Villa rides again, but this horse limps.
At the outset, heavily published pop biographer McLynn (Carl Gustav Jung, 1997, etc.) points to three books that he calls a “lodestar” in studying the lives of Mexican revolutionaries Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata: Alan Knight’s two-volume Mexican Revolution, John Womack’s Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, and Friedrich Katz’s recently published Life and Times of Pancho Villa. He is right to rely on those books, which historians regard as standard texts. Sadly, he hasn’t done much with this densely written tome to match their accomplishments, except, as an English writer, to add some side notes on Winston Churchill’s curious involvement in the internal affairs of faraway Mexico. (Churchill had his reasons: after all, McLynn notes, the British held 55 percent of all foreign investments in Latin America, and 29 percent of foreign investments in Mexico.) As befits a student of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, McLynn has a tendency to psychologize when writing about the likes of Porfirio Díaz and Francisco Madero, who, admittedly, had their issues. He captures well the infighting, personal as much as political in nature, which complicated the Mexican Revolution, as well as the international intrigues surrounding a decade of civil war. But while he gives a serviceable account of the lives of Villa and Zapata, among other revolutionary leaders, McLynn omits several important players and factions in the Revolution, makes frequent misstatements of fact (McLynn: “Like the Plains Indians of North America, the Mexican Indians never made common cause against their white rulers,” and he’s wrong about both), and offers dubious interpretations of the historical record.
All in all, an amateurish entry in a literature already dominated by outstanding professional work.