In this important and evenhanded book, longtime foreign correspondent and syndicated columnist Geyer (Buying the Night Flight, 1982, etc.) provides unequalled insight into the decline of Fidel Castro from national hero to increasingly desperate dictator of a despairing little country. Much of Geyer's success comes from her careful investigation of aspects of Castro's life that, in the tradition of the charismatic leader, he has sought to conceal: his origins as the son of a landowner with ten thousand acres; his time at the Univ. of Havana, in which he alternated study of the methods of Hitler, Mussolini, and Falangist leader Primo de Rivera with episodes of sheer gangsterism; and his marriage and liaisons and affairs. Geyer argues persuasively that the West has asked the wrong questions about Castro: it is less important to know when Castro became a Communist than how he used the Communist Party to achieve his overriding ambition: power. With his demonic energy, his uncanny instinct for the direction of events, his gift for self-dramatization, and his almost mystical ability to express the yearnings and passions of the Cuban people, he ultimately attained it; but, once attained, his brutality, his overmastering egotism, and his consuming hatred of the US transformed him into a caricature of the Latin American caudillo, and his country into one of the poorest in the hemisphere. The scrupulousness, the experience, and the balance Geyer brings to this portrait will not easily be improved upon. A notable achievement.