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The Bear and the Porcupine

In 2004, a consultant from SUNY who was working on legislative reform in Mexico City highly recommended Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow‘s recently-published The Bear and the Porcupine: The U.S. and Mexico.  I started reading the book then, started reading it in Spanish in 2007 and finally actually read it this week.  The same consultant spoke disparagingly of a career in the Foreign Service.  He was right about one thing, the book is great.

Davidow’s testimony, as he calls it, covers his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 1998 to 2002.  Vicente Fox’s election as President in 2000, Fox’s relationship with President Bush, the two dominant issues of drug trafficking and immigration, and the effects of 9/11 on Mexico-U.S. relations were the most interesting parts of the book for me reading it this week; but Davidow also provides insights into personalities in the recent and current Mexican administrations, does a thoughtful job of explaining the tensions between our two societies and tells a lot of great stories.  Throughout the book, he consistently praises and criticizes both countries, based on his knowledge of events.  The one main area where he seemed particularly interested in only criticizing one element was in regard to the Mexican press.  He does not like them, and the reader finds many examples throughout the book of their no-good nature.

Davidow is a funny writer, the kind you wish you could sit down and have a few margaritas with.  The book was favorably reviewed in Foreign Affairs and there is a revised edition that includes updates on U.S.-Mexico relations and comments on the 2006 presidential election in Mexico.  A Spanish translation of the book was also  published in 2004.  While I was reading the book in English, I kept wondering what Mexican readers would think of Davidow’s bluntness.  It’s obvious that he and his wife love Mexico and that he worked hard to improve bi-lateral relations, but I’d be curious to know how his informal writing style and blend of praise and shame come across to a reader from Mexico (in either language really).


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