The surprising story of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and the scrappy band of rebel men and women who followed them.
Most people are familiar with the basics of the Cuban Revolution of 1956–1959: it was led by two of the twentieth century’s most charismatic figures, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara; it successfully overthrew the island nation’s US–backed dictator; and it quickly went awry under Fidel’s rule.
But less is remembered about the amateur nature of the movement or the lives of its players. In this wildly entertaining and meticulously researched account, historian and journalist Tony Perrottet unravels the human drama behind history’s most improbable revolution: a scruffy handful of self-taught revolutionaries—many of them kids just out of college, literature majors, and art students, and including a number of extraordinary women—who defeated 40,000 professional soldiers to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Cuba Libre!’s deep dive into the revolution reveals fascinating details: How did Fidel’s highly organized lover Celia Sánchez whip the male guerrillas into shape? Who were the two dozen American volunteers who joined the Cuban rebels? How do you make land mines from condensed milk cans—or, for that matter, cook chorizo à la guerrilla (sausage guerrilla-style)?
Cuba Libre! is an absorbing look back at a liberation movement that captured the world's imagination with its spectacular drama, foolhardy bravery, tragedy, and, sometimes, high comedy—and that set the stage for Cold War tensions that pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war.
About the Author
Tony Perrottet is the author of six books: Cuba Libre!, Off the Deep End, Pagan Holiday, The Naked Olympics, Napoleon's Privates, and The Sinner's Grand Tour. His travel stories have been translated into a dozen languages and widely anthologized, having been selected six times for the Best American Travel Writing series. He is a regular television guest on the History Channel and a contributing writer at Smithsonian Magazine; his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, T+L, Outside, Surface, and the London Sunday Times. He lives in New York.
"A juicy jungle opera... Fascinating... [Perrottet's] lively, gossipy account steps back and allows the characters to speak for themselves... Humor abounds throughout the book too."
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Perrottet does an excellent job capturing the absurdities that came with the revolution…Cuba Libre! brings history to life with thorough research and wildly addictive writing.”
"With true storytelling verve, Tony Perrottet weaves the tale of Fidel Castro’s two year-long guerrilla war to oust Cuban dictator Batista. Cuba Libre is a welcome, highly readable romp through the opening scenes of Castro’s long turn on the world stage."
—Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
“An excellent chronology of Cuba’s liberation—dramatic, human, and illuminating.”
—Paul Theroux, author of The Great Railway Bazaar
"An excellent new entry on the subject, with a memorable opening line and highly enjoyable chapters. If you read only one recent book on Cuba, have it be this delightful popular history."
—Library Journal (starred)
“Perrottet’s history excels in putting a human face on the fighters...the revolution’s real stars were the smart and strong women whoacted as spies, couriers, logistical experts, and ultimately as the bravest, fiercest, and most indispensible combatants.”
“Fast-paced and highly entertaining.”
"Tony Perrottet sure knows how to tell a story -- and what a story this is! With Cuba Libre!, Perrottet takes us far beyond the basic facts of the Cuban revolution to the juicy details that remind us that history is deeply human: Fidel's appearance on the Ed Sullivan show was followed by a poodle fashion parade; the rebels loved to read Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls between operations in the mountains; breaded snake cutlets were a favorite snack.... Perrottet gained access to private letters, diaries, and other documents no other historian has seen, and he has written a fabulous account of one of the most unlikely, romantic, astounding events of the 20th century."
—Chris Ryan, New York Times-bestselling author of Sex at Dawn and Civilized to Death
"Cuba cracked open its treasure chest of historical archives for Tony Perrottet and he uncovered so many long-lost secrets about the Revolution that even those who think they know all about Fidel’s improbable victory will end up shaking their heads in disbelief. Commanders who act like a Caribbean Rat Pack. Military maneuvers that resemble an Oceans Eleven escapade. And a series of long, long shots that, incredibly, paid off for the Castros. Perrottet tells this familiar story in an unforgettable way that is as raucous as it is revealing."
—Anthony DePalma, author of The Man Who Invented Fidel
"Sexy, humorous, fast-moving and deeply-researched, Cuba Libre! overturns the mythology of the Cuban Revolution, while finding the genuinely epic dimensions of the island and its history. From the debauched present of Havana to the rebellious past of Santiago, the gimlet-eyed Tony Perrottet is a canny guide to all the dreams and miseries of Cuba. Should be banned by the Communist Party."
—Patrick Symmes, author of Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Che Legend and The Boys From Dolores: Fidel Castro's Schoolmates from Revolution to Exile