Cover showing Bolivar standing in formal uniform

He Wouldn’t Be King: The Story of Simon Bolivar by Nina Brown Baker

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Reviews:
“A finely proportioned narrative.” The New York Times

“Worth its weight in gold. A warm dramatic story of a man whose career was one of the most astonishing and colorful the world has known.” Parents Magazine

SIMÓN BOLÍVAR, hailed as Liberator by the people of South America, occupies the same place in their affections that George Washington does in ours. An aristocrat and a wealthy man like Washington, he risked position, wealth, and life itself to free South America from the unhappy rule of Spain. Like Lincoln in his love for the common man, he brought about the abolition of slavery a generation before that institution was ended here.

HE WOULDN’T BE KING is the first modern biography of Bolívar in English for young people, yet history provides few more exciting tales than the march across the Andes of Bolívar’s small but dauntless army; it can offer few stories to compare in color and surprise with Bolivar’s courageous career.

Nina Brown Baker tells Bolívar’s story fully and vividly. She has not only so portrayed the ideals of the man that we are the better for knowing him, but she has also given us the background that enables us to understand both Bolívar and the South America of today.

More from the New York Times, New Books for Younger Readers, March 15, 1942.

By Ellen Lewis Buell. HE WOULDN’T BE KING. The Story Of Simon Bolivar. By Nina Brown Baker. Illustrated by Camilo Egas. 306 pages. New York: The Vanguard Press.

SIMÓN BOLÍVAR was a hero not merely through force of circumstances and period. He was truly cast in a heroic mold and should be known wherever greatness of spirit as well as deed is revered. His life is of special significance to us of the United States, not only be­cause of our growing sympathy with South America, but because it was from our own Revolution and our first leader, Washing­ton, that he drew much of the in­spiration to win freedom for his own part of the Americas.

It was a life so full and so dra­matic that there is plenty of room for both the fine biogra­phies for young people which this year has brought forth. It would indeed be difficult, and is unnec­essary. to make a final choice be­tween Elizabeth Waugh’s “Simón Bolivar: A Story of Courage,” previously reviewed in this department and Nina Brown Baker’s “He Wouldn’t Be King,” which has won the 1941 Intra-American Award annually pre­sented by the Society for the Americas. Mrs. Baker’s is per­haps more dramatic in its pres­entation of an essentially dra­matic life, and certainly there is a twinkling humor to throw into perspective some of the lighter aspects of a career and a strug­gle which inevitably took on at times a certain comic opera fla­vor, which really emphasizes the size of the task performed.

This would be good reading if only for the sketches of the col­orful figures which surrounded Bolívar: the picturesque, incredi­ble Páez: the dashing and equally incredible Manuela Sáenz, his eccentric tutor, Rodriguez; the loyal and charming Irishmen who fought under him. A host of such friends, and enemies too. come to life, but all these are properly dominated by the Liber­ator himself, and as the pattern of his life is unfolded in a finely proportioned narrative so is the greatness of his vision and of his achievement.

From a reviewer on Amazon:

“He Wouldn’t be King: The Story of Simon Bolivar,” by Nina Brown Baker is a delightful, very easy to read book that should be required reading in every American High School. Certainly, every High School student across the United States is well aware of the importance of George Washington but what about Simon Bolivar? Or Jose de San Martin for that matter? These men are great Western Hemisphere military generals responsible for freeing most of South America from strict colonial rule?

Bolivar, often affectionately called the Liberator, freed Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia from Spanish oppression. San Martin freed Argentina and Chile. To this end, Bolivar had a boyish hero worship of Washington and regularly drew inspiration from the North American revolution. An added bonus of this book is that the author does an excellent job describing Bolivar’s critical relationships with other dynamic Generals, particularly Antonio Jose de Sucre, Francisco de Paula Santander and Jose Antonio Paez. The narrative also documents the enormous importance of British and Irish volunteers who joined Bolivar and the struggle against Spanish rule.

The narrative starts with Bolivar’s privileged childhood, his intellectual growth and finally his decision to lead his people to liberty. Bolivar is a great man, who frees the black man from slavery 46 years before Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 Emancipation Proclamation. He also refused to be King and chose instead to be his nation’s first President…like he beloved George Washington.

Baker downplays his many romances and the tuberculosis that eventually killed him. Nevertheless, the text is meticulously researched, well-written and objective. Although this book was published in 1941, it is still very relevant today and would be an excellent choice for a High School history book report or detailed term paper. The text is also complete with many beautiful black and white illustrations. Highly recommended.
Bert Ruiz

My Art, My Life, An Autobiography by Diego Rivera

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Diego Rivera stands among the titans of our century. A man of phenomenal energy, he not only transformed the art of his country, but helped to transform its social structure as well. In the course of his tempestuous career, he defied presidents, dictators, millionaires, and the arbiters of artistic fashion. Often forced into hiding or exile during his lifetime, he is now enshrined in the pantheon of his country. His activities brought him into personal relationships not only with the artistic and political leaders of Mexico but with the famous and powerful abroad.
Rivera revolutionized modern mural painting and was the principal figure in launching the “Mexican Renaissance,” which is now regarded as one of the great periods in the history of world art.
This was an artist who could not separate his work — always his chief devotion — from his life. Like the man himself, his autobiography is full of conflict and color: the battles which surrounded his murals in the Detroit Art Institute, Rockefeller Center, and the Hotel del Prado are recounted in detail and with fervor.
The absorbing story of this epochal man, drawn from his own words as dictated over a period of ten years to the American journalist, Gladys March, makes a book that is certain to become one of the classics of art literature. With a quality all its own, it contains something of the frankness of Benvenuto Cellini, the impassioned suffering of Van Gogh, and the social vision of Kathe Kollwitz. Illustrated with personal photographs as well as some of Diego Rivera’s greatest works, My Art, My Life will rank among the most important books of recent years.
GLADYS MARCH studied art at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Museum in New York, the Pitti Palace in Florence. the Louvre in Paris, and the Prado in Madrid. She has written columns and features on kings, movie stars, and celebrities from all walks of life. But until she met Diego Rivera in 1945, on a newspaper assignment to interview him, she had never felt the desire to write a hook about any one person. The initial interview led to a ten-year project, during which years the artist dictated his life story to her. Mrs. March’s work was checked by Diego Rivera from time to time up to a few months before his death in 1957. The finished manuscript was read and approved by Emma Hurtado Rivera, the artist’s widow.

Benito Juarez: Builder of a Nation by Emma Gelders Sterne (For Young Adults).

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Anyone who has traveled in Mexico asks who Benito Juárez was. His story is told on the painted walls; his statue stands in every city and in the plazas of small villages. From one end of the country to the other schools, colleges, and universities bear his name. Streets and broad boulevards are named in his honor along with the names of the other revolutionary heroes who brought the Mexican people the national independence they prize above all else. Benito Juárez lived during the crucial period in Mexico’s emergence as a democratically self-governing nation and, perhaps more than any other single individual, helped to shape its destiny. With insight, understanding, and a highly developed sense of history, Emma Gelders Sterne has told the story of Benito Juárez, from birth in an obscure Indian village through an entire lifetime of effort and achievement on behalf of his native land.

Juarez was a lawyer of Zapotec ancestry who played a decisive role in a tumultuous period in the history of Mexico. A judge, a city councilman in Oaxaca, and a governor of the State of Oaxaca, he was a liberal power during political culture wars in mid-Nineteenth Century Mexico. He was imprisoned and exiled for his political stance when conservatives reigned in Mexico City and served as Minister of Justice and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when the liberals were in power. In 1857, a revolution brought the conservatives back to power, and Juarez declared a rival government with himself as president. Ultimately, he and his side regained power. However, French forces invaded the country, and the conservatives invited the Austrian nobleman Maximilian Hapsburg to install a monarchy to replace Juarez’s government. War ensued, resulting in the Mexican army defeating the French. A turning point in the war was the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, which is celebrated today as the Cinco de Mayo in Mexico and among many Texans. The only full-blooded native to serve as President of Mexico, Juarez served five terms. He is considered a national hero in Mexico.

Juárez today:
Today’s Mexicans view Juárez much like some Americans see Abraham Lincoln: he was a firm leader when his nation needed one, who took a side in a social issue that drove his nation to war. There is a city (Ciudad Juárez) named after him, as well as countless streets, schools, businesses, etc. He is held in particularly high regard by Mexico’s considerable indigenous population, who rightly view him as a trailblazer in native rights and justice.

EMMA GELDERS STERNE, a former teacher and editor, has written more than twenty books in the past forty years, including Mary McLeod Bethune; I Have a Dream; His Was The Voice: The Life of W.E. B. Du Bois, and They Took Their Stand. The recipient of many awards over the years, she was honored by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which established a children’s fund in her name.

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The Underdogs, a Story of the Mexican Revolution by Mariano Azuela

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“The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution” is Mariano Azuela’s fictional account of the Mexican Revolution. Originally published as a newspaper serial in 1915, then as a complete novel in 1920, it was first translated into English in 1929 and was a critical and financial success. Based closely on Azuela’s own experiences, it is the story of Demetrio Macias, a peasant who is mistreated by government soldiers and must flee his home. He runs to the mountains and forms a group of revolutionaries to help overthrow the corrupt dictator, Porfirio Diaz. Macias and his comrades are a motley group of outcasts who are often unsure of what precisely they are fighting for and are sometimes no better than the cruel government they are rebelling against. Rather than a simple struggle of honorable peasants against an unjust government, Azuela’s tale is sophisticated and nuanced and captures in stunning detail the lives of the poor, the passion of the revolutionaries, and the heartbreaking disillusionment they must often face. In Azuela’s depiction of Demetrio Macias, he captures the complicated spirit of the Mexican people and his masterful telling of this conflict between the rebels and the federales helped to establish him as one of Mexico’s preeminent novelists.

The novel seems to offer a number of opportunities for writing responses. Compare the Mexico of Demetrio Macias with the Mexico or the United States of today. How is power or wealth allocated in societies? etc.

Free ebook: Death is Incidental, A Story of Revolution in Mexico by Heath Bowman and Stirling Dickinson

The writer, Heath Bowman, does not slow down to spell out the details of the two revolutions in this story. So the preface and introduction which add  some details about the settings which may be useful to you.

People have died to own land for generations around the world. Bowman asks us when these deaths are necessary. Would you join a revolution for more land and more food for your family if it might mean your death or the deaths of your friends and neighbors?

Download the pdf version of Death is Incidental.

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