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  • Routes of Compromise: Building Roads and Shaping the Nation in Mexico, 1917-1952 by Michael K. Bess
  • Kris Bezdecny
Michael K. Bess Routes of Compromise: Building Roads and Shaping the Nation in Mexico, 1917-1952. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017. xiv + 206 pp. Maps, diagrams, tables, ills., notes, appendices, references, index. $30.00 paper (ISBN 978-1-4962-0246-8); $60.00 hardcover (ISBN 978-0-8032-9934-4); $30.00 electronic (ISBN 978-1-4962-0401-1).

Salvador Toscano, director of the Local Road Board of Nuevo Leon (JLCNL), would embody the top-down, state-managed approach to road construction taken by the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon between 1927 and 1955. In his time in Monterrey, Toscano would provide the stability for road construction throughout the state: initially as first chief engineer of the Northern Division of the National Road Commission in 1927, then as the inaugural director of JLCNL in 1933, and then as part of the transition upon his retirement in 1935 to pave the way for 20 years of consistent leadership under his successor, Pablo Dominguez Jr. During his time as the leading road engineer in Nuevo Leon, Toscano focused on the need for increased road construction focused on connecting local communities within the state with Monterrey as a means of progressing regional economic development, including tourism, developing a centralized, hierarchical approach to the expansion of roads throughout Nuevo Leon that, by the 1950s, would represent the dominant approach to road construction throughout Mexico.

Routes of Compromise: Building Roads and Shaping the Nation in Mexico, 1917-1952 by Michael K. Bess is full of such vignettes woven throughout the text, linking road building with state formation, regional and national economic development, a symbol of national progress and modernization, and a sense of national identity in Mexico from the Constitution of 1917 to the end of Alemanismo [the presidential term of Miguel Aleman Valdes, 1946-1952, and the policies associated with him] in 1952. These vignettes drive and enrich Bess's narrative, attaching individuals and organizations to the larger historical events they participated in. This narrative supports Bess's analysis of the institutional (through engineering bureaucracy) and legal (through the courts and Article 11 of the Constitution of 1917) implications of road building across three scales: the national scale, the state scale through the use of case studies, and the local scale through the impacts of bureaucratic and legal decisions on local communities, individuals, and locally-sited companies. Bess emphasizes that road building during this 35-year period was a participatory [End Page 179] project that included, and was reinforced by, all of Mexican society. This book expands on Bess's considerable work in this space, including his earlier article Routes of conflict: Building roads and shaping the nation of Mexico, 1941-1952, which also focused in Nuevo Leon and Veracruz (Bess, 2014).

The structure of Routes of Compromise highlights Bess's multi-scalar approach to this history: each chapter begins with the overall political context at the national (and often international) scale within the chapter's defined time frame. Each chapter then dives deeper into two case studies at the state scale: the case of Nuevo Leon, with its centralized, hierarchical bureaucracy focused in Monterrey; and the case of Veracruz, with its decentralized, often grassroots approach that developed into a complex bureaucratic web operating throughout the state. Each case study also focuses on relationships between more local scales and the state bureaucracy, as well as the interactions between the state bureaucracies with the national bureaucracy.

Chapter 1 sets the stage for the need for road construction throughout Mexico, and the relationships between road construction and the ideas of progress and modernization in Mexico after 1917 and into the early 1920s. Infrastructural development was equated to economic development, and local communities engaged in fundraising efforts to support construction – with state and local funding acting as a stopgap for the national government when unable to continue to pay for road construction, such as the suspension at the national level in 1922 to focus on foreign debt repayment. Chapter 2 focuses on the development of the national and state-level bureaucracies in the mid...


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