Casey Marina Lurtz’s meticulously researched book analyzes the rocky transition of the Soconusco region of Chiapas from a backwater nineteenth-century ranching zone into Mexico’s most important coffee region. Readers will appreciate her attention to labor, land, and the challenges state actors and larger-scale planters faced to gain control over them. Only once planters and merchants began to offer incentives like access to credit and land, did villagers and migrant workers from the Mexican highlands, Guatemala, and elsewhere begin to plant trees and tend to beans. Many locals became small-scale producers themselves, and to this day communally held village landholders produce a significant portion of the region’s coffee.

Lurtz convincingly depicts the Soconusco as simultaneously “a place where all of the traditional narratives of Latin America’s export boom come together” and “a place where none of those narratives hold” (4). The textbook version of Latin American history emphasizes how late nineteenth-century...

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