Casi Nada is a dense, detailed study of a Mexican peasant community in the western state of Michoacán, the homeland of Lázaro and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. Entering the twentieth century as a hacienda community, Guaracha briefly became a collective ejido in the 1930s, was “parcelized” into individual holdings in the 1940s, and subsequently succumbed to “neolatifundismo” (renewed, illegal concentration of land and domination by merchant capitalists), a process that was only somewhat alleviated by increased state intervention (a “refunctionalization of the ejido”) during the 1970s. John Gledhill describes these trends—symptomatic if not typical of much of Mexican ejidal farming—with insight, originality, and recurrent allusions to relevant theory (from Gramsci to Giddens, Chayanov to Shanin). He is particularly good at reconstructing the life histories of both ejidatarios and their local patrones; he displays a detailed understanding of peasant farming; and his discussion of migration, both domestic and international, which has been crucial to Guaracha’s livelihood since the 1920s, will be of great interest to historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and (if they bother to read it) policymakers.

Gledhill offers a pretty bleak conclusion: two generations of communal toil and capitalist penetration have scarcely bettered the lot of the guaracheños, and recurrent state interventions—collectivization in the 1930s, parceling in the ’40s, bureaucratization in the ’70s—have not only failed to improve matters but have, indeed, tended to create fresh sources of official graft and popular grievance. Furthermore, neither the vaunted “new social movements” of the 1980s nor the post-1988 neo-Cardenista boom appears to offer coherent or radical answers to these secular problems. While the bleakness of Gledhill’s analysis seems largely justified by impressionistic and statistical evidence alike, some aspects of his interpretation seem questionable. He convincingly depicts the oppression of the old hacienda regime; yet when dealing with the agrarian reform of the 1930s, he sees little improvement. “Murderous” caciques pushing a “murderous” anticlericalism (p. 62) offended a devout peasantry, and “socialist education ... had the same arbitrary thrust as the Porfirian recruiting sergeant and jefe político” (p. 90). Strong revisionist stuff, this, which a greater familiarity with published historical sources—not to mention archival data—would seriously qualify. And if Cardenismo was so oppressive, why did it leave such a solid base on which to build the neo-Cardenismo of today? The latter, Gledhill states, “is not based on what was actually achieved historically during Lázaro Cárdenas’ presidency, but in [sic] its myth” (p. 362)—an unusual argument for one who regularly and convincingly stresses the hardheaded realism and perceptiveness of his peasant interlocutors.

If historians may question Gledhill’s treatment of Cardenismo, political scientists may be puzzled by the remarkable absence of the PRI. Does this represent authorial oversight or, more likely, further evidence of the skeletal character of the “hegemonic” party, even during its corporatist heyday? And readers in general will find the style, at times, convoluted and prone to jargon. But they would do well to persist. Such failings are more than compensated by the originality and insight of this study, which make it essential reading for students of modern rural Mexico.