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Invading Mexico: America’s Continental Dream and the Mexican War, 1846-1848

by Joseph Wheelan

In 1846, two xenophobic nations, the United States and Mexico, went to war over a border dispute. The war yielded more than 500,000 square miles of new territory to the victorious United States. Texas, California and the New Mexico Territory (now Arizona and New Mexico) were added, nearly doubling the size of the United States, while reducing Mexico’s territory by two-fifths. Veteran journalist Joseph Wheelan narrates in splendid detail the history of what he calls “the modern war” in American history. Most Americans celebrated the war as a moral victory over a backward nation, but the defeat left Mexico with a wounded national pride and a heightened distrust of the United States.

Intervention!: The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1917

by John S.D. Eisenhower

Historian John S.D. Eisenhower, grandson of the former president, tells the story of President Woodrow Wilson’s fateful decision to intervene in the Mexican Revolution in 1913. Wilson ordered a force of 1,200 marines to seize Veracruz and put a stop to arms shipments from Cuba. Surprisingly, one of the few Mexican leaders who did not denounce the intervention was Pancho Villa. In 1916, however, when Villa and his 500-member army raided the border town of Columbus, N.M.—leaving seven Americans dead— Wilson ordered an expedition into Mexico to capture Villa. Within a few months, the forces had to withdraw. Wilson had learned the hard way that Mexican politics and border disputes were not easily resolved.

Cutting for Sign: One Man’s Journey Along the U.S.-Mexican Border

by William Langewiesche

Commercial pilot and Atlantic Monthly correspondent William Langewiesche explores a 1,951-mile border that is neither marked by natural barrier nor physical construct, but nonetheless remains “the most potent political demarcation of our time.” Langewiesche documents the way the border works. In response to an American living in Mexico who advocates open borders, he says, “The boundary acts as a filter crossed by the energetic and the brave. If the border is a myth, it is a useful one.” In haunting detail he tells the story of the border through the eyes of undocumented workers, border guards, environmental activists, drug enforcement officers, Mexican human rights advocates and American ranchers.

The U.S. and Mexico: The Bear and the Porcupine

by Jeffrey Davidow

Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico under President George W. Bush, Jeffrey Davidow offers a highly readable memoir of his years there. Having coined the term “the bear [United States] and the porcupine [Mexico],” he finds ignorance and arrogance on both sides. At the beginning of their administrations, Bush and Mexican President Vincente Fox believed that issues dividing their two countries could be resolved. While Bush believed that Reagan’s immigration amnesty in 1986 had failed, he hoped that progress could be made on other issues. Davidow observes that both presidents were “committed to action. Both were naïve and…[unaware] of the limits of their power.”


Originally published in the October 2009 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.