Simon Bolivar: A Life by John Lynch. (Yale 2006.) A good modern biography of Bolivar is much needed. This plodding volume is not it. How on earth do you manage to make the life of Bolivar of all people dull? This book offers few fresh insights into the thinking of one of the most arresting intelligencs in Latin American history, barely bothers to explain the seeming contradictions between Bolivar’s authoritarian and libertarian tendencies, has little to say about the social and racial problems about which Bolivar in fact thought so hard and with such frustrating results for himself personally and the republics he left behind. Even the battles are made dull.
I was reading the Library of Latin America’s El Libertador: Writings of Simon Bolivar (Oxford, 2003) at the same time as the Lynch biography. Their introductory biographical sketch does a better job of relating the main facts – and Bolivar’s own writings speak eloquently for themselves about the grandeur and tragedy of his life. As we worry over the fate of Venezuela under the self-proclaimed “Bolivarian Hugo Chavez, it is grimly satisfying to be reminded that nobody more prophetically foresaw Chavez and his ilk – and nobody would have despised him more heartily – than the hero in whose footsteps Chavez ludicrously pretends to follow.