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Cuba's in the news, and Liberal Forum members may want to become better informed about the place. I've recently been there for a short holiday (three weeks), and it inspired me to start reading up about the country, which is undergoing important changes.


Here are my recommendations so far:


Number one: Cuban Revelations, by Marc Frank. Frank is the grandson of Waldo Frank, whom older members may recall as the left-wing and somewhat mystical author of various books on Latin America in the fifties. His grandson is the Financial Times correspondent for Cuba, who has lived there (his wife is Cuban) for several decades. He is an excellent reporter, with lots of contacts at all levels, from Communist Party officials, to ordinary people (including his extended Cuban family). He travels around the island and talk to street vendors as well as government officials, and has written a fascinating book. Highly recommended.


Number two: The Contemporary Cuban Reader, second edition, edited by Philip Brenner and Marguerite Rose Jimenez. Lots of informed academic articles on everything from the Cuban economy, to Cuban culture, to race in Cuba today, and more..


Number three: Cuba: a New History, by Richard Gott. A bit dated (published in 2005) but a pretty good history of the place up to ten years ago.


Number four: My Life by Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet. A little over ten years ago, Fidel Castro was extensively interviewed by the Spanish editor of Le Monde Diplomatique (despite its title, it's a left-wing publication that doesn't think much of the USA). Ramonet is an admirer of the Cuban Revolution and its leader, but not an uncritical one, so, while the questioning could have been more vigorous, it's not all softballs either. In any case, it gives you a good insight into Castro's thinking. There were, for me, lots of surprises too, and some information which many Americans might find relevant (such as: if you're planning to storm a military barracks, and presumably any other building, .22 rifles and shotguns are perfectly adequate close-quarter weapons -- no reason to splash out on an assault rifle. Also: you should have a Plan B in case things go wrong.).


The Inevitable Battle: From the Bay of Pigs to Playa Giron, by Juan Carlos Rodriguez. This is by a government supporter, and I bought and read it while in Cuba. To be honest, I expected a hack job, but it seems pretty honest to me, albeit written from the viewpoint of a partisan of one side. (But a lot of war literature is like that.) I've reviewed it in much more detail on Amazon.com for anyone interested.



These are just the books I've read which I would recommend others to read. I've also read a couple of terrible books, and some which are interesting but rather specialized (eg on Cuban youth culture). I might write short descriptions of these later.


I'll mention three others which seem to be well-recommended by others, and which I have but haven't read yet. Perhaps someone who has read one or more of them would like to comment (or, of course, comment on the ones above, or mention others).


Cuba, a History, by Hugh Thomas. I've hesitated to start this immense book, but it appears to be unique in the amount of detail it holds, and the author is a well-known historian.


Che Guevara: a Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson. A quick skim of this book, which I have not properly read yet, convinced me that it was a 'fair and balanced' account of a man who makes some people froth at the mouth. (You can't go anywhere in Cuba without seeing his iconic picture, and you'll have many many opportunities to buy a Che T-shirt. What he would think of Cuba today is interesting to speculate about.)


Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered, by Sam Farber. Farber is a Cuban-American, but unlike almost all others in that category, is a Marxist. He is, however, not at all a regime apologist, and doesn't consider Cuba socialist. I have seen this book well-reviewed, and i would like to get and read it (but it's prohibitively expensive -- anyone want to sell me a copy?)


Note: almost all of these books, except perhaps the one by Hugh Thomas, are by people who are definitely left-of-centre, and thus sympathetic to many of the stated goals, and some of the achievements, of the Revolution. However, they are not regime apologists. I'm definitely right-of-center and am pretty allergic to Leftist apologies for tyranny. But the most important quality in politics is personal integrity, devotion to the truth, not formal political beliefs, and this quality (or its lack) seems to be well-distributed over the whole poltical spectrum. In any case, I believe these authors pass the test, and the reader can correct for any bias in the authors.


Now, a question to the moderator: there are several people who have written excellent articles on Cuba today, such as Emily Morris in New Left Review, various Cubans in The Havana TImes, and several others. This forum is supposed to be about books only, but it might be useful to post some relevant web links here also. Is that permitted, or is this site for book reviews only?





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