The year 1992 is a time of agonizing reappraisals. Columbus was a louse. The Spanish Conquest of Mexico was, according to Ruiz (History/Univ. of Cal. at San Diego), a ""fortune hunt."" All very well, but there's a danger in aiming for perfect political correctness. Sooner or later, you're bound to lapse from your own high standard. In this sweeping history of Mexico, it's sooner. After assuring us--who says we doubt it?--that the native civilizations of Mexico (population 12-25 million in the year 1520) were in all regards, except metal technology, the equal of European, Ruiz proceeds to dispatch the Olmecs, Maya, Toltecs, and Aztecs in just six pages. Sixteenth-century Spain alone gets twice as many. True, that's because Ruiz thinks Reconquista Spain set the pattern for many of the country's intractable problems, the ongoing tragedy of his title. Still, the imbalance is disturbing, and not only here. And the author often lapses into old-style textbook shorthand. Cultural history, for example, always comes at the end of the chapter, an afterthought to wars and rebellions, and it never amounts to more than a string of famous names and a few tag-lines. The syntax is often deliriously declarative, the Monty Python history of Mexico: ""Spaniards, like males the world over, could not live without women and so they fornicated with Indian females and sired mestizos."" Author of a close study of the Mexican revolution, The Great Rebellion (1980), Ruiz does gives a balanced and lucid account of the 30-year DÃaz regime, the tangled civil war, the US role in prolonging the agony. He sees the country now as returning to the DÃaz era, when big business ran the show and the needs of the poor were largely overlooked. But berating the burguesiÃ¡'s lack of a social conscience, he sounds again so glib and familiar that even when you agree with him, you want to disagree with his intellectual pessimism. Perhaps the best thing about this too-rapid survey of Mexican history from an impassioned expert is the rich and detailed bibliography.