Mariano Azuela, physician and author whose work Los de Abajo (The Underdogs) became one of the most widely acclaimed novels of the Mexican Revolution, was born on January 1, 1873, in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico. He was the son of Evaristo Azuela and Paulina González, and his father owned a general store and tavern. He went to preparatory school in Guadalajara and attended the University of Guadalajara, where he earned a medical degree in 1899. Soon thereafter, Azuela returned to his hometown of Lagos de Moreno to practice medicine. There he married Carmen Rivera on September 12, 1900. They had several children—at least two sons and two daughters.
In Lagos, Azuela regularly met with a group of other young intellectuals who exchanged ideas and their own writings. He cultivated his own ambitions to write and published newspaper serials and several novels, including María Luisa (1907), Los fracasados (1908), and Mala yerba (1909). His early work described social life in Mexico while his subsequent writings expressed his disillusionment with politics and chronicled the Mexican Revolution. He had opposed the Porfirio Díaz regime and entered politics after 1910 and the election of Francisco I. Madero. During the Madero administration (1911–13), Azuela served as mayor of Lagos de Moreno and then director of education in the state of Jalisco.
Azuela served as a field doctor under the command of revolutionary leader Pancho Villa. After his contingent suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the military force under Alvaro Obregón, in October 1915 Azuela migrated to El Paso where he wrote Los de Abajo, his first-hand account of military service and combat based on his experiences in the field. The novel was first published as a serial in the newspaper El Paso del Norte from October to December 1915. The newspaper subsequently published 1,000 copies of the novel in 1916, but very few sold at the time.
Azuela left El Paso and returned to Mexico in 1916. His novel was published in various cities like Tampico in 1917 and Mexico City in 1920, but the book did not receive general recognition until 1924 when critics began to hail it as an exemplary novel of the Mexican Revolution. The editors of El Universal, a large Mexico City newspaper, discovered Los de Abajo and published an edition that gained popularity. Publishers from countries such as Spain, Argentina, and Chile followed with their own imprints to meet the growing interest in the novel. It was subsequently translated into French, English, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Czech.
Los de Abajo, which became one of the most widely-read and translated works on the Mexican Revolution, depicts the futility of the fighting, the uncaring opportunists in power, and the suffering of the underprivileged majority in Mexico. Azuela tells the story of the revolution through the lives of simple men who took up arms to fight for personal, ideological, and seemingly unexplainable reasons. Azuela believed that he and his companions in arms had fought for a better Mexico and that the revolution had corrected some injustices but gave rise to other equally deplorable wrongs. Scholars have credited Azuela for the growth of the Mexican Revolution subgenre in literature but have also hailed him as a commentator on broader sociological and economic themes beyond the revolution.
From 1917 until his death, Azuela lived in Mexico City, where he continued to write and practice medicine. His later novels included San Gabriel de Valdivias (1938), Avanzada (1940), Sendas perdidas (1949). He was awarded the National Prize for Arts and Sciences in the field of literature by the Mexican government in 1949. Mariano Azuela died in Mexico City on March 1, 1952. He was buried in the Panteón Civil de Dolores in Mexico City.