Adrian Bantjes’s detailed account of Sonoran political, economic, and cultural history during the 1930s makes an important contribution to the postrevisionist literature on President Lázaro Cárdenas. Based on research in state and national archives in the United States and Mexico, Bantjes’s study synthesizes the populist and revisionist interpretations of postrevolutionary Mexico. The author convincingly demonstrates that “radical Cardenismo was as much a reflection of popular agency as of top-down elite planning. . ., [and] regional forces, both progressive and conservative, were crucial players in the formation of a new Mexican nation” (p. xvi).

According to Bantjes, the mid-1935 split between Cárdenas and Plutarco Elías Calles impelled Cárdenas to side with Sonora’s conservative forces: the Catholics, out-of-power politicians (i.e., Obregonistas and Vasconselistas), landowners, and Mayo Indians, in order to purge entrenched Callistas from positions of power in municipal councils and the state government. Sonora’s conservative faction took advantage of the political opening created by the Calles-Cárdenas imbroglio and rebelled against the Callista governor, Ramón Ramos. The threat of a nationwide Callista uprising, and Cárdenas’s own lack of a political base in Sonora, forced Cárdenas to remove Ramos from office in December 1935 and call new gubernatorial elections, despite the fact that Ramos had headed a government that was ideologically compatible with the president’s program. When the conservative Obregonista general Ramón Yocupicio was elected governor, he brought to power forces that strongly opposed Cardenista reforms, polarizing the entire state.

To build up his own base of support in Sonora, Cárdenas relied on the Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos (CTM), which he used to organize industrial and agricultural workers. He also armed over 3,000 agraristas, and in October 1937 he redistributed 1.3 million acres of land to 11,500 ejidatarios. Then, in 1938 Cárdenas tried to consolidate his political base by constructing a corporatist power bloc through the new official party, the Partido de la Revolutión Mexicano. In Sonora, however, the president’s efforts failed because of Yocupicio’s violent repression of the opposition. In addition, the governor countered the Cardenistas by establishing his own statewide corporatist bloc, which brought large sections of labor into his conservative machine under the guise of a “straw union,” namely the Confederación de Trabajadores de Sonora. Bantjes rightly argues that many Sonoran workers were not motivated by ideological convictions; instead they gave their allegiance to the side that provided the most benefits. This, combined with the fact that Sonoran mine workers organized independently of the CTM and that they, along with militant ejidatarios, sought to maintain union democracy by opposing the imposition of an outside CTM/Cardenista candidate in the 1939 gubernatorial election, explains why a follower of Yocupicio succeeded him in office. Although Cárdenas was “pragmatic” and “cautious,” basing many of his decisions on political expediency, Bantjes concludes that “[i]n practical terms, Cardenismo was largely a failure” (p. 225).

One shortcoming of As If Jesus Walked on Earth is the author’s failure to explain why Cárdenas waited almost two years after he deposed Ramos, and one year after the 1936 gubernatorial election, to announce a massive land redistribution program that, as a “political weapon,” was intended to broaden his base of support. If Cárdenas wanted his candidate, General Ignacio Otero Pablos, to defeat Yocupicio in the 1936 election, he should have announced the reparto before the primaries. In fact, Cárdenas delayed the reparto because dozens of American-owned estates were going to be expropriated. Since U.S.-Mexican relations were already strained over the seizure of American-owned land throughout Mexico, and American landowners in Sonora’s Yaqui Valley received more diplomatic attention from Washington than any other group of United States property owners, Cárdenas spent a year discussing options other than expropriation with United States officials and American landowners in an effort to defuse bilateral tensions. Thus, international considerations further complicated federal-state relations during Cárdenas’s presidency.

Overall, however, Bantjes delivers a well-written, theoretically informed study that details Sonoran history while comparing it to that of other Mexican states. By so doing he is able to uncover general national patterns, an accomplishment that makes his book a must read for Mexicanists and modern Latin Americanists.