After a general overview, chapter two reviews Mexico's legacy of "undemocratic development", going back to the Spanish conquest but focusing on the twentieth century: the Mexican Revolution and the development of "the perfect dictatorship", with changing presidents but an enduring Institutional Revolutionary Party. Chapter three looks at the roles of different actors in the rise of political competition: civil society, labor, peasants, business, the major parties (PRI, PAN, PRD), the federal system, and the military. Chapter four looks at "difficult democracy", at the progress and problems of "democracy with adjectives". It covers freedom of expression, freedom of organisation, the accountability of leaders to citizens, the rule of law, and the changing balance between the weak and the strong. And chapter five charts economic changes since 1940, focusing on the state-market balance, international influences, and the social and political implications, in particular the effects on inequality.
Chapters six and seven turn to external relations. Though traditional "leftist" diplomacy needs to be understood in the context of internal politics, Mexican foreign policy has been dominated by the presence of the United States: increasing involvement with international forums and treaties has gone hand in hand with increasing closeness to its northern neighbour. Bilateral issues such as drugs, migration, tourism, and trade involve both conflict and cooperation, while closer ties are also more complex, involving a broad range of actors, government and non-government.
Levy and Bruhn's entirely uncontroversial conclusion is that "Mexico's most likely path in the near term includes democracy, neoliberal economic development, and internationalization that features strengthened ties with the United States". Broad-based development is needed, however, to tackle "the great twin challenges of poverty and inequality".