The best books on democracy in Latin America

Joe Foweraker Author Of Polity: Demystifying Democracy in Latin America and Beyond
By Joe Foweraker

Who am I?

I fell in love with Latin America as I meandered around Mexico in the summer of 1969. The passion has never died. Within a year I walked into Brazil’s ‘wild west’ to research the violence along its moving frontier, while over fifty years later I am an emeritus professor of Latin American politics at the University of Oxford and an honorary professor at the University of Exeter. An early decision to look at politics from the ‘bottom up’ led to a life-long inquiry into the theory and practice of democracy, and the publication of many essays and books that are available to view on my Amazon author page.


I wrote...

Polity: Demystifying Democracy in Latin America and Beyond

By Joe Foweraker,

Book cover of Polity: Demystifying Democracy in Latin America and Beyond

What is my book about?

Polity sets out to reshape our thinking both about democracy and about Latin American political systems by capturing the contending oligarchic and democratic elements in current ‘democracies’ and exploring the formation of these polities through the complex interaction of state, political regime, and civil society. The innovative conceptual framework, with its recurrent focus on the tensions between (private and informal) oligarchic powers and (public and formal) democratic institutions and procedures successfully explains phenomena like the persistence of clientelism and the political logic of populist success, so shifting the focus beyond the narrow, confines of decontextualized institutional analysis and creating a broader analytical perspective that yet remains grounded in historical and empirical inquiry. Polity is a simple idea that resolves a host of political puzzles.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Latin American Politics and Society: A Comparative and Historical Analysis

By Gerardo L. Munck, Juan Pablo Luna,

Book cover of Latin American Politics and Society: A Comparative and Historical Analysis

Why this book?

This is the most up-to-date and comprehensive account of the politics of Latin America and delivers a scintillating analysis of its democratic systems of government. It is written by two of the most dynamic and original scholars working in Latin America today, who are working here to a set of rigorous analytical standards. Their argument is supported and extended by numerous links to primary and secondary written materials, as well as photo and video archives. The argument is both lucid and accessible.

Latin American Politics and Society: A Comparative and Historical Analysis

By Gerardo L. Munck, Juan Pablo Luna,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Latin American Politics and Society as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Taking a fresh thematic approach to politics and society in Latin America, this introductory textbook analyzes the region's past and present in an accessible and engaging style well-suited to undergraduate students. The book provides historical insights into modern states and critical issues they are facing, with insightful analyses that are supported by empirical data, maps and timelines. Drawing upon cutting-edge research, the text considers critical topics relevant to all countries within the region such as the expansion of democracy and citizenship rights and responses to human rights abuses, corruption, and violence. Each richly illustrated chapter contains a compelling and cohesive…


A Middle-Quality Institutional Trap: Democracy and State Capacity in Latin America

By Sebastián L. Mazzuca, Gerardo L. Munck,

Book cover of A Middle-Quality Institutional Trap: Democracy and State Capacity in Latin America

Why this book?

This is an original, close-focus, and fully comparative account of the democratic politics of Latin America that demonstrates beyond any doubt that no analysis of its democracies can succeed without equal attention to the processes of State formation in the region. I do not say that I find its analytical approach well founded in every respect or that I agree with all of its conclusions, but it’s an argument that poses and wrestles with the difficult questions and engages with a wide range of theoretical and empirical inquiry into order to do so.

A Middle-Quality Institutional Trap: Democracy and State Capacity in Latin America

By Sebastián L. Mazzuca, Gerardo L. Munck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Middle-Quality Institutional Trap as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Latin America is currently caught in a middle-quality institutional trap, combining flawed democracies and low-to-medium capacity States. Yet, contrary to conventional wisdom, the sequence of development - Latin America has democratized before building capable States - does not explain the region's quandary. States can make democracy, but so too can democracy make States. Thus, the starting point of political developments is less important than whether the State-democracy relationship is a virtuous cycle, triggering causal mechanisms that reinforce each other. However, the State-democracy interaction generates a virtuous cycle only under certain macroconditions. In Latin America, the State-democracy interaction has not generated…


Capitalist Development and Democracy

By Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Evelyne Huber Stephens, John D. Stephens

Book cover of Capitalist Development and Democracy

Why this book?

The author list combines a leading sociological theorist, a premier scholar of Latin American political economy, and a sophisticated practitioner of statistical analysis who between them have written one of the great classical works on Latin American economy and democracy. 

The book itself combines a rounded theoretical approach, a comparative framework that extends to Europe and North America, and a thorough grounding in Latin American history. Though published some thirty years ago, it remains a must-read for those trying to get to grips with Latin American democracy.

Capitalist Development and Democracy

By Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Evelyne Huber Stephens, John D. Stephens

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Capitalist Development and Democracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How are capitalism and democracy related? Does capitalist development today generate pressures for democratization in the same way it did earlier in the core countries of capitalism? Past research has come to divergent conclusions on these questions. Cross-national statistical research has found that capitalist development and democracy are consistently correlated. By contrast, comparative historical studies have argued that economic development and democracy was and is compatible with a variety of political forms, and that in some cases economic development imperatives have led to the authoritarian eclipse of political competition, and that the chances of democracy in developing countries are rather…


Latin American Constitutionalism,1810-2010: The Engine Room of the Constitution

By Roberto Gargarella,

Book cover of Latin American Constitutionalism,1810-2010: The Engine Room of the Constitution

Why this book?

You have to ask how is it that Argentina has produced so many world-class authors, artists, and intellectuals? Roberto Gargarella is one such, and he has succeeded in turning the apparently dry topic of constitutionalism into the key to explaining the central paradoxes of Latin American democratic development. Before this book, constitutionalism was often dismissed as irrelevant to an understanding of Latin American democracy – very different to that of the United States – but Gargarella comes to the analytical rescue of the constitution and makes it central to his perceptive and counterintuitive analysis.

Latin American Constitutionalism,1810-2010: The Engine Room of the Constitution

By Roberto Gargarella,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Latin American Constitutionalism,1810-2010 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Latin America possesses an enormously rich constitutional history, but this legal history has only recently begun to be subjected to scholarly inquiry. As Roberto Gargarella contends, contemporary constitutional and political theory has a great deal to learn from this history, as Latin American constitutionalism has endured unique challenges that have not appeared in other regions. Such challenges include the emergence of egalitarian constitutions in inegalitarian
contexts; deliberation over the value of "importing" foreign legal instruments; a long-standing exercise of socio-economic rights (which is only just starting in other areas of the world); issues of multiculturalism and indigenous rights; substantial experience…


Counterpoints: Selected Essays on Authoritarianism and Democratization

By Guillermo O'Donnell,

Book cover of Counterpoints: Selected Essays on Authoritarianism and Democratization

Why this book?

Anyone who aspires to an understanding of Latin American democracy must read the work of Guillermo O’Donnell, who almost single-handedly set the terms of the key debates over a period of thirty to forty years; and the only possible reason for this not being my 1st pick is that it is a collection of essays, not a monograph. O’Donnell was a passionate scholar, and both his passionate engagement and meticulous scholarship are amply illustrated in the discussions here of the vicissitudes and possibilities of democracy in Latin America, his wide survey encompassing everything from democratic struggles against authoritarian regimes to the flaws arising in the new democracies from defective institutionalism and extreme social inequalities. Read and admire.

Counterpoints: Selected Essays on Authoritarianism and Democratization

By Guillermo O'Donnell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The central, driving theme of this volume is democracy, its vicissitudes and its possibilities in Latin America. Guillermo O’Donnell considers the pattern of political and social alliances that have shaped Argentina’s agitated history, and focuses on the tensions and intrinsic weaknesses of bureaucratic-authoritarianism, especially in its most repressive guises, at a time when it projected itself as an enduring, efficient, and potentially legitimate form of political authority. He includes detailed empirical analysis of daily life under extremely repressive regimes and argues throughout that the struggle for democracy is the most appropriate way, both morally and strategically, to take advantage of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Latin America, politics, and Argentina?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Latin America, politics, and Argentina.

Latin America Explore 72 books about Latin America
Politics Explore 475 books about politics
Argentina Explore 34 books about Argentina

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Latin America and the Global Cold War, Forgotten Continent, and Latin America's Cold War if you like this list.