Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, a generation of young Ecuadorian social scientists, of whom Enrique Ayala M. is one, has sought to understand their country’s seemingly permanent crisis in order to lead to the construction of a more stable, equitable, and prosperous society. According to its editor, this book has two basic objectives: to provide a general, if unavoidably superficial, introduction to the vision of Ecuador’s history, and to reveal the ideological diversity implicit in that vision. The contributors were consciously selected according to their academic reputations; the influence they exercised through their writings and teaching; and their ideological, methodological, and political diversity. It makes for quite lively reading.

Two questions are uppermost: what is Ecuador and when did it come about? There is an attempt to define just who the people are who comprise the nation. Whose history should be written? Judging from the essays, there is a clear consciousness of Indians past and present, and of a rural and urban working class whose members are every bit as much a part of Ecuador as archbishops, presidents, bankers, and landowners. However, these historians are by no means equally conscious of the neglected actors, nor do they agree about what role these actors played in creating their nation. Another issue subsumed in the question, what is Ecuador, is the understanding of its culture, its institutions, and its future. Some argue that Ecuador should be secular, not Christian; that the Indians should be integrated into a dominant European culture, not protected in isolation; that the oligarchy should be overthrown as the only way to achieve social justice, and not be permitted to continue ineffective reform.

When did Ecuador appear? The answer seems to depend on the response to the first question. Those who emphasize the Indians as part of their nation (e. g., the Marxist Oswaldo Albornoz or Plutarco Naranjo) find origins in prehistory or in the Incan invasion. Others (e. g., Jorge Luna Yepes and Fray José María Vargas) find roots in the Spanish conquest and settlement of Quito, and still others see the emergence of Ecuador in the failed attempt to break away from Spain in 1809, the declaration of independence in Guayaquil (October 9, 1820), or the definitive split from Gran Colombia in 1830. What emerges from this collection of essays is that Ecuadorian history, once dominated by a polemic between Liberals and Conservatives, now embraces a much broader agenda which will undoubtedly provide more and better information to employ in building Ecuador’s future.