Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Here: A Biography of the New American Continent

I finshed Here: A Biography of the New American Continent. The book has at least three different threads -- the author's experience as bureau chief for the New York Times in both Mexico and Canada, the history of North America over the past 500 years, and the North American experience in the age of NAFTA. These threads come together and provide a thought-provoking narrative of the complex interrelationships that characterize our continent.

I ran many of DePalma's anecdotes about Mexican society past Christina to make sure he wasn't mischaracterizing things, but she found his stories fairly recognizable. The strength of the book is the author's ability to draw on his personal experiences (and as a NYT bureau chief, he got pretty good experiences -- meeting high-ranking policitians, getting private tours, and breaking important stories). Unfortunately, that's also a weakness, as events that happened when DePalma wasn't around (for example, after he left Mexico) get much less attention. Furthermore, after only two years in print, the book is already dated. The election victory of Vicente Fox and the end of PRI dominance in Mexico is relegated to an afterword. And the effect of September 11 on international relations and the importance of borders will have to be left to another book.

Still, I recommend Here. DePalma's a sharp observer, and a thoughtful one. His approach of treating Canada, Mexico and the US as one entity to be studied is a novel one, and the novelty definitely pays off here.

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