This book offers a new meditation on the early years of Colombian republican history in four long essays—obstacles to the formation of the nation, the state’s incapacity to formulate a national economic policy, the process of land appropriation, and labor control. The authors expertise lies in Antioqueño sources, and there is valuable material here derived from their previous work, and a welcome use of a particularly rich press. It is a pity that there is not more of this and somewhat less of Gramsci, Poulantzas, and the early writings of Karl Marx. These glosses do not disguise quite a heavy reliance for the main features of the period on old and familiar works, such as those of Luis Eduardo Nieto Arteta and Luis Ospina Vásquez. Still, those two are always worth rereading.

Poderes y regiones offers the reader an excellent reconstruction of the commercial ties that bound and did not bind the New Granada that emerged into independent life in 1830. It offers too a stimulating survey of the varied social structures of the new republic, especially of Antioquia and Cauca. There are some telling quotations from Agustín Codazzi and Carlos Segismundo de Greiff on the particular commercial advantages of the Antioqueños, their control of gold, and their early vinculation with Jamaica.

This work, however, is not always convincing. Defining what a nation is as well as what the relations of regions and nations are poses problems that admit of no simple answer. Certainly, nationality does not bear any clear relation to the rise of a capitalist national economy, itself not so easy to define. The assertion of the authors that more intense contact with the world economy “accentuated the economic heterogeneity and political fragmentation that was already present in the colony” (p. 99) seems debatable, just as the account (summed up on pp. 68–69) of what New Granada lacked to be a proper nation seems arbitrary.

Some of the authors’ schema seem too neat, such as the supposed rivalry between gold-exporting Antioqueños and tobacco-exporting easterners. Some of their views are prejudiced: contracts with foreigners were far from being generally “juicy and leonine” for the foreigner (p. 264), and it is not obvious that Manuel Murillo Toro was being “lucid” in 1852 when he stated that nobody should own more land than he could cultivate for subsistence (p. 277). The authors make some errors of fact: José Hilario López did not fight in the “Guerra de los Supremos,” nor can the overthrow of José María Melo in 1854 be accounted a defeat for “los militares de la Independencia.”

The book nonetheless makes a valuable contribution in its surveys of some major themes. It is particularly useful, apart from the subjects already mentioned, on small property and the emancipation of the slaves.