Myths and misconceptions about Brazil, the world's fifth largest and most populous country, are long-standing. Far from a sleeping giant, Brazil is the southern hemisphere's most important country. Entering its second decade of civilian constitutional government after a protracted period of military rule, it has also recently achieved sustained economic growth. Nevertheless, the nation's population of 157 million is divided by huge inequities in income and education, which are largely correlated with race, and crime rates have spiraled as a result of conflicts over land and resources. Ronald Schneider, a close observer of Brazilian society and politics for many decades, provides a comprehensive multidimensional portrait of this, Latin America's most complex country. He begins with an insightful description of its diverse regions and then analyzes the historical processes of Brazil's development from the European encounter in 1500 to independence in 1822, the middle-class revolution in 1930, the military takeover in 1964, and the return to democracy after 1984. Schneider goes on to offer a detailed treatment of contemporary government and politics, including the 1994 elections. His closing chapters analyze the economy and society, and explore Brazil's rich cultural heritage and assess Brazil's place in the international arena.