g., those of de la Huerta, the Cristeros, and Escobar), being elected governor of Michoacán, serving as head of the PNR, and holding cabinet positions in the administrations of Presidents Pascual Ortiz Rubio and Abelardo Rodríguez. The author ends this chapter (and the book) with Cárdenas’s landslide victory in the presidential election of July 1, 1934.

Part One of González’s Los días del presidente Cárdenas (Volume 15) is entitled “Jornadas presidencialistas.” Beginning with the events of November 30, 1934, when Cárdenas took the presidential oath of office, the author moves on to the church-state conflict (provoked in part by rabidly anticlerical and antireligious Callistas, like Minister of Agriculture Tomás Garrido Canabal) and then to the prolonged labor agitation that led to Cárdenas’s break with Calles. While Calles voiced disapproval of militant actions by Vicente Lombardo Toledano and other labor leaders, Cárdenas supported their efforts to obtain higher wages for industrial workers. Assertion of presidential authority involved a purge of Callista deputies and cabinet ministers, and Calles departed for the United States. When Calles returned at the end of 1935 and started to organize an opposition movement, Cárdenas responded by reassigning several generals, expelling Callistas from the PNR, and directing the removal of Callista governors and senators. The final act in this political drama took place on the morning of April 10, 1936, when Cárdenas’s former military chief and political patron was flown to exile in Gringolandia.

In Part Two, “Jornadas agraristas,” González describes Cárdenas’s sweeping agrarian reforms, including the massive redistribution of cotton-producing land to the ejidos of La Laguna and henequen-producing land to the ejidos of Yucatán. The author does not limit himself, however, to agrarian politics and administration; this portion of the volume deals also with related subjects such as agrarian art and literature. Part Three, entitled “Jornadas nacionalizadoras,” focuses on nationalization of Mexico’s railroads and petroleum industry, Cedillo’s revolt and the expropriation of foreign-owned latifundios, and the influx of Spanish immigrants who responded to Cárdenas’s invitation to seek refuge from Franco’s Fascism and to contribute to Mexico’s development. Part Four, “Jornadas económicas y culturales,” concludes this volume with sections on war and neutrality, labor politics and industrialization, health and education policies, and the nomination and election of Manuel Avila Camacho to the presidency in 1940.

Neither of González’s volumes is based on archival research; the principal sources are monographs, biographies and autobiographies, Cárdenas’s sketchy diary, and texts of speeches and public documents. Nevertheless, the author has done a masterful job of describing and analyzing forces that have shaped twentieth-century Mexico; and he has projected sharp images of Cárdenas and other leaders who moved Mexico’s masses (and who were moved by them) during years of political turmoil and social upheaval. He has performed this labor with a unique style that impels one to forget the clock and consume page after page of this spicy feast. For the general reader, González’s volumes are easily read and understood; and for the scholar, they provide information and interpretations that will inspire further research. In time, other writers will be able to give us more details; but González’s volumes will continue to be appreciated by all who seek an authentic but dramatic account of the Cárdenas era and the revolutionary experience that led to it.

Volume 16, La mecánica cardenista by Alicia Hernández Chávez, covers some of the territory explored by Luis Gónzalez, but her range is more restricted. In Chapter 1 she identifies the political groups and forces that were most prominent at the time of Cárdenas’s presidential election: competing labor unions, divided campesino organizations, cabinet members and their factions, cacicazgos and political groups, the PNR founded by Calles in 1929, and the business interests of politicians. Chapter 2 is concerned with Calles’s decision to support Cárdenas’s candidacy in 1934 and with the subsequent conflict that resulted in a purge of Callista officials and the exile of Calles.

Chapters 3 and 4 constitute the author’s most important contributions. Based largely on archival research, the former deals with the army and the latter with Lombardo Toledano’s Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos (CTM) that was created with Cárdenas’s support. Using data from army records, Hernández Chávez shows how approximately 350 generals were controlled through frequent transfers (with their staff personnel, but without troops), how factions were played off against each other (e.g., Callistas and Anticallistas, Obregonistas and Antiobregonistas, Villistas, Zapatistas, Almazanistas, Cedillistas, Veracruzanos, etc.), and how the status of en disponibilidad (i.e., without command or assignment) was used as a means of control. In her chapter on the CTM, the author describes unsuccessful attempts by a Communist minority to obtain direction of the Mexican labor movement; also, she explains how Lombardo Toledano’s ambition to bring peasants and laborers into a single proletarian organization was thwarted by Cárdenas.

Brief chapters on the “agrarian dilemma” and the transformation of the PNR into the PRM (Partido Revolucionario Mexicano) are followed by a final chapter that chronicles the presidential succession of 1940. Appendix 1 provides a useful ten-page outline of important events in the life of Lázaro Cárdenas; Appendix 2 charts changes or substitutions of state and territorial governors from 1934 to 1940; Appendix 3 presents useful data on strikes and numbers of workers affected; and Appendix 4 gives membership data for labor organizations in 1937.

In sum, González and Hernández Chávez have made important contributions to the growing body of historical literature on modern Mexico.