CHAPTERS OF BRAZIL'S COLONIAL HISTORY, 1500-1800 by Joao Capistrano de Abreu


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 A surprisingly fresh and acerbic review of Brazil's early history, first published in 1907 and now translated into English for the first time. Capistrano de Abreu was one of Brazil's earliest historians of note, and he has remained an influential figure in Brazil down to the present time. A variety of events conspired to keep him from completing the major revisionist history of his country that he had planned. Chapters is the closest he came to a lengthy narrative history, and it is some testament to Capistrano de Abreu's considerable accomplishments as a historian that it remains a deeply persuasive work. After a brief survey of Brazil's geography, Capistrano de Abreu plunges with zest into the complex and often very bloody history of the long battle among European nations for control of Brazil's considerable resources. First claimed by Portuguese explorers (in 1500), Brazil soon became a pawn caught between Portugal and France. When France finally ceded control to Portugal, the Dutch attempted to seize considerable terrain. For almost two centuries Brazil was the site of invasions, sieges and countersieges, ambushes and battles. Caught in the middle, and generally getting the worst of events, were the indigenous tribes. Capistrano de Abreu does an admirable job of piecing together, from very incomplete records, the likely course of the many campaigns. He's equally good in tracing the sporadic pattern of settlement in the Brazilian interior, and surprisingly modern in his interests: There's a sensitivity to the fate of the Indian and a subtle stress on the transformation of the environment by farming. His angry descriptions of the destruction of the villages created by Indians who had been converted to Christianity by Jesuits, to supply additional product for Portuguese slavers, is memorable, as are his vivid portraits of life of the Brazilian frontier in the late 18th century. More a collection of independent essays than a thorough review, Chapters is nonetheless a lively portrait of Brazil's harsh, violent genesis.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-19-510301-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997