A vivid, well-researched history.



A history of the ragtag group of rebels who took down a powerful dictator.

Smithsonian contributing writer Perrottet (The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe, 2011, etc.) recounts the often madcap efforts of a small band of guerrilla soldiers to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. At the forefront of this entertaining tale are two handsome, idealistic men, the Cuban Fidel Castro and the Argentinian Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and one sophisticated, elegant young woman, Celia Sánchez, Castro’s close friend and possible lover. The three, coming from respected, wealthy families, believed fervently in their mission to liberate the island from Batista’s military rule. In 1956, Castro and about 60 supporters gathered in Mexico City to train for rebellion. “Like an urban fitness camp,” writes the author, “they went on long walks up and down the tree-lined avenues,” and some men hiked in nearby mountains “with backpacks filled with stones.” They also devoted hours to studying “military theory.” Despite their determination, their training proved inadequate once they landed in Cuba and established their base in the inhospitable Sierra Maestra range. None of the “soft urban intellectuals” who made up the troop had ever seen the Sierra Maestra before, and they were unprepared for the torrid days and freezing nights, the relentless insects, and the slick, overgrown trails. As they hacked through the countryside with machetes, “every step became a battle.” Nor were they prepared to confront Batista’s army: In one battle, the rebels’ hand grenades—Brazilian army surplus—failed to go off, and a stick of dynamite fizzled. Perrottet smoothly follows the rebels as they gained hundreds of supporters and engaged in bold confrontations. Their successes were reported admiringly in the U.S., where articles portrayed Castro “as a cross between Pancho Villa and James Dean.” Despite his image as “the Robin Hood of Cuba,” however, Castro was a disorganized and moody leader; the guerrillas instead came to rely on Sánchez’s clearsightedness and practicality. By January 1959, against all odds, the rebels swept into Havana, victorious.

A vivid, well-researched history.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1816-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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