A remarkably gripping popular history.




A British historian’s page-turning record of the madness seizing the Caribbean at the Cold War’s zenith.

By the 1950s, decades of U.S. interference in Latin American affairs helped account for the installation of three Caribbean dictators: The Dominican’s Rafael Trujillo, Haiti’s “Papa Doc” Duvalier and Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista were all absolute rulers who oppressed their own people, but in return for millions of aid dollars they reliably protected U.S. military and commercial interests—until they didn’t. Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution spooked the U.S. government, leading three successive presidents to mistake powerful nationalist impulses and widespread anti-Americanism for a robust, regional communist movement. Castro’s success aroused Soviet interest and encouraged Trujillo and Duvalier to exploit American fears and to play the superpowers against each other. Countering perceived threats, some real, most not, the U.S. proceeded down a dizzying path where violence, conspiracy and murder were the order of the day. Von Tunzelmann (Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, 2007) regularly supercharges her sweeping narrative—predictable set pieces include Duvalier’s grotesque reign of terror, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis—with revealing, intimate details about her protagonists: the macho posturing of Khrushchev and JFK, the sybaritic preoccupations of Trujillo and his family, the lurid arts practiced by Papa Doc and his henchman, Clémont Barbot, and the complex relationship among Fidel, his brother Raúl and Che Guevara. She artfully mixes the ambitions, love lives, drug use, grievances, deceptions and miscalculations of these and a host of lesser characters with grand historical themes. The result amounts to a mesmerizing, Conradian tale where the truth is almost too dark to bear.

A remarkably gripping popular history.

Pub Date: April 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9067-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2011

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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