Bolívar, the Liberator Essay - Critical Context

Ronald Syme

Critical Context

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.