Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Talk: “Crony Capitalism in Revolutionary Mexico: William Jenkins, Symbiotic Imperatives, and Symbiotic Convenience,” by Andrew Paxman, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (Mexico City)

Thu, October 12, 2017 | GAR 4.100

3:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Dr. Andrew Paxman (CIDE, Mexico City) will present a talk based on his new book Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate (Oxford University Press, May 2017). Dr. Paxman, who earned his Ph.D. in Latin American History in 2009 at The University of Texas at Austin, is the co-author of El Tigre: Emilio Azcárraga y su imperio Televisa, a biography of the Mexican media mogul Emilio Azcárraga Milmo. Read about Dr. Paxman and his work at: https://andrewpaxman.wordpress.com/.

About Jenkins of Mexico:

In the city of Puebla there lived an American who made himself into the richest man in Mexico. Driven by a steely desire to prove himself-first to his wife's family, then to Mexican elites-William O. Jenkins rose from humble origins in Tennessee to build a business empire in a country energized by industrialization and revolutionary change. In Jenkins of Mexico, Andrew Paxman presents the first biography of this larger-than-life personality.

When the decade-long Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, Jenkins preyed on patrician property owners and bought up substantial real estate. He suffered a scare with a firing squad and then a kidnapping by rebels, an episode that almost triggered a US invasion. After the war he owned textile mills, developed Mexico's most productive sugar plantation, and helped finance the rise of a major political family, the Ávila Camachos. During the Golden Age of Mexican cinema in the 1940s-50s, he lorded over the film industry with his movie theater monopoly and key role in production. By means of Mexico's first major hostile takeover, he bought the country's second-largest bank. Reputed as an exploiter of workers, a puppet-master of politicians, and Mexico's wealthiest industrialist, Jenkins was the gringo that Mexicans loved to loathe. After his wife's death, he embraced philanthropy and willed his entire fortune to a foundation named for her, which co-founded two prestigious universities and funded projects to improve the lives of the poor in his adopted country.

Using interviews with Jenkins' descendants, family papers, and archives in Puebla, Mexico City, Los Angeles, and Washington, Jenkins of Mexico tells a contradictory tale of entrepreneurship and monopoly, fearless individualism and cozy deals with power-brokers, embrace of US-style capitalism and political anti-Americanism, and Mexico's transformation from semi-feudal society to emerging economic power.

Reviews:

"Historian Paxman's exhaustive biography of the enigmatic William O. Jenkins reveals that his life had romance, high adventure, mystery, and (movie) magic... [Jenkins of Mexico] is an impressive accomplishment, and readers interested in the evolution of the modern Mexican state will find a fascinating treasure trove here."
--Booklist

"Researched with care and written with verve, Andrew Paxman's highly original study of the long and convoluted life of William Jenkins-entrepreneur, patriarch, philanthropist, and political fixer- is a fascinating read; it also sheds ample light on business and political (mal)practices during the Mexican Revolution and subsequent decades of state-formation and economic growth. For once, a book that manages to combine cogent scholarly research and stylistic flair."
--Alan Knight, author of The Mexican Revolution

"No one has shown the life of any other US businessman in such engaging detail during these decades. Through Jenkins's life Andrew Paxman has been able to show very clearly Mexican political and economic development outside of but impinging on Mexico City."
--Linda B. Hall, University of New Mexico

"Paxman's masterful biography is the story of an enigmatic American in Mexico. Above all, Jenkins of Mexico demonstrates the chameleon-like character of capital's-and the capitalist's-pursuit of financial and personal rewards wherever they could be found, on farms, in cinema, and in charitable foundations. Given the staggering inequalities of our own times, it's a lesson as valuable today as it was during the days of Jenkins."
--Geraldo L. Cadava, author of Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland

"A wonderful achievement and a path-breaking example of what good biography can achieve. Andrew Paxman's impressively researched study of a hugely influential US businessman is also a rich political and economic history of twentieth-century Mexico. William Jenkins, traditionally caricatured as benevolent hero or imperialist meddler, emerges as a complex and contradictory figure."
--Barry Carr, La Trobe University

Sponsored by: Department of History; LLILAS Benson; LA Distinguished Speaker Series; Institute for Historical Studies

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