three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
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The Making of a Democracy

A-OpeningMexicoVicente Fox’s 2002 victory in Mexico’s first democratic presidential election hardly stunned the country. After all, Mexico had been in the throes of a liberal transformation for three decades. The quiet "revolution" nonetheless ended 70 years of corrupt rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Journalists Preston and Dillon examine the collapse of this "perfect dictatorship" as opposition to PRI’s tactics gained strength. According to the authors, no Nelson Mandela rose up to challenge the dictatorship. Instead, individuals and groups from all walks of society "gradually converged … to end the PRI’s despotic rule" and put Mexico on the path to true democracy.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 594 pages. $30.

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Preston and Dillon deserve an immense amount of credit for their achievement here, the payoff of their tireless reporting. At their best, the authors, using exhaustive research, personal testimony, and interviews at every stratum of Mexican society, provide blow-by-blow accounts of seminal moments in modern Mexican history." Scott W. Hellman

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Preston and Dillon give Zedillo ample and well-deserved credit for being the architect of many of the political reforms that led to the dramatic opening that swept Fox into power." Michele Wucker

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"By combining a nimble narrative with a reporters’ eye for detail, they produce a gripping and insightful history of Mexico’s democratic transition." Daniel Kurtz-Phelan

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Preston and Dillon understandably tell the story of Mexico’s transition to democracy by focusing on the people who shaped it, some well known, others not. … [They] dedicate a chapter (their best) to the Mexican journalists and thinkers—intellectuals outside the establishment—who insisted that there was life after the PRI, including Gabriel Zaid." Michael C. Boyer

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"… an interesting book that investigates the history of this triumph. … [T]he result is a good if rather heavy introduction to the subject." Hugh Thomas

NY Times 3 of 5 Stars
"This detailed insiders’ account… gives readers the most intimate and accessible portrait they are likely to have of Mexico in a time of upheaval. … Perhaps the most glaring omission is the lack of any serious examination of the PRI…" Walter Russell Mead

Critical Summary

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Preston and Dillon served as bureau chiefs for The New York Times in Mexico City between 1995 and 2000. Relying on extensive research and interviews, they offer an insightful portrait of the interplay between individuals and historic forces, such as economic liberalization, in bringing about true democracy. Their vivid characterization of diverse players, from PRI stalwarts to businessmen, intellectuals, and ordinary Mexican citizens, offers an evenhanded view of this political transition. Analysis of PRI’s internal politics and the present state of Mexico’s still flawed democracy, however, remains largely absent. Still, Opening Mexico serves as the best primer we have on the messy transition to democracy—and as an important lesson for all readers, all leaders, all nations.