A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Latin America: Where Are…Gran Colombia, La Plata, and Dutch Guiana, by Earle Rice Jr.
This book is part of a series  of books that seeks to instruct late elementary school to middle school readers on the political and geographic history of various regions of the world. For many readers, it is likely to be their first or one of their first introductions to these three disciplines (political history, geographic history, and regional geography), and one could wish that these were better books. Admittedly, I am not the target audience for this book, but perhaps historically literate adults should read books like this to realize the extent to which the historical education of children does not receive a high enough priority from writers. If genuinely knowledgeable people will not deign to do such work, it will be left to hacks like the author of this book who do a terrible job at providing factual information or maps that are worthy visualizations of history. When nearly every map in this book is flawed or erroneous in some way and when the author makes basic errors about the history of the region, there is a lot about this book that screams for the need for quality control.
The contents of this book are pretty basic, but the same time pretty haphazard as well, starting with Columbus’ explorations in the Caribbean and then moving to Mexico, Brazil, the Guianas, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina. The book contains a timeline, as well as some frequently ambiguously or terribly drawn maps, of which nearly all of them are at least problematic. The author, perhaps unsurprisingly, focuses attention on a few moments of history, like the age of conquest/exploration, the period when the region fought for its independence, and then the more troubled period of the 20th century. It is not so much that a lot of history is left out–it is not difficult to think of information that this book does not include that it could easily include, although a short list could include the horrible conditions at Potosi, for example, or just about anything relating to Guyana, Paraguay, Belize, and so on. This is an interesting part of the world and the author barely scratches the surface of what makes the area such a compelling and interesting one to read about and visit.
But more than what this book leaves out, it is the book’s inaccuracies and bias that are even more irritating. The author repeats the cliche about Christopher Columbus coming from Genoa, which is likely not even true given his linguistic limitations in the Italian language. He was quite possibly a converso, which is all the more interesting . Even more ominously, the author appears to have a love affair with communist revolutionaries like Che Guevara, which gives this book an unsettling historical angle that makes it all the more inappropriate to teach to children. This is the sort of book that should remind adults of the importance of checking out books for kids and ensuring that such books teach a proper historical perspective. All too often charlatans and hacks write to kids because factual accuracy is considered less of a concern and indoctrinating children to a mistaken view of history is such an important matter for people with certain political views. This book does capture the change in geography over time based on historical matters, but it is unfortunately not the sort of book that makes for edifying and educational reading for the young based on its factual inaccuracies as well as its ideological bias.
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