Brief sketches of the lives of some 23 ordinary people who lived in the colonial societies of North and South America between the early 16th and the late 18th centuries, reflecting both the strengths and weaknesses of what is sometimes called ""history from the bottom up."" On the plus side are the sketches themselves, assembled from fragmentary sources by 20 different historians. The characters on revealing display include runaway slaves, Moctezuma's daughter, renegade priests, rebellious Indians, a Brazilian nun, urban artisans, small-time entrepreneurs, government officials, enterprising immigrants, fur-traders, black Loyalists from the American Revolution, and the mulatta mistress of a priest attached to the Holy Office of the Inquisition--men and women of all races, conditions, and circumstances (none, oddly enough, from French Canada). On the negative side, however, looms the problem of what, finally, these lives have to tell us. Sweet and Nash, authorities on the history of colonial North and South America, suggest that they illustrate the different ways ordinary people struggled and survived under oppressive, explorative colonial regimes in the New World--some fighting alone, some fighting together, some merely getting along, some trying to get ahead. This is surely true in a general sense, and it is well to be warned against both romanticizing the lives of the poor and exaggerating the degree to which ruling classes anywhere are able to secure mass consent and compliance. But readers of these capsule biographies may well wonder if ""struggle and survival,"" encompassing common people of such diverse backgrounds (slaves and slaveowners, workers and employers, servants and masters) and cultures (North, Central, and South America) isn't in fact too broad a category, blurring the points of real conflict between them until all we see is an undifferentiated mass of victims. History ""from the bottom up"" has vastly enlarged our understanding of the dispossessed and overlooked; it also runs the risk, ironically, of making them all look alike.