John “Black Jack” Pershing’s Punitive Expedition in 1916 into Mexico remains an under-explored period in American history. However, Jeff Guinn, best known for his true crime books, has turned his attention to it in his latest book.
I’ve been a Jeff Guinn fan for a while now and have reviewed his books several times on the blog. (Here and here and here.) There aren’t many contemporary writers whom I keep up with their new releases, but Guinn is one of them. Thanks so much to Julie for ordering this for the library!
Though the book builds up to the moment when the United States sent troops into Mexico in retaliation for Pancho Villa’s cross-border raids, Guinn wisely realizes that a lot of context is necessary to tell the story he has to tell.
So, really, the book serves as a highly accessible overview of the complicated political situation during the Mexican Revolution, as well as the long-standing tension on both sides of the border stemming from the Mexican War.
As such, Guinn introduces all the major players. Of course, that’s going to include Pancho Villa, who probably has the greatest name recognition in the United States, but also includes a rich assortment of supporting characters, including Mexican Presidents Francisco Madero and Venustiano Carranza and Villa’s rival revolutionaries, such as Emiliano Zapata. As the book progresses, it also incorporates other personalities on the American side, such as US President Woodrow Wilson, General Pershing, and an ambitious young army officer named George S. Patton.
Guinn is a good writer, and I’ve always enjoyed his knack for weaving engaging, fast-paced narratives with deeper social issues; choosing vivid, insightful anecdotes; and approaching his subjects with a balanced, fair-minded, non-judgmental attitude, all of which is on display in this book.
I do think Guinn is at his best when he is marrying true crime and social history–I still find myself thinking of his insightful commentary on the 1930s, 1960s, and 1970s in relation to Bonnie and Clyde, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones, years after reading those books. However, War on the Border is still an engaging, insightful read on a subject that is still timely, over 100 years after the events Guinn chronicles.
Recommended for those who enjoy historical nonfiction.
*Ebook also available on Libby
Have you read this book? Are you a Jeff Guinn fan? What are you reading? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information on any of these items or to place them on hold.