Bolívar, the Liberator is a straightforward biography that is suitable for any young reader. Syme takes the facts of Bolívar’s life and recounts them in a manner that is sensible and easy to follow. In doing so, he necessarily simplifies many of the complex concerns of such an influential leader as Bolívar, such as his mixed racial back-ground, his family’s wealthy heritage, and the conflicts between his idealism and the realities of South American politics. Such issues are not overlooked, but they are mentioned and given attention only as they relate to the sequence of biographical detail.
Syme treats Bolívar’s adolescence and young adulthood in detail, giving importance to his youthful reputation as a carefree playboy millionaire and to the transformation that he undergoes as he becomes a single-minded soldier. While touching on the influence of Rodriguez Carreño and his liberal ideas, Syme describes Bolívar’s transformation from the outside, with little insight into the leader’s thoughts, convictions, and inner struggles. Conversely, at the end of Bolívar, the Liberator, Syme chooses to dwell on the heartbreak that Bolívar feels as he sees his vision of a federated South America fail under the pressure of petty, ambitious politicians and to give fewer details about the specific political maneuvers and machinations causing that failure.
Syme attempts to maintain an objective attitude toward his subject, but occasionally his tone becomes adulatory, waxing broad with the rhetoric of revolutionary struggle and military glory. He evaluates the various theories regarding...
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When Bolívar, the Liberator appeared in 1968, it was generally well received as a simple, straightforward, and insightful biography of an important historical figure suited to the educational needs of young readers. There was at the time a fair amount of biographical material published on Bolívar, but most of it, reflecting the complexities of his life, was aimed at older, more sophisticated readers.
Syme’s book appeared simultaneously with another juvenile biography of Bolívar, and the two were naturally set side by side for comparison. Simón Bolívar: The George Washington of South America, by Bob and lan Young, went much further in fictionalizing scenes and encounters and in speculating on details of Bolívar’s personal life that were not derived from authoritative fact. Syme’s portrayal was less thorough, but it delved more deeply into the emotional and personality conflicts that marked Bolívar’s life.
A short review in Library Journal recommended Syme’s book over the Youngs’ depiction, though the reviewer criticized the starkness of Stobbs’s illustrations and, oddly, the visual layout of the text on the page. The New York Times Book Review, also evaluating the two biographies in one review, disapproved of Syme’s inclusion of short, intermittent passages of dialogue in an otherwise expository narrative. More to the point, the reviewer took Syme to task for not including, as did the Youngs, an incident at La Guaira in which Bolívar ordered the slaughter of 870 prisoners of war. Nevertheless, the reviewer also favored Bolívar, the Liberator for its effective combination of simplicity and passion.