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Reviewed by:
  • An Economic and Demographic History of São Paulo, 1850–1950 by Francisco Vidal Luna and Herbert Klein
  • Felipe Loureiro
An Economic and Demographic History of São Paulo, 1850–1950. By Francisco Vidal Luna and Herbert Klein (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2018) 480 pp. $75.00

Despite the interdisciplinary title of Luna and Klein’s book about the economic and demographic history of the state of São Paulo, Brazil, this study does not exhibit an explicitly interdisciplinary focus or methodology. The book is an extension of Luna and Klein’s Slavery and the Economy of São Paulo, 17501850 (Stanford, 2003). It has relatively little to say in depth about the evolution of São Paulo’s demography during the period until the last of the book’s nine chapters.

Luna and Klein look into classic issues of economic history, focusing on how a backward region in Brazil became the country’s richest and most important state within a century (1850–1950). The authors analyze the birth of São Paulo’s modern agricultural economy (Chapter 1), how the state became the world’s leading exporter of coffee (Chapter 4), the consequences of this transformation in public governance and finance [End Page 308] (Chapters 2 and 3), foreign trade and investment (Chapter 6), economic diversification (Chapter 7), infrastructure and provision of public services (Chapter 8), and population growth and structure (Chapter 9).

The book requires no formal training in economics, employing simple and clear language and using only descriptive statistics. Luna and Klein’s copious data about the evolution of São Paulo’s economy, public finance, infrastructure, foreign trade, and population will surely make this study a reference for those interested in a basic quantitative profile of São Paulo during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, the book’s strength is also its weakness; the authors could have gone beyond descriptive analysis. The vast number of tables (more than 100) and almost fifty figures make for a dry and often repetitive presentation of the ideas explored. Moreover, the authors might have provided better context for some of the data. For instance, the statement that teachers in the province of São Paulo earned between 2.4 and 4.8 contos de réis in the late nineteenth century is not entirely meaningful unless the authors also say something about the local cost of living (69). Similarly, pointing out that São Paulo produced 1.3 metric tons of corn, 270,000 metric tons of rice, and 115,000 metric tons of beans in 1940 is not in itself revealing without further information about how many metric tons of these staples were consumed in São Paulo, in Brazil, and, on average, in paulista and Brazilian families (123–124).

Luna and Klein’s book draws much of its evidence from secondary sources, except for their quantitative data, which largely comes from published primary sources, such as official reports and bulletins and private and official census records. The authors effectively summarize the conclusions of recent studies about São Paulo’s economy, society, and politics from 1850 to 1950, especially unpublished Ph.D. dissertations written in Portuguese. Yet, they also neglect key studies in the topics explored: Michael Hall, “The Origins of Mass Migration in Brazil, 1871–1914,” unpub. Ph.D. diss. (Columbia Univ., 1969); Winston Fritsch, External Constraints on Economic Policy in Brazil, 18891930 (Pittsburgh, 1988); Fausto’s studies about labor conditions and politics in the state of São; and Colistete’s analyses of paulista agriculture and education in the early twentieth century.1

Even though those interested in historical case studies that advance interdisciplinarity may be disappointed, nonspecialized readers interested in the economic history of the state of São Paulo will certainly find a fair introduction to the topic in Luna and Klein’s latest book. [End Page 309]

Felipe Loureiro
University of São Paulo


1. See, for example, Boris Fausto, PauloTrabalho Urbano e Conflito Social (São Paulo, 2016); Renato Colistete, “Regiões e especialização na agricultura cafeeira,” Brazilian Economic Review (Revista Brasileira de Economia), LXIX (2015), available at