In 1987, delivering the José Gil Fortoul Lecture at the Academia Nacional de la Historia in Caracas, the French historian François-Xavier Guerra remarked that in nineteenth-century Spanish America, “the world of politics [was] above all the urban world.” The editors of this volume were not inspired by Guerra’s call to bring political history back in. Instead, they explicitly acknowledge their debt to George Rudé and Eric Hobsbawm. Nevertheless, the urban world has a central place in this book devoted to popular politics during a period when most scholars have either identified popular politics largely with rural peasant rebellions or have ignored the topic altogether.

Indeed, the seven chapters of this volume, comprising essays published between 1980 and 1992, show that politics in Latin America before 1910 was far from being an exclusive concern of the elites. The focus is the “crowd” in urban riots: the “Rebellion of the Barrios” in Quito (by Anthony McFarlane), the Parián Riot in Mexico (Sylvia Arrom), the 1836 rebellion in Salvador, Brazil (João José Reis), the Vintem Riot in Rio de Janeiro (Sandra L. Graham), the 1893 Bogotazo (David Sowell), the Revolta Contra Vacina in Rio de Janeiro (Jeffrey D. Needell), and the Guadalajara riots of 1910 (A. H. Bloch and Servando Ortoll). The crowds studied here are somehow different from those of Hobsbawm and Rudé: they were “closely allied with, and initially mobilized by, disgruntled elites” (p. 4). But they also had their own agenda. All these essays examine the different riots in their appropriate contexts and attempt the difficult task of identifying the “faces of the crowd,” their beliefs, and their motives for rioting.

Popular politics in Latin American cities was not, of course, restricted to rioting. Arrom acknowledges this in a thoughtful introduction, which raises additional issues in an interesting revisionist tone. The constant presence of popular barras in Congress, the formation of a “public opinion,” electoral mobilization, the notion of the “social compact”: all these are areas yet to be fully explored. As Arrom notes, there is a need to understand how the political system worked as a whole, which requires bringing together the “social” and the “political” in the historical analysis.

The subject that is simply dismissed as “elite politics” has wider social implications, which scholars often ignore. Some of the assumptions hitherto dominant about the politics of nineteenth-century Latin America, as Charles Tilly observes in a perceptive conclusion, may look “dubious, even shocking,” from a European perspective. Tilly identifies features of urban conflict that made enormous differences in European history and are also relevant to Latin America, as these essays make clear. An expansion of the sample to include other countries, such as Chile, Venezuela, or Argentina, would serve to reinforce some of the arguments raised here. This excellent collection provides an obligatory entry to a promising field of research.