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Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala Paperback – August, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0674075900 ISBN-10: 0674075900 Edition: Expanded

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Product Details

  • Series: David Rockefeller Center Series on Latin American Studies (Book 4)
  • Paperback: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies; Expanded edition (August 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674075900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674075900
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #728,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The reappearance of this small classic is most welcome and important. It helps us understand the disasters that misshaped U.S. and Central American relations after 1954, especially into the 1980s and 1990s.
--Walter LaFeber, Cornell University

From the Publisher

With an introduction by Harrison Salisbury and a new foreword for the 1990 edition, the authors have written a history which reads like a thriller, detailing the dirty tricks, the manipulation of public opinion, and the corrupt foreign policy which characterized U.S. involvement in Guatemala. They show that this covert action became a blueprint for later incursions by the U.S. into Central America. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

It reads very much like a novel.
The book is a model historical work, heavily footnoted, clearly written, factually presented and overwhelmingly upsetting.
Stacey M Jones
Most of the nation's land belonged to a very few rich, and to United Fruit Company.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Elderbear VINE VOICE on March 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
Well, OK, Watergate actually triggered the erosion of my faith in the US government. But I was barely a teenager as that story broke. I was in my early 20's when I read Bitter Fruit, prior to meeting Stephen Schlesinger at a university function.
This is the story of how the United States Government plotted against and overthrew the first democratically elected government in Guatemala. It clearly demonstrates how our government became an instrument, not of Democracy, but of oppression for the benefit of the wealthy. The right-wing coup, planned and supported by the CIA, led to other covert operations, many of which succeeded in enriching American corporations at the expense of Democracy.
Jacobo Arbenz, elected to the presidency of Guatemala was faced with a crisis of poverty. Most of the nation's land belonged to a very few rich, and to United Fruit Company. Much of that land lay fallow. Arbenz instituted a land reform package which called for turning over fallow land to the country's impoverished campesinos. Land would be purchased by the government from the owners at the value THE OWNERS had declared for property tax purposes. Sounds fair enough, right? Honest landowners would receive fair recompense for unused land. Dishonest landowners would get their just desserts.
Nevertheless, United Fruit Company, using its pull with John Foster & Allen Dulles, Secretary of State & CIA Director, respectively, managed to have their own revolution created and funded by the US Government, wrapped in a shroud of anti-communism. The dictator they instated continued the tradition of repression that Guatemala had known for decades before.
The only real winners of in this story were the stockholders of United Fruit.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
Reading Bitter Fruit several years after the last time was like picking up a great but long neglected novel and discovering its richness all over again. When I first read Bitter Fruit, not long after its initial publication, it was as riveting as any Dick Francis mystery--not my usual reaction to books I had to read for course preparation!
The Kinzer-Schlesinger book is one of those rarities--in two sub-disciplines: an area studies and a foreign policy classic. The rigor of the research that undergirds the book is clear from the early pages; the story is compelling;and the moral is timeless. Both as an examination of politics in Guatemala in the early 1950s AND as a study of U.S. foreign policy in that period, the book is almost without peer. As John Coatsworth notes in his introduction, "Now that the Cold War ... has ended, the lessons Bitter Fruit sought to convey are just as relevant [as] they were" when it was written.
John Coatsworth's fine Introduction is very useful in placing the book in historical perspective. Particularly for students for whom the Vietnam war is as ancient a history as World War II is for the authors and me, and for whom the Cold War is primarily memories of people breaking down the Berlin Wall with hammers, Coatsworth's introduction reminds the reader that history CAN repeat itself--if under different guises. As Walter Lefeber (whom Coatsworth cites) argues in Inevitable Revolutions, the U.S. goal in Central America from the nineteenth century forward was control of the region; only the rationale changed from era to era.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Brandon Wilkening on May 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
I had wanted to read this book ever since reading Mr. Kinzer's account of the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, entitled "All the Shah's Men," which I would also heartily endorse. Like that book, "Bitter Fruit" is an intricately detailed yet fast-paced account of an American-sponsored overthrow of a popularly-elected foreign leader. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the book is the attention that the authors give to providing biographical sketches of all the participants. These portraits serve to contextualize the situation and render the actors' motives more understandable.
As a graduate student in political science, I have been trained to explain political phenomena as functions of identifiable and measurable independent factors. While the parsimony afforded by the academic approach has its advantages, Schlesinger and Kinzer's account reminds us that political reality is shaped by fallibe individuals often guided by imperfect information and their own ideological commitments. Indeed, the most vexing question that came to my mind was how men like the American Ambassador to Guatemaula in '54 and the dogmatic Dulles brothers ever attained positions of such prominence. Their belief that the social reforms being enacted in Guatemala represented the initial stage of a Communist revolution that would spread through all of Latin America seems ludicrous in hindsight, and Schlesinger and Kinzer's account makes clear that the evidence upon which this domino theory rested was shaky to begin with. The role that the "liberal" media played in reproducing the American accusations against Arbenz's government is one of the most interesting aspects of this book.
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