Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor
Alvaro Obregón: Power and Revolution in Mexico, 1911-1920. By Linda B. Hall. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1981. Illustrations. Index. Bibliography. Maps. Chronology. 290 pages.
Reviewed by Paul J. Vanderwood, professor of history, San Diego State University, whose latest book is Disorder and Progress: Bandits, Police and Mexican Development (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981).
Mexico’s still-to-be-understood Revolution of 1910 continues to attract scholarly attention, and in this book Professor Linda Hall contributes a solid political biography of one of the drama’s main characters, Alvaro Obregón. Employing sound primary documentation in considerable detail, she describes Obregón’s determined maneuvers from a relatively minor Sonoran politician, to the conqueror of Pancho Villa, through a dangerous rivalry with Venustiano Carranza and on to the presidency of 1920. Throughout all, Obregón proved to be clever, courageous, lucky, opportunistic and a driven capitalist. He intended all along—and he said it (p. 201)—to make money off war. And he certainly managed to do so. The author maintains that he survived the internecine power struggle generated by the rebellion because his military prowess (self-taught) made him a national hero, and because his reformist tendencies revealed in public pronouncements rallied the masses to his cause.
The book does not pretend to be more than a straightforward political biography, and as such it makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of what happened during the fighting phase of the revolt. Obregón’s early alliance with Carranza and the Constitutionalists, his subsequent hostilities with Villa and Emiliano Zapata, and his later competition with Carranza which was complicated by Villa’s raids into the United States are aptly outlined by Professor Hall, who throughout strongly sympathizes with her protagonist but is not hesitant to point out his political and military miscalculations. However, her conclusions concerning the overall nature of Obregón’s political support, the strength of his eventual authority, and the aims of the country’s rebels are certain to be debated. Generalizations do not comfortably fit Mexico’s Revolution. Everywhere scholars probe they find regional variations, and Mexicans who seemed to have been representatives of the same socio-economic groups fought for Villa, Carranza and Obregón— sometimes for all three, changing sides frequently in their search for a winner. In sum, the meaning of the revolt is still being pondered and the issue is decidedly controversial.
Finally, it would indeed be interesting to compare the personal qualities and political promises of Obregón during his rise to power with his performance as president (1920-1924), especially because a good many Mexicans consider that the Bucareli agreements which he signed with the United States in 1923 signaled a betrayal of—or even the end of—the Mexican Revolution. One hopes that a historian as competent and thorough as Professor Hall soon undertakes this important and fascinating task.