The story of how U.S.-Mexico border tensions erupted into open warfare in 1916, as a U.S. military expedition crossed the border to try to capture Mexican guerrilla Pancho Villa--a military incursion whose effects still haunt the border region to this day.
The book doesn’t fully deliver on its ostensible purpose, however. Although engagingly written, it is a largely unoriginal, thinly researched work that, judging by the author’s notes, relies heavily on secondary sources and on interviews with modern historians. The result is a story that concentrates as much on the endless intriguing among the parade of Mexican strongmen and idealists who wrestled for control of Revolutionary Mexico, and on nearly a century of American-Mexican relations prior to 1916, as it does on the professed topic of the book ... Examples of the derivative nature of War on the Border are many. As Mr. Guinn acknowledges, entire chapters are based in large measure on interviews he conducted with authors of books on the subject. A perusal of the bibliography reveals that Mr. Guinn used few Mexican sources and made no use of contemporaneous Mexican newspapers, which are readily available online and offer that nation’s perspective on Villa’s raid and Pershing’s expedition ... Mr. Guinn also neglected the vast resources of the National Archives, which include not only invaluable Army correspondence but also affidavits and eyewitness accounts by residents of Columbus ... Besides calling into question the need for a new book on the Punitive Expedition, an overreliance on secondary sources and their authors perpetuates incorrect facts and interpretations ... also suffers from an absence of adequate maps ... Mr. Guinn’s deft writing makes War on the Border an enjoyable primer on Mexican-American relations in the latter years of the 19th-century and during the Mexican Revolution, as well as an adequate introduction to Mexican political intrigues of the time.
... [a] skillfully written history ... a great place for readers to begin a study of the subject, which will lead them to other books that are as deeply researched as Guinn's. The history of the border between the U.S. and Mexico is a complex issue that remains relevant today as the two nations continue seeking resolution over centuries of disagreement.
... [a] galloping new narrative ... As a history buff who unrealistically expects order in past events, I was always irrationally disturbed that the U.S./Mexican expedition occurred in the midst of Europe’s Great War. It seemed to me as if every war should have the stage to itself. But Guinn makes clear that these two conflicts, far from intruding on each other’s independent storyline, were instead closely connected ... Guinn offers both the light and dark of key characters ... Guinn’s unhappy conclusion is that little has fundamentally changed at the border. Americans still complain of Mexican incursion, but as he illustrates with a disturbing quote near the book’s end, those complaints are often rooted in a continued refusal to accept the basic humanity of our southern neighbors.