To understand the book, Villa and Zapata, and what is intended by the author, Frank McLynn, it is necessary to understand what Mexico was like at the turn of the 20th Century, the role of the main characters involved in the revolution from 1910 to 1920, and the civil war itself and its aftermath. This first part will focus on the country itself at the turn of the century.
Throughout history, colonial nations have never really concerned themselves with their nation's creation ability and have allowed borders between countries to fall where they may, with little regard to natural barriers or indigenous boundaries. McLynn correctly identifies this unfortunate reality and its eventual impact on the civil war that would consume Mexico during the first decades of the 20th Century.
A quick glance at the topography of the country will show exactly how this problem exacerbated the many dilemmas each faction faced in their particular area of the country and why it was so difficult to reconcile them over time. The Northern regions are made up of several different blocks, each one with its own distinct flavor.
Pancho Villa came from the state of Durango, mountainous and rugged with many hidden canyons and hideaways, yet far enough away from the US to avoid any American influences. Alvaro Obregón, who would become president of Mexico at the end of the revolution, hailed from Sonora to the west, which was mining country where many of the mines were owned by Americans. Coahuila, to the northeast of Durango, was home to Francisco I. Madero, the man who precipitated the events in 1910 and Venustiano Carranza, who perpetuated them through his narcissistic dreams-come-true. It was also home to a large American influence that would play a role throughout the entire period.
But Emiliano Zapata came from Morelos, just south of Mexico City. Where the northern states above were mainly desert and home to huge haciendas, some extending for over a hundred miles, Morelos, and much of the interior of Mexico, was filled with smaller tracts of land divided among more people. The ideals of the northern rebels never really meshed with those of the central area of Mexico as McLynn rightly points out. The needs of the Natives in the interior were for agrarian reform and a return to individual farming, while in the North, the needs were more urban in nature.