As a work specifically written for a young adult audience, Wepman’s biography is the story of an individual from very humble beginnings who aggressively sought an education and became an inspiration not only to one particular generation or nation but also to the world. Juárez, like his hero Abraham Lincoln, championed the cause of justice and equality for all before the law.
While the author’s sympathies are apparent, he does attempt to create an objective account of Juárez’s character and career. He emphasizes the description of the leader as “a man of the people, and it was the people he served, not the wealthy landowners or the rich, powerful institutions” and portrays Juárez as a person who kept his word. Throughout his life, the leader remained unwavering in his respect for all oppressed peoples.
In his discussion of the early and middle years of Juárez’s life, Wepman stresses the tactical skills required to maintain alliances with powerful individuals on both sides of the political spectrum, both liberals and conservatives. For Juárez’s later years, however, during the period of La Reforma (the reform), Wepman presents the leader as an individual who was dedicated to making Mexico a democratic society, regardless of the enemies that he made.
Wepman portrays the Catholic church as a monolithic institution wielding enormous power in Mexico. This institution controlled schools, owned vast amounts of property, had a privileged legal status, and took in annual revenues approximately five times greater than those to the...
(The entire section is 648 words.)
Wepman’s Benito Juárez is one volume in an excellent biographical series of one hundred leaders from ancient to contemporary times whose lives have influenced the course of history. The series, entitled “World Leaders, Past and Present” and published by Chelsea House, was specifically written for young adults. These books provide this audience with a cultural and educational bridge linking the distant past to the present.
Benito Juárez illuminates the personal as well as the historical context that shaped the revolutionary leader’s life, the Native American and Mexican cultures from which he rose to power as well as the controversies and struggles surrounding his life and career. The author’s lengthy discussion of Juárez’s cultural heritage both elucidates the identity of the individual and shows how it shaped his politics. The class struggles between the Native American population, the individuals of Spanish descent, the Creoles (individuals born in Mexico but of Spanish descent), and the mestizos (offspring of Native American and European parents) stirred Juárez to action and reform.
It is clear that Wepman’s intention in writing this book was to offer young people an uplifting portrait of an exceptional leader. Other books have generally emphasized the political or historical context of Juárez’s life and have not attempted the balance between the personal and the political so effectively achieved in this volume.