Murder, street brawls, marital squabbles, infidelity, official corruption, public insults, and rebellion are just a few of the social layers Reuben Zahler investigates as he studies the dramatic
shifts in Venezuela as it transformed from a Spanish colony to a modern republic. His book Ambitious Rebels illuminates the enormous changes in honor, law, and political culture that occurred
and how ordinary men and women promoted or rejected those changes.
The way the book is researched should be a model for other scholars interested in early nineteenth-century Latin America. Zahler shows considerable talent at making very good use of materials—legal cases in particular—that are not easily analyzed in the comprehensive way that has been done here. Zahler will show others how to make the most of documents that heretofore have remained underutilized.
—Robert J. Ferry, author of The Colonial Elite of Early Caracas: Formation and Crisis, 1567-1767
In a highly engaging style, Zahler examines gender and class against the backdrop of Venezuelan institutions and culture
during the late colonial period through post-independence (known as the "middle period"). His fine-grained analysis shows that liberal ideals permeated the elite and popular classes to a substantial
degree while Venezuelan institutions enjoyed impressive levels of success. Showing remarkable ambition, Venezuela's leaders aspired to transform a colony that adhered to the king, the church, and
tradition into a liberal republic with minimal state intervention, a capitalistic economy, freedom of expression and religion, and an elected, representative government.
surprisingly profound changes of a liberal nature occurred, as evidenced by evolving standards of honor, appropriate gender roles, class and race relations, official conduct, courtroom evidence, press
coverage, economic behavior, and church-state relations. This analysis of the philosophy of the elites and the daily lives of common men and women reveals in particular the unwritten, unofficial norms
that lacked legal sanction but still greatly affected political structures.
Relying on extensive archival resources, Zahler focuses on Venezuela but provides a broader perspective on Latin
American history. His examination provides a comprehensive look at intellectual exchange across the Atlantic, comparative conditions throughout the Americas, and the tension between traditional norms
and new liberal standards in a postcolonial society.