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Latin America

The Allure and Power of an Idea

“Latin America” is a concept firmly entrenched in its philosophical, moral, and historical meanings. And yet, Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo argues in this landmark book, it is an obsolescent racial-cultural idea that ought to have vanished long ago with the banishment of racial theory. Latin America: The Allure and Power of an Idea makes this case persuasively.

Tenorio-Trillo builds the book on three interlocking steps: first, an intellectual history of the concept of Latin America in its natural historical habitat—mid-nineteenth-century redefinitions of empire and the cultural, political, and economic intellectualism; second, a serious and uncompromising critique of the current “Latin Americanism”—which circulates in United States–based humanities and social sciences; and, third, accepting that we might actually be stuck with “Latin America,” Tenorio-Trillo charts a path forward for the writing and teaching of Latin American history. Accessible and forceful, rich in historical research and specificity, the book offers a distinctive, conceptual history of Latin America and its many connections and intersections of political and intellectual significance. Tenorio-Trillo’s book is a masterpiece of interdisciplinary scholarship.


“Serving as an investigation of "Latin America" in the abstract, historian Tenorio-Trillo’s work reframes the understanding of not only where this abstract concept originated but also why it endures. . .Rooted in deep, thorough interdisciplinary research and analysis and written in witty prose, the book promises to open rich dialogues, not only within graduate seminar classrooms but also in the field as a whole.”


“This is a book that fully delivers on its title. [Tenorio-Trillo] provides a history of the idea of Latin America, rather than of the place itself, and he does so with plenty of wit and brio.”

Current History

“A great example of what skillful history writing can achieve: to combine deep historical knowledge with sharp political analysis. Add the ability to write engagingly and a refreshing sense of humor and you have the essence of this book: a must-read for every scholar of Latin America but also a prime example of critical engagement with the fundamental concepts underlying scholarly work.”


“An engaging and lucidly argued book. . .Passionate, impressively erudite, and occasionally playful.”

Hispanic American Historical Review

“Like many ideas invented with the rise of racial thinking, the category of ‘Latin America’ lives on.  And yet, few agree on what it means. Tenorio-Trillo’s brilliant essays reveal the extent to which the endless search for understanding and coherence has led to confusion and contradiction. Latin America mutated from anti-yanqui slogan to cornerstone of North American universities. And yet, it has always carried the anti-liberal, anti-individualist traits with which it was born. Tenorio-Trillo’s skeptical voyage should provoke a much-needed debate about what Latin America has meant—and whether or how we should let it go, finally.”

Jeremy Adelman, Princeton University

“While some still write nine hundred page tomes that can be used as blunt instruments, others can get a lot done in a far shorter space. By turns playful, provocative, aphoristic, and unfailingly idiosyncratic, Tenorio-Trillo’s Latin America showcases for the English-reading public the special talents of this intellectual contrabandista. How to cope with the very idea of ‘Latin America,’ especially from within the US academy (but also from its fringes)? This short work is ostensibly a manifesto of ‘defeat’ but it is actually an act of subversion at many levels. Necessary reading for ‘Latin Americanists’ of all stripes, it should equally be read by all those who, like myself, have a love-hate relationship with ‘area studies.’”

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, author of Europe’s India

Latin America is one of those rare books that can fundamentally alter your understanding of a whole field. The basic idea is simple enough: under the deceptive clarity of geography there is a thick cultural history, a host of conflicts that crystalize in the name of Latin America—and we reveal much about ourselves, unknowingly, when we use it. All the excitement, and the pleasure, is in the details. Latin America is a major work by a mature scholar: deep, moving, passionate, nuanced, and erudite, but also lighthearted and truly funny at times. Only a handful of historians, and none in his generation, command the massive amount of knowledge about the continent that Tenorio does—in six languages. Add to it a sparkling, smiling prose, and a warm sense of humor. It is what every history book should aspire to be.”

Fernando Escalante, El Colegio de México

“Tenorio-Trillo examines a powerful paradox defining the study of ‘Latin America’ with particular focus on the US academy, exposing what appears, at first, as a logical impossibility. He demonstrates that the very notion of Latin America as conventionally articulated in this academic milieu should have ceased to carry any weight some time ago, on account of various developments in our fields of study. At the same time, he shows us that the term itself and all the debates that it is bound up with—the legitimate ones as well as the not-so-legitimate ones—continue to carry the highest degree of urgency in our time. Hence, this is less a book about abstract ideas and theories, and more an ethical call to arms for everyone that the problematic term concerns: a call, made with at times disarming clarity and honesty, to more effectively position our collective habits, priorities, and strategies to deal with the many, multi-faceted problems at hand. To call this essential reading for those concerned with the field would be a powerful under-statement.”

Luis M. Castañeda, author of Spectacular Mexico

"The great accomplishment of Tenorio-Trillo is not only to distort the concept of Latin America, but precisely to question the very idea that there is something that unites the diversity of people, cultures, and social processes of the extensive territory that spans from the Río Grande to Tierra del Fuego. Written in an entertaining and provocative style, closer to an essay than to historical research, Tenorio-Trillo attacks the category of Latin America systematically, with incisive, well-argued passages, endowed with irony and humor, in which he demonstrates again and again the conceptual weaknesses of those who posit cultural or historical continuity across 'Latin American' nations."

Bulletin of Spanish Studies (Translated from Spanish)

Table of Contents


ONE / The Basic Connotations of an Idea
TWO / Iberismo and Latinité
THREE / The Question of Brazil
FOUR / Latino/a and Latin America
FIVE / Singing Latinoamérica
SIX / US-Centered Latin America—Part 1
SEVEN / US-Centered Latin America—Part 2
EIGHT / “Latin America” Abides: But How Should Historians Speak It?


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