Hispanic American Historical Review 83.4 (2003) 778-779
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Francisco de Miranda: A Transatlantic Life in the Age of Revolution . By Karen Racine. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2003. Photographs. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xix, 336 pp. Cloth, $65.00. Paper, $19.95.
Racine's Miranda brings to mind the life of another Gran Colombian who figured on the margins of the South American struggle for independence—nineteenth-century caudillo-president Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera. Both were military men with a passionate interest in politics. Both has tremendous egos, kept virtually every scrap of paper they ever received, accumulated large and varied personal libraries, and loved to "figurar." Both traveled widely and were consummate ladies' men. Perhaps the main difference between the two is that Mosquera arrived late on the stage of Gran Colombian independence, a circumstance that he deeply regretted in the early years of his life, while Miranda, who spent the final years of his life in a Spanish prison and died in 1816, was born too early to take part in the final liberation of his native Venezuela.
Nevertheless, Racine's comprehensive, thoroughly researched and well-written biography of the Venezuelan Prócer leaves no doubt the reader's mind of Miranda's [End Page 778] pivotal role in preparing the intellectual groundwork for revolution and emancipation in the Spanish colonies, Europe, and North America, and in acting as a liaison among an entire generation of independence-minded Latin American expatriates—particularly in London, where Miranda spent the bulk of his adult life. Nor does the author fail to make clear that Miranda, the transatlantic revolutionary, was far more talented as a dilettante and lobbyist than he was as a military leader.
Fans of biography, that forgotten stepchild of contemporary Latin American historiography, will find this book particularly rewarding and will admire Racine's objectivity and balance in portraying someone who is not always a very appealing figure, particularly when his enormous ego rears its ugly head. This book is equally successful in portraying the historical milieu in which Miranda lived and worked, including the sympathy and mild enthusiasm which his cause elicited among leading U.S. political figures, all of whom he met and tried to lobby, and their British counterparts, whose reaction to Miranda's overtures—driven primarily by the prospect of greatly expanded British trade with the Americas—was far more cautious and equivocal.
If I were obliged to pick nits, I might object to Racine's meticulous use of brackets to highlight the spelling, grammar, and syntax errors that appear in the correspondence of Miranda and his contemporaries; for some reason, the brackets disappear in her quotes of letters written by Miranda's English wife. Are eighteenth century women not to be held as accountable for their errors as their male counterparts? Also, those of us who have spent most of their adult lives earning a living by the sweat of our brows might be forgiven for our less-than-sympathetic attitude toward the life of a man, as portrayed by Racine, who hardly worked a day in his life, lived from the charity of patrons and friends, and whose source of family income is not very clearly documented by the author.
Given its clarity and thoroughness, this biography of Miranda should become the standard reference for anyone seeking to understand the period leading up to the South American wars of independence. If I were teaching a class on the national period in Latin American history at any level, I would not hesitate to assign Racine's biography as required reading, comfortable in the knowledge that my students would learn from it and enjoy it at the same time.