A Concise History Of Brazil, by Boris Fausto
In writing about history, many historians (like this author), make Faustian bargains. On the one hand, such writers want credibility for being sound historians, even when they write about areas that other people do not know very well, but at the same time they want to express their own ideological perspectives, and in many cases this acts against sound historical understanding. And that is the case in this book, it must be admitted. The author bends over backwards to not admit to Brazil’s history being conservative in the sense of not changing much when it comes to problems of corruption, but it is hard to be optimistic about Brazilian history when so many regimes struggle with corruption, regardless of their ideology, even though the author shows himself clearly biased in favor of Lulu and other leftist politicians. Fortunately, the author is an honest enough historian that there is worthwhile information even if his bias makes it a less worthwhile book than it would otherwise have been. If the author is no particular friend of the United States, he does at least want to convey something of Brazil’s complex history to Anglophone readers and that is a worthwhile ambition.
This book is between 300 and 350 pages and is divided into six large chapters. The first chapter of the book looks at Colonial Brazil (neatly skipping over Brazilian prehistory), starting with the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil and continuing through colonization and colonial economics all the way up to rebel movements and the beginning of national consciousness (1). After that the book’s second chapter discusses the period of imperial Brazil between 1822-1889, where the two emperors are confusingly called the first and second empires, and which also discusses the Paraguayan war and the end of slavery (2). The third chapter of the book discusses the period of the first republic from 1889 to 1930, when Vargas took over after a particularly fraught period of compromise and shifting coalitions of government (3). After that a chapter discusses Vargas’ state in the Depression and World War II periods (4) before moving to discuss another democratic experiment between 1945 and 1964. After that the book discusses the military government and the transition to democracy that followed between 1964 and 1984 that demonstrated the increasing polarization of Brazilian politics between sensible conservatives and radical leftists in an atmosphere where the Cold War was demonstrating such divides worldwide.
When looking at this book, I have to say that there is a lot of disappointment here. There are a lot of ways that this book could have been considerably better, but at least there is still a great deal that this book provides, and one of those strengths is a narrative approach. The author whines a bit when he comments that the narrative approach is “outdated,” but that merely means that it is not well-liked by leftist historians who prefer a more fragmentary approach that forgets the narrative flow of history so as to better insert one’s political perspectives when it comes to various groups without the burden of having to show that these ideological concerns were relevant to the flow of history. Fortunately, the author rejects the siren call of leftist history enough to provide a solid enough narrative of Brazilian history even if it shows a bit of chronological snobbery by focusing on the politics of the 20th century rather than the colonial period, which would have likely been more interesting and less political in nature. The book does convey that Brazil’s history has a lot that is worthy to discuss, including the tensions between different parts of Brazil and the fragility of political consensus there.