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John Gunther has through the years been hedgehopping hurriedly over large landmasses; he is usually faulted for his superficiality which still has the virtue of accessibility, while in all these Insides, he is really on the outside looking in. Inside South America is no exception; yet because the subject has never been treated in terms to reach a popular readership, it deserves and is sure to gain attention. Mr. Gunther is best at fingerspitzengefuchl -- feeling with his fingers. The rough sense of Latin big city life, in Rio, Buenos Aires, Lima, comes across clearly along with the transportation systems, the cuisine (best mixed drinks of nearly all ten countries are included), the architecture, dress, through the melange of anecdote, history, personal interviews and fact-sheet that is Gunther's method. The smaller countries such as Peru and Uruguay fare better than the mammoth Brazil; he might have gone to the literature of that great, green nation to help with those chapters. Where he cannot build his reports around a single thesis--such as Uruguay's comprehensive but debilitating system of social welfare, or the personality of Peru's President Belanude Terry--the reader becomes as befuddled as the guide. Politics, the hot heart of the anxious continent, turn cold in his hand. Gunther leaves ideas to theorists and seeks to present all of Latin communism through an interview with one Bolivian leader. He takes his stand ""on the side of the people"" but all his major profiles are of their presidents and leaders. The millions upon whose shoulders the continent is carried remain anonymous, shadows in the jungle, passengers on departing buses, corpses in a ditch. While it is enormously readable and should be read, Gunther's overview is just that--not so complex but just as confusing as its subject.

Publisher: Harper & Row