Impressively researched but flatfooted history of Mexico's mid-19th-century struggles for independence, as personified by the main antagonists, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and the Zapotec Indian Benito Ju†rez. Once again, Ridley (Elizabeth I, 1987, etc.), displays near-obsessive fact-gathering abilities but fails to shape his material into an involving narrative. Ridley's title characters were so antithetical they might have been fictional creations: Maximilian--tall, blond, and self- deluding; Ju†rez--short, swarthy, pragmatic. The religious- conservative and secular-liberal elements of Mexican society had long been in conflict, and, Ridley contends, Maximilian and Ju†rez came to represent this conflict in their persons and their attitudes. Driven from power in the 1850's by a liberal government, the ousted conservatives went looking for a European power that could restore their hegemony. Napoleon III, eager for glory, became interested; convincing Maximilian to accept the conservatives' offer to be named emperor, Napoleon sent French troops to Latin America, purportedly to protect France's nationals but in reality to enforce Maximilian's rule. But liberals, despite continual intraparty rivalry, eventually managed to defeat the foreign armies and to topple--and execute--Maximilian. Brimming with fascinating historical figures--in addition to the principals, there are Lincoln, Grant, Francis Joseph of Austria, etc.--but Ridley sticks mostly to the facts, probing neither motivation nor character, and so fails to vivify his sprawling action and its players. (Eight-page photo insert--not seen).