The best books on biographies of the Mexican revolution

Alejandro Quintana Ph.D. Author Of Pancho Villa: A Biography
By Alejandro Quintana Ph.D.

Who am I?

I grew up in Mexico listening to my father´s stories about the Mexican revolution. His storytelling abilities drew me in as he described his childhood memories and those of his father, who lived through the revolution. That's why I became a historian writing about the Mexican Revolution with a preference for biographies. As the Latin Americanist historian at St. John's University in New York City, I've written two books: Maximino Avila Camacho and the One Party State, Pancho Villa: A Biography, and edited A Brief History of Mexico by Lynn V. Foster. I hope you enjoy the list of books on significant personalities that shaped the first major social revolution of the twentieth century.


I wrote...

Pancho Villa: A Biography

By Alejandro Quintana Ph.D.,

Book cover of Pancho Villa: A Biography

What is my book about?

Pancho Villa is the most powerful and influential general of the Mexican Revolution. However, his life is a rollercoaster of adventures. He went from peasant, bandit, revolutionary general, governor, and, finally, to a fugitive hunted down by the U.S. and Mexican revolutionary governments. Even today, people don't know what to make of him. Was he a ruthless criminal or a revolutionary hero? Regardless, he is, together with Zapata, the most representative and popular icon of the revolution.

By focusing on Villa's life, Pancho Villa: A Biography takes the readers on a clear path to explain the first major social revolution of the twentieth century.

The books I picked & why

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Zapata and the Mexican Revolution

By John Womack,

Book cover of Zapata and the Mexican Revolution

Why this book?

I was immediately hooked by Dr. John Womack's Zapata when I read it in graduate school. His combined storytelling and scholarship abilities are precisely what made me fall in love with history. Furthermore, this book inspired me to write Pancho Villa to complement the narrative of the revolution. Because, while Pancho Villa is the revolutionary leader fighting for the rights of mixed-race working class of the Mexican north, Zapata is the revolutionary leader committed to restoring the dignity and the ancestral lands of the indigenous population of the Mexican south. Here, Womack masterfully weaves Zapata's life with the Mexican Revolution. An unquestionably classic, this book is a praised scholarly work that reads like a novel.

Zapata and the Mexican Revolution

By John Womack,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Zapata and the Mexican Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This essential volume recalls the activities of Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution; he formed and commanded an important revolutionary force during this conflict. Womack focuses attention on Zapata's activities and his home state of Morelos during the Revolution. Zapata quickly rose from his position as a peasant leader in a village seeking agrarian reform. Zapata's dedication to the cause of land rights made him a hero to the people. Womack describes the contributing factors and conditions preceding the Mexican Revolution, creating a narrative that examines political and agrarian transformations on local and national levels.


The Death of Artemio Cruz

By Carlos Fuentes, Alfred MacAdam (translator),

Book cover of The Death of Artemio Cruz

Why this book?

This book is one of my all-time favorites. The Death of Artemio Cruz is a historical novel by one of the most acclaimed literary figures of the Spanish language, Carlos Fuentes. It is a captivating narrative of intertwined memories experienced by Cruz while on his deathbed; this novel is a harsh condemnation of the post-revolutionary political class. It shows the path of idealist revolutionaries becoming corrupt politicians once in power. While a work of fiction, the book describes real corrupt and abusive attitudes and straight-out crimes committed by numerous revolutionary leaders turned politicians. There were many Artemio Cruz among the revolution leaders, which helps explain why the revolution failed to achieve real social change. 

The Death of Artemio Cruz

By Carlos Fuentes, Alfred MacAdam (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Death of Artemio Cruz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the novel opens, Artemio Cruz, the all-powerful newspaper magnate and land baron, lies confined to his bed and, in dreamlike flashes, recalls the pivotal episodes of his life. Carlos Fuentes manipulates the ensuing kaleidoscope of images with dazzling inventiveness, layering memory upon memory, from Cruz's heroic campaigns during the Mexican Revolution, through his relentless climb from poverty to wealth, to his uneasy death. Perhaps Fuentes's masterpiece, The Death of Artemio Cruz is a haunting voyage into the soul of modern Mexico.


Porfirio Diaz

By Paul Garner,

Book cover of Porfirio Diaz

Why this book?

I love this book because it shows the real complexities of the socioeconomic realities that Mexicans experienced leading to the revolution. By focusing on the life of Porfirio Diaz, Paul Garner offers a nuanced narrative challenging six decades of the revolutionary government and most historians consistently condemning Diaz as an unredeemable tyrant. Instead, Garner offers a more realistic explanation of the achievements and failures of the dictator responsible for simultaneously resurrecting the Mexican economy and producing the biggest social upheaval in Mexican history.

Porfirio Diaz

By Paul Garner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Porfirio Diaz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The fall of Porfirio Diaz has traditionally been presented as a watershed between old and new: an old style repressive and conservative government, and the more democratic and representative system that flowered in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. Now this view is being challenged by a new generation of historians, who point out that Diaz originally rose to power in alliance with anti-conservative forces and was a modernising force as well as a dictator. Drawing together the threads of this revisionist reading of the Porfiriato, Garner reassesses a political career that spanned more than forty years, and examines the…


The Worm in the Wheat: Rosalie Evans and Agrarian Struggle in the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley of Mexico, 1906-1927

By Timothy J. Henderson,

Book cover of The Worm in the Wheat: Rosalie Evans and Agrarian Struggle in the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley of Mexico, 1906-1927

Why this book?

For me, history is the richest when it is explored from different perspectives. The Worm in the Wheat explores a perspective seldom feature in the narratives of the revolution. It focuses on the struggles of Rosalie Evans to defend her hacienda against the revolution. The story itself is a fascinating narrative enveloped in tension and drama. It is full of political intrigue and shifting alliances shaped by the violence of the social revolution.

The Worm in the Wheat: Rosalie Evans and Agrarian Struggle in the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley of Mexico, 1906-1927

By Timothy J. Henderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Worm in the Wheat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Worm in the Wheat is a compelling tale of political intrigue, violence, shifting allegiances, extreme poverty, and the recalcitrance of one woman. Above all, it is a multileveled interpretation of the Mexican revolution and the ultimate failure of agrarian reform. Timothy J. Henderson recounts the story of Rosalie Evans, a woman who lost her life defending her Mexican hacienda in defiance of confiscation decrees. This dramatic narrative is populated with many diverse actors: Mexican, British, and American officials, soldiers, rebel leaders, bureaucrats, peasants, vigilantes, and the unforgettable figure of Evans herself.
In a world where power and wealth are…


Alvaro Obregón: Power and Revolution in Mexico, 1911-1920

By Linda B. Hall,

Book cover of Alvaro Obregón: Power and Revolution in Mexico, 1911-1920

Why this book?

I was always fascinated by the story of Alvaro Obregon—this apparently unassuming general of the revolution slowly but surely knocking out one by one anyone getting on his way to become Mexico´s strongman. Not a minor feat considering that these include powerful and charismatic titans such as Pancho Villa and Venustiano Carranza. An ingenious strategist general and an uncanny political operator, Obregon is the man who finally brings peace and stability to Mexico after a long decade of unimaginable violence. Linda Hall beautifully threads the history of the revolution with the slow but effective rise of Obregon from a modest farmer to the presidency of Mexico.

Alvaro Obregón: Power and Revolution in Mexico, 1911-1920

By Linda B. Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alvaro Obregón as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Mexican Revolution produced some romantic and heroic figures. In Mexico at the time, however, one man loomed large as the embodiment of revolutionary goals and the one leader able to take the country from strife into peace. That man was Alvaro Obregón.

Less well-known to North Americans than his contemporaries and sometime allies Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, Obregón eventually formed the first stable government of post-revolutionary Mexico. Stories of his daring and near-invincibility abounded as he led revolutionary forces against the usurper Huerta, then against the "bandit" elements within the Revolution itself. Throughout the period of fighting, however,…


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Interested in Mexico, the Mexican Revolution, and revolutionaries?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mexico, the Mexican Revolution, and revolutionaries.

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