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Hispanic American Historical Review 81.2 (2001) 359-360

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Book Review

Knight Without Armor:
Carlos Eduardo Castañeda, 1896-1958

Knight Without Armor: Carlos Eduardo Castañeda, 1896-1958. By FÉLIX D. ALMARAZ JR. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1999. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xxi, 430 pp. Cloth, $39.95.

In Knight Without Armor Félix Almaraz paints a vivid, very human portrait of a Texas historian of great charm and energy, a man who could also be cranky, cantankerous, annoyed at slights, often quick to take umbrage, and at times even a "gut-fighter" with an explosive temper. In 1927, after four years of teaching Spanish in Virginia at the College of William and Mary, at the beginning of his academic career, Carlos Castañeda returned to his alma mater, the University of Texas, as a librarian. He quickly found himself enjoying the position, which melded well with his ultimate goal of becoming a historian. However, he also encountered difficulties and conflict due to academic and intralibrary rivalry, envy of his success, his own aggressive temperament, and ethnic bias. Frequently he found himself the object of gossip and criticism for being Catholic and Mexican. [End Page 359]

Castañeda's academic life was a constant striving, usually at odds which would have discouraged anyone but the incurable optimist that he was. Nearly all his life he sought extra teaching opportunities or devised other ways of supplementing his meager salary to help meet unexpected expenses. A man of indefatigable energy, he was always doing the work of three or four to insure the success of his various pecuniary ventures. Despite declining health later, he continued to accept new projects as well as numerous speaking engagements, all the while struggling to complete the seven volumes of his life's work, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, 1519-1936.

During World War II, Castañeda stepped away from academia temporarily, accepting a position as the regional director of Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), which provided him an opportunity to pursue longtime civil rights concerns. He made extended tours of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, explaining the FEPC and investigating complaints of discrimination, particularly in the mining industry. The details of his enthusiastic FEPC activity vividly bring home to the reader the extent and depths of economic and social discrimination against Mexican Americans in the Southwest at this time.

After the war, Castañeda--now secure in the recognition of his contributions to Texas and to its history--finally found a degree of financial security as well. He basked in his colleagues' regard for his role in developing the Institute of Latin American Studies and as director of the Latin American Collection at UT. Even before he finally completed volume 7 of his magnus opus in 1957, he had been feeling strain and exhaustion from his many hectic activities. Despite a history of heart attacks, he continued, albeit now at a somewhat slower pace, to take on new projects and to accept public speaking opportunities, activities that ultimately helped bring about his death on 3 April 1958.

A "must read" for history buffs and for all Texans, Almaraz's Knight Without Armor is a detailed, conscientious, and thoughtful biography. It is solidly based on meticulous research in extensive primary and secondary sources, the material carefully scrutinized, sifted, and integrated. The numerous quotes from correspondence and other sources are dovetailed tightly with Almaraz's narrative. His language is easily read--simple and straightforward. An extensive collection of photographs introduces the reader to the many people who were part of Castañeda's life, but there is no map of Texas to help the reader follow his frequent travels. Almaraz's extensive footnotes include a few short biographical sketches of Latin American historians. The non-historian might wish for more of them.

MATT S. MEIER, Santa Clara University



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pp. 359-360
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2004
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