Richard H. Peterson, Book Reviews Editor
Disorder and Progress: Bandits, Police, and Mexican Development. By Paul J. Vanderwood. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981. Notes. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 264 pages.
Reviewed by Billy Jaynes Chandler, Professor of Latin American History at Texas A&I University, author of The Feitosas and the Sertao dos Inhamuns (1972) and The Bandit King: Lampiao of Brazil (1978).
Historian Paul J. Vanderwood of San Diego State University in Disorder and Progress seeks in the main to explain the frequent appearance of anarchy and near-anarchy in Mexico’s past. Rooted in an impressive array of both primary and secondary sources, this well-written study moves the reader from the colonial years down through the 20th century Revolution. Presidents, generals, governors, local caudillos, policemen, hacendados, bandits, villagers, and aggrieved Indians all have their day in Vanderwood’s work. Bringing them all together into a cohesive story is the thesis that groups and individuals seek to create order or disorder as befits their aims at the moment. Usually lurking in the immediate vicinity is the onslaught of capitalism, which the author evidently believes underlay the events.
The most substantial contribution of this study falls during the periods of Benito Juarez and Porfirio Díaz. Vanderwood has devoted a good many years to the study of the Rurales, the centrally controlled rural police force of those years, and it is that time that he knows best. On the earlier periods, as well as on the Revolution itself, the book does little but whet one’s appetite for more.
It should be said that Disorder and Progress is more for the specialist than for the general reader. Facts and interpretations often come fast and heavy, and the reader who lacks a good grasp of the course of Mexican history may soon be gasping for air. Similarly, those looking chiefly for stories of colorful bandits and their encounters with police will probably be disappointed, since anything approaching detailed accounts is rare. The emphasis is on broad interpretation, and once the supporting people and events are mentioned or barely sketched, the book hurries on.
None of this reviewer’s comments is intended to dissuade anyone from reading this work. Specialists in the field will, no doubt, question some of the interpretations, as they are prone to do, whoever the author and whatever the subject. Careful students of bandit history may wonder if individuals as varied and undisciplined as most bandits marched as closely to the beat of Vanderwood’s interpretation as he believes. But this is, quite simply, a good book. And it should entice others to inquire further into some of those many tantalizing tidbits that the author throws at us.