Age of Revolutions Reading List #5
For our next list, we asked Michelle Chase – an expert on the Cuban Revolution – to list the top five books that she would suggest to graduate students or colleagues entering the field for the first time. Below you will find her list, followed by brief descriptions of each book. This list is not intended to be comprehensive. Comment below to make your own suggestions.
Suggested by Michelle Chase, Pace University (Fall ’16)
Samuel Farber. Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment
- “Uncritically lauded by many on the left, and impulsively denounced by the right, the Cuban revolution is almost universally viewed in one-dimensional terms. Farber, one of its most informed left-wing critics, provides a much-needed critical assessment of the revolution’s impact and legacy.”
- “In the tumultuous first decade of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and other leaders saturated the media with altruistic images of themselves in a campaign to win the hearts of Cuba’s six million citizens. In Visions of Power in Cuba, Lillian Guerra argues that these visual representations explained rapidly occurring events and encouraged radical change and mutual self-sacrifice. Mass rallies and labor mobilizations of unprecedented scale produced tangible evidence of what Fidel Castro called ‘unanimous support’ for a revolution whose ‘moral power’ defied U.S. control. Yet participation in state-orchestrated spectacles quickly became a requirement for political inclusion in a new Cuba that policed most forms of dissent. Devoted revolutionaries who resisted disastrous economic policies, exposed post-1959 racism, and challenged gender norms set by Cuba’s one-party state increasingly found themselves marginalized, silenced, or jailed. Using previously unexplored sources, Guerra focuses on the lived experiences of citizens, including peasants, intellectuals, former prostitutes, black activists, and filmmakers, as they struggled to author their own scripts of revolution by resisting repression, defying state-imposed boundaries, and working for anti-imperial redemption in a truly free Cuba.”
William Leogrande and Peter Kornbluh. Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana
- “History is being made in U.S.-Cuban relations. Now in paperback and updated to tell the real story behind the stunning December 17, 2014, announcement by President Obama and President Castro of their move to restore full diplomatic relations, this powerful book is essential to understanding ongoing efforts toward normalization in a new era of engagement. Challenging the conventional wisdom of perpetual conflict and aggression between the United States and Cuba since 1959, Back Channel to Cuba chronicles a surprising, untold history of bilateral efforts toward rapprochement and reconciliation. William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh here present a remarkably new and relevant account, describing how, despite the intense political clamor surrounding efforts to improve relations with Havana, negotiations have been conducted by every presidential administration since Eisenhower’s through secret, back-channel diplomacy. From John F. Kennedy’s offering of an olive branch to Fidel Castro after the missile crisis, to Henry Kissinger’s top secret quest for normalization, to Barack Obama’s promise of a new approach, LeoGrande and Kornbluh uncovered hundreds of formerly secret U.S. documents and conducted interviews with dozens of negotiators, intermediaries, and policy makers, including Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter. They reveal a fifty-year record of dialogue and negotiations, both open and furtive, that provides the historical foundation for the dramatic breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba ties.”
Louis Perez Jr. On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality and Culture
- “With this masterful work, Louis A. Pérez Jr. transforms the way we view Cuba and its relationship with the United States. On Becoming Cuban is a sweeping cultural history of the sustained encounter between the peoples of the two countries and of the ways that this encounter helped shape Cubans’ identity, nationality, and sense of modernity from the early 1850s until the revolution of 1959. Using an enormous range of Cuban and U.S. sources–from archival records and oral interviews to popular magazines, novels, and motion pictures–Pérez reveals a powerful web of everyday, bilateral connections between the United States and Cuba and shows how U.S. cultural forms had a critical influence on the development of Cubans’ sense of themselves as a people and as a nation. He also articulates the cultural context for the revolution that erupted in Cuba in 1959. In the middle of the twentieth century, Pérez argues, when economic hard times and political crises combined to make Cubans painfully aware that their American-influenced expectations of prosperity and modernity would not be realized, the stage was set for revolution.”
Devyn Spence Benson. Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution
- “Analyzing the ideology and rhetoric around race in Cuba and south Florida during the early years of the Cuban revolution, Devyn Spence Benson argues that ideas, stereotypes, and discriminatory practices relating to racial difference persisted despite major efforts by the Cuban state to generate social equality. Drawing on Cuban and U.S. archival materials and face-to-face interviews, Benson examines 1960s government programs and campaigns against discrimination, showing how such programs frequently negated their efforts by reproducing racist images and idioms in revolutionary propaganda, cartoons, and school materials. Building on nineteenth-century discourses that imagined Cuba as a raceless space, revolutionary leaders embraced a narrow definition of blackness, often seeming to suggest that Afro-Cubans had to discard their blackness to join the revolution. This was and remains a false dichotomy for many Cubans of color, Benson demonstrates. While some Afro-Cubans agreed with the revolution’s sentiments about racial transcendence–“not blacks, not whites, only Cubans”–others found ways to use state rhetoric to demand additional reforms. Still others, finding a revolution that disavowed blackness unsettling and paternalistic, fought to insert black history and African culture into revolutionary nationalisms. Despite such efforts by Afro-Cubans and radical government-sponsored integration programs, racism has persisted throughout the revolution in subtle but lasting ways.”
***Chase also recommends that we keep a look out for Jennifer Lambe’s upcoming Madhouse: Psychiatry and Politics in Cuban History (forthcoming from UNC Press, 2017).
We at Age of Revolutions also strongly recommend Michelle Chase’s own excellent study, which assesses the role of women in the Cuban Revolution. Be sure to check out Revolution within the Revolution: Women and Gender Politics in Cuba, 1952-1962.