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Fidel Castro: A Biography

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Fidel Castro is one of the most interesting and controversial personalities of our time - he has become a myth and an icon. He was the first Cuban Caudillo - the man who freed his country from dependence on the USA and who lead his people to rediscover their national identity and pride. Castro has outlived generations of American presidents and Soviet leaders. He has survi Fidel Castro is one of the most interesting and controversial personalities of our time - he has become a myth and an icon. He was the first Cuban Caudillo - the man who freed his country from dependence on the USA and who lead his people to rediscover their national identity and pride. Castro has outlived generations of American presidents and Soviet leaders. He has survived countless assassination attempts by the CIA, the Mafia, and Cubans living in exile. He has become one of the greatest politicians of the 20th Century. His biography, and the history of his country exemplify the tensions between East and West, North and South, rich and poor. As Castro's life draws to a close, the question as to what will become of Cuba is more important that ever. Will Castro open Cuba to economic reform and democratization, or stick to his old slogan socialism or death? In this remarkable, up-to-date reconstruction of Castro's life, Volker Skierka addresses these questions and provides an account of the economic, social, and political history of Cuba since Castro's childhood. He draws on a number of little-known sources, including material from the East German communist archives on Cuba, which were until recently inaccessible. This is an exciting, painstakingly researched, and authortiative account of the life of one of the most extraordinary political figures of our time.


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Fidel Castro is one of the most interesting and controversial personalities of our time - he has become a myth and an icon. He was the first Cuban Caudillo - the man who freed his country from dependence on the USA and who lead his people to rediscover their national identity and pride. Castro has outlived generations of American presidents and Soviet leaders. He has survi Fidel Castro is one of the most interesting and controversial personalities of our time - he has become a myth and an icon. He was the first Cuban Caudillo - the man who freed his country from dependence on the USA and who lead his people to rediscover their national identity and pride. Castro has outlived generations of American presidents and Soviet leaders. He has survived countless assassination attempts by the CIA, the Mafia, and Cubans living in exile. He has become one of the greatest politicians of the 20th Century. His biography, and the history of his country exemplify the tensions between East and West, North and South, rich and poor. As Castro's life draws to a close, the question as to what will become of Cuba is more important that ever. Will Castro open Cuba to economic reform and democratization, or stick to his old slogan socialism or death? In this remarkable, up-to-date reconstruction of Castro's life, Volker Skierka addresses these questions and provides an account of the economic, social, and political history of Cuba since Castro's childhood. He draws on a number of little-known sources, including material from the East German communist archives on Cuba, which were until recently inaccessible. This is an exciting, painstakingly researched, and authortiative account of the life of one of the most extraordinary political figures of our time.

30 review for Fidel Castro: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt Rogers

    “The exploitation of one human by another must disappear before you can have real democracy” -Fidel Castro It is a hard task to present a coherent narrative about one of the most enigmatic figures of the 20th Century, Skierka tries to show us as much of Castro as possible, but really, it is impossible to separate the man from the history that surrounded him. It is fitting, then, that in a botched attempt at uprising that landed the young Castro in jail he declared: "History will absolve me!" There “The exploitation of one human by another must disappear before you can have real democracy” -Fidel Castro It is a hard task to present a coherent narrative about one of the most enigmatic figures of the 20th Century, Skierka tries to show us as much of Castro as possible, but really, it is impossible to separate the man from the history that surrounded him. It is fitting, then, that in a botched attempt at uprising that landed the young Castro in jail he declared: "History will absolve me!" There are three relationships that really come out as inseparable from Castro: America, Che Guevara, and the Church. Castro falls into the tradition of Latin American figures that sought to liberate the continent from imperialism. But unlike the Cuban revolutionary of the early 20th Century, Jose Marti, Castro appears to have genuinely kept the forces of the US at bay. This was not made any easier by an incredibly (and unfairly) hostile US. Castro is not the only leader forced into a marriage of convenience with the Soviet Union due to the lack of respect for the issues facing his country. That a tiny Caribbean republic can stand firm against a giant to its north is testament to the determination of a people to be free. This same freedom however, remains elusive to those within Cuba. It appears that the fateful embrace of Communism was helped a great deal by Castro's comrade Che Guevara. The Argentine doctor became the guiding light of Cuba's ideological agenda, screwed towards a global third world revolution. Guevara's ideas, such as intervention in the Angolan civil war and the creation of a 'new man' (the perfect socialist who felt no need for material incentives) cost Cuba a great deal, but made Cuba into a major power in the Global South. Today, Cuba's educational and health services surpass those found anywhere else in the developing world (and a few places in the developed world) and Cuba's global health initiatives have earned it worldwide respect. The most unexpected relationship was that with the Church. Castro was officially atheist, as was the constitution of the communist country. However, raised in the Jesuit tradition, Castro seems to have incorporated religious ideas into his philosophy. In conversations with Frei Betto, Brazilian priest, he discusses a Marxist understanding of the story of Jesus, a freedom fighter with an egalitarian message to the chagrin of an imperialist power. The visit of the pope to the island also appears to have aided in its international esteem, as well as increased religious tolerance in Cuba. Overall a satisfying story about a controversial figure.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Castro is in his mid-eighties, my dad's age, and I wanted to learn more about his life. The Hawaii Public Library System has a bunch of biographies about the man, so I chose a scholarly one written by a European because I wanted a perspective that was not American or Cuban. This biography is studiously researched and does not seem unduly biased in any direction, given the controversial subject. It was not a quick-read, and bogged down sometimes in more minutia than I would have liked. However, I Castro is in his mid-eighties, my dad's age, and I wanted to learn more about his life. The Hawaii Public Library System has a bunch of biographies about the man, so I chose a scholarly one written by a European because I wanted a perspective that was not American or Cuban. This biography is studiously researched and does not seem unduly biased in any direction, given the controversial subject. It was not a quick-read, and bogged down sometimes in more minutia than I would have liked. However, I learned so much about the man and his beliefs, about the politics of revolution, and of both the USA and Soviet Union, about the struggles for freedom in Central and South America and Africa, about Che Guevera and his role in both Castro's life and world history. After learning about the abhorant role of the USA and our CIA in the colonialization and mafia-ization of Cuba under the brutal iron rule of Batista, I have a better understanding of the Cuban people's revolution and the events that shaped my own youth including the Bay of PIgs invasion,and the subsequent missile crisis, And, instead of learning about the devil, as Castry was portrayed, I have come to appreciate and admire the Cuban people and Castro's passionate and stubborn efforts to free their island-country from the tyrany of the USA government. Fidel Castro rose to power because the people of Cuba stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him, and he is the only leader of a Third World Country that I know of who did not get rich off his revolution. Viva Castro! Viva Cuba!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    I recomend this book. The cover indicates that it is "balanced" and I would agree although I detect some sympathy for Castro from the author. Great reading during a time of coming adminstrative change in Cuba.

  4. 5 out of 5

    HansBlog.de

    Aus HansBlog.de: Top-Journalist Volker Skierka recherchiert tief und zitiert ausführlich auch Quellen aus der einstigen DDR, so in Havanna stationierte DDR-Diplomaten und das DDR-Außenministerium. Skierka interessiert sich mehr für Zeitgeschichte und weniger für Persönliches. Skierka berichtet ausführlich auch über das Kennedy-Attentat in USA, über Che Guevara in Afrika, die Entwicklung kommunistischer Parteien in Kuba und COMECON-Beziehungen. Das Buch endet etwa im Jahr 2000. Skierka zitiert Ca Aus HansBlog.de: Top-Journalist Volker Skierka recherchiert tief und zitiert ausführlich auch Quellen aus der einstigen DDR, so in Havanna stationierte DDR-Diplomaten und das DDR-Außenministerium. Skierka interessiert sich mehr für Zeitgeschichte und weniger für Persönliches. Skierka berichtet ausführlich auch über das Kennedy-Attentat in USA, über Che Guevara in Afrika, die Entwicklung kommunistischer Parteien in Kuba und COMECON-Beziehungen. Das Buch endet etwa im Jahr 2000. Skierka zitiert Castro immer wieder sehr ausführlich. Das klingt aber alles staatstragend. Lebendig werden Land und Líder nie, auch wenn man einiges über Castros Eloquenz und Impulsivität erfährt; in kleinen Exkursen berichtet Skierka über Castros Frauen und Zigarren; gegen Buchende folgen lange Exkurse zu Kirche und Religion sowie zum Demokratieverständnis. Wir hören gelegentlich von Castro-Bruder Raúl in Staatsämtern, aber das Binnenverhältnis der Brüder und der weiteren Castro-Geschwister beleuchtet Skierka ebensowenig wie Castros Alkoholkonsum, Geldsituation oder die wahre Rolle von Celia Sanchez. Der scheinbare Widerspruch zwischen dem einerseits gebildeten, sozial und kulturell aufgeschlossenen, aber doch brutal totalitär herrschenden Castro bleibt ebenso unerklärt wie Castros verblüffende Talente als Dschungelrebell. Der Biograf betont aber auch, dass Castro sein Privatleben bewusst verbarg. Über Skierkas Verhältnis zu Castro mag man ebenfalls rätseln. Skierka schildert gute und schlechte Seiten des Maximo Lider scheinbar neutral, nur das US-Embargo gegen Kuba verurteilt er offen. Er zitiert Castro oft kritiklos, gibt aber auch Amnesty International wieder. Sicherlich beurteilt Skierka Castro milder als manche US-Autoren – er wollte ja gezielt aus europäischer Perspektive schreiben. Skierka nimmt sich auch sonst zurück: Persönliche Erlebnisse und seine Castro-Begegnungen schildert er nicht, es gibt auch im Anhang keinen Recherche-Bericht. Deswegen hat das Buch – anders als in Rezensionen behauptet – keinen Reportagecharakter (nur dass UPS einen Dokumentenbrief wegen des Embargos nicht von Hamburg zur kubanischen Botschaft nach Berlin expedieren wollte, enthüllt Skierka). Skierkas nicht gänzlich spröder, aber doch glanzloser Stil mit teils zu langen, zu passivischen Sätzen und ständig wechselnden Tempi dämpft den Lesespaß: Skierka erzählt in der Gegenwart, wechselt aber häufig zu Futur, Perfekt und Vergangenheit. Neue Absätze beginnen häufig nach einer Leerzeile und nur gelegentlich ohne vorgeschaltete Leerzeile – ein irritierendes Layout, umgekehrt wäre es leichter. Gelegentliche Ausrutscher wie "Referenz erweisen" (sic, S. 455) oder "Transition" (S. 464, 467 etc.) kommen hinzu. Mitunter produziert Skierka Exkurse, die jedoch nicht als Exkurse gekennzeichnet werden etwa über Fidel und Schriftsteller; Skierka springt dann in der Chronologie manchmal um Jahre vor und beim nicht ausgewiesenen Exkurs-Ende wieder zurück; das wirkt unübersichtlich v.a. in den letzten, Fazit- oder Leitartikel-artigen Kapiteln. Mein rororo-TB hat etwa 488 Seiten Haupttext, dazu etwa 49 Seiten Anhang samt nicht kommentierter Bibliografie, Stichwortverzeichnis und 764 Endnoten sowie 16 nicht paginierte SW-Fotodruckseiten mit teils nicht datierten Abbildungen (je eine ganze Seite für ein Martí-Denkmal und einen Palast in Havanna). Keine Zeittafel. Die Endnoten liefern zumeist reine Quellenangaben - gelegentlich aber auch inhaltliche Hintergründe, welche direkt auf der zutreffenden Seite stehen sollten. Kurzvergleich mit Robert E. Quirks Castro-Biografie: Volker Skierkas Biografie reicht bis ins Jahr 2000, also weiter als Quirks Buch. Trotzdem ist Skierkas Buch deutlich kürzer. Skierka schreibt weitaus unpersönlicher, wie ein historisches Lehrbuch. Lebendig werden Land und Líder nur bei Quirk, nicht bei Skierka; Skierka zitiert Castro nur mit langen, staatstragenden Sätzen, Quirk auch mit viel persönlichem O-Ton; durch die (tendenziöse?) Wiedergabe von Begebenheiten und Zitaten, die alle eine ähnliche Richtung gehen, signalisiert Quirk unmissverständlich seine Meinung über Castro, ohne dass er sie explizit äußern müsste – bei Skierka hat Castro eine andere und auf jeden Fall blassere Persönlichkeit. Quirk schreibt sehr lange streng chronologisch und später mit übersichtlichen Rückblenden zu Schwerpunktthemen wie Schriftstellern und Afrika-Engagement; Skierka liefert gelegentlich etwas verwirrende Zeitsprünge. Quirk schreibt zudem viel flüssiger (ich kenne von Quirk nur das englische Original) und teils richtig spannend, davon kann bei Skierka keine Rede sein. Nur Skierka geht jedoch auf die Rolle der Mafia vor 1959 ein und zitiert DDR-Quellen. Quirk bespricht viel ausführlicher den US-kubanischen Austausch und Vorgänge in US-Stellen. Nur Skierka bietet Zusammenfassungen und Resümees etwa zu Castros Verhältnis zu Demokratie oder Religion; dies wird bei Quirk teils implizit deutlich.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Toma

    It seems to be well researched, but I'd expect a biography to have more input from the one it is written about.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Eigentlich keine Biografie von Castro, sondern vom modernen Kuba. Hinterlässt einen fast sympathischen Eindruck von Castro, und einen definitiv entsetzten über die USA.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aria

    Surprisingly fascinating. Excellent work by the author. I learned so, so much.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ioana Dumitrescu

    A well written biography, well documented and well delivered to the public. If you want to broaden your knowledge about Cuban history, if you are curious what kind of personality a man like Fidel Castro is and how is it that he managed to rule this country for almost half century and would like to read an useful and really interesting novel, even though you're not a history junkie, you'd better give this one a try. This book is not a pure historical one, it also takes you to the Cuban atmosphere A well written biography, well documented and well delivered to the public. If you want to broaden your knowledge about Cuban history, if you are curious what kind of personality a man like Fidel Castro is and how is it that he managed to rule this country for almost half century and would like to read an useful and really interesting novel, even though you're not a history junkie, you'd better give this one a try. This book is not a pure historical one, it also takes you to the Cuban atmosphere back in the days, in the 1950's. Castro is determined to remake the Cuban national character, a disciplined society, a work-oriented society, but this implies poverty and frustration. He is definitely a great mind, he is a very determined man and his life story is fascinating. His friendship with Che Guevara and his life, so many times threatened (it is said that CIA tried to eliminate Castro more than 600 times), the Missile crisis, the extreme poverty that hit the country in the mid 1990's and so much more are meant to keep you with this biography till the end. His spirit is truly great and weather you admire or you hate Castro or you simply want to read about worldpolitics, communism, Soviet Union and about an unrepeatable era, this book is a go!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Babar Ali

    I have really enjoyed this book.Whatever ones opinion of Castro is,admiration for the Cuban nation cannot be helped.I was a fan of Castro before I read the book and remain so after. The book explain the popularity and longevity of Castro.It also shows the negative aspects of Castro and the Americans.I feel that in every criticsm of Castro one should,without fail,factor in the effects of the embargos imposed by the USA.Here the author lacked. As a citizen of the world I am left thinking 'What if th I have really enjoyed this book.Whatever ones opinion of Castro is,admiration for the Cuban nation cannot be helped.I was a fan of Castro before I read the book and remain so after. The book explain the popularity and longevity of Castro.It also shows the negative aspects of Castro and the Americans.I feel that in every criticsm of Castro one should,without fail,factor in the effects of the embargos imposed by the USA.Here the author lacked. As a citizen of the world I am left thinking 'What if there were no embargos and sabotage by the USA?'.What would Cuba be like? I however thank the author for cultivating in me an interest in worldpolitics,Lennin,Marxism,Latin America,Soviet Union,Economics and many other subjects.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I had to read this book to hopefully put an end to my Cuba obsession. The first part was magnificent. I really felt like I gained insight into the beginning of the Revolution and him as a man. I also loved that it was written by a German in Germany; it was so different that the normal book you can find about Castro. But the last part of the book was pretty much just citing this or that, he didn't have any more revelations into Castro's thoughts or life. I felt I gained a way better understanding o I had to read this book to hopefully put an end to my Cuba obsession. The first part was magnificent. I really felt like I gained insight into the beginning of the Revolution and him as a man. I also loved that it was written by a German in Germany; it was so different that the normal book you can find about Castro. But the last part of the book was pretty much just citing this or that, he didn't have any more revelations into Castro's thoughts or life. I felt I gained a way better understanding of the Bay of Pigs and then CIA's role in Cuba plus the events that the Cubans in Florida perpetrated. Too bad the book was written 14 years ago, there's more that needs to be written!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rick Brindle

    An excellent, informative history of Fidel Castro. It will probably just reinforce your own view of him, good or bad, but that's not the fault of the book, that's just the way Fidel is. I was a fan before I read the book, and still am. Likewise, his opponents will probably not be converted to his way of thinking after reading this, but such is the way of things. Either way, it's an interesting and revealing read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Started reading this before I decided to try to be better about reviews, so I don't have a lot of notes. I learned things I didn't know. I don't have the background to dispute any of the facts as presented. The writing is sometimes hardm to follow, particularly when the author breaks chronology to make a point.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ana-Maria

    Well written, good balance between facts and characterisation; i think it was more a short history of Cuba during Castro’s life than a portrait of Fidel.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mădălin Miu

  15. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  16. 5 out of 5

    Drago Grejck

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alan Bartlett

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lilo

  20. 5 out of 5

    Oana

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lydia

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

  23. 4 out of 5

    Florian

    Zweifelsohne die beste deutschsprachige Biographie

  24. 4 out of 5

    James Creechan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ewanna

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Mctaggart

  27. 5 out of 5

    Augusto Bustamante

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stircu Radu

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jagadeshwaran

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hadleigh

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