Sometimes a great historical work can have a seemingly simple yet pro-
foundly complex thesis that appears all too obvious after its supporting
arguments are clearly laid out to the reader. Such is the case of Dur-
val Muniz de Albuquerque Jr.’s masterpiece about the invention in the
1920s of the Brazilian Northeast as a distinct geographic region. Albu-
querque, a professor of history at the Federal University of Rio Grande
do Norte, with a doctorate from the State University of Campinas (uni-
camp), Campinas, São Paulo, has shaken up what has become a natu-
ralized notion of how the Brazilian nation is thought of spatially and
culturally. The author has forced a rethinking about how intellectual pro-
duction shaped and crystallized a series of myths, ste reo types, and im-
ages of a “backward” and “de cadent” region of Brazil, which, according
to standard narratives, was caught up in an endless cycles of droughts,
hunger, and disappointments.
These nationally embraced ideas about the nature of a region that
have been projected onto the Brazilian states that bulged out into the
Atlantic Ocean even took on an international signifi cance in the mid-
twentieth century. In the aftermath of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the
Kennedy administration (1961– 63) launched the Alliance for Progress
with its legions of Peace Corps volunteers, agrarian technicians, and eco-
nomic advisers dispatched to solve the problem of underdevelopment in
Latin America as a means of averting other revolutions from sprouting
up across the continent. The Brazilian Northeast became a privileged
Cold War testing ground for how to combat starvation, disease, and the
supposed resulting proclivity to subversion that would lead to the em-
brace of communism over capitalism.
The U.S. media reinforced this image about how poverty could lead to
revolution with feature stories about the region. For example, the head-
line of the rst article, on October 31, 1960, of a two- part series on Brazil
published by the New York Times proclaimed: “Northeast Poverty Breeds
Threat of Revolt.” A follow- up story the next day was headlined by the
warning “Marxists Are Or ga niz ing Peasants in Brazil: Leftist Leagues
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