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Bolivar: American Liberator Hardcover – April 9, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (April 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439110190
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439110195
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Arana is an indefatigable researcher, a perceptive historian, and a luminous writer, as shown in her defining, exhilarating biography of the great South American liberator Simón Bolívar. A household name in the southern half of the Americas, Bolívar nevertheless is generally unknown to North Americans, beyond the simple, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard the name.” The good of this meticulous new account of Bolívar’s exciting, to say nothing of consequential, life and times is that such a robust, dynamic, and, more importantly, easily accessible narrative goes to great lengths to rectify the North American unfamiliarity with Bolívar. The liberation of the South American colonies from the rule of the mother country was an even more complex, fits-and-starts program than the severing of ties between Great Britain and its Atlantic-seaboard colonies, but Arana follows the war in all its steps forward and back, at the end of which “one man would be credited for single-handedly conceiving, organizing, and leading the liberation of six nations.” Her understanding of the man behind the fame—and behind the hostility that enveloped him in his later years—brings this biography to the heights of the art and craft of life-writing. For more about the preparation of this book, see the adjacent Story behind the Story. --Brad Hooper


“Finally, Bolivar gets the sweeping biography he deserves. He was the greatest leader in Latin American history, and his tale is filled with lessons about leadership and passion. This book reads like a wonderful novel but is researched like a masterwork of history.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs)

“This is a magnificent story. Deeply researched and written with clarity, honesty, and verve, Marie Arana’s book tells the life of one of the greatest heroes and founders in world history. North Americans who know only of George Washington will thrill to read the epic adventures of his South American counterpart. As fantastic as Bolivar’s life appears, ‘it is not,’ as Arana says of Latin America’s bloody past in general, ‘magical realism. It is history. It is true.’” (Gordon S. Wood, author of Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815, Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University)

“With the eye and ear of a novelist, Marie Arana chants the epic of Bolivar with love, zest, and compelling authority.” (Walter A. McDougall, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Alloy-Ansin Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania)

“Simon Bolivar has found the perfect biographer in Marie Arana, a literary journalist, brilliant novelist of South America, and wise historian as well. Her portrait of Bolivar is human and moving; she has written a powerful and epic life and times." (Evan Thomas, author of Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Struggle to Save the World)

“Most North American historians have mentioned [Bolivar] only in passing, usually making 'the George Washington of Latin America' reference. . . . That conception obviously needed correction in the form of a comprehensive biography that makes Bolivar’s life accessible to a large readership in the United States. Bolivar is unquestionably that book. . . . Bolivar is magisterial in scope, written with flair and an almost cinematic sense of history happening. . . . A monumental achievement destined to win some major literary prizes.” (Joseph J. Ellis Washington Post Book World)

"Wonderful. . . . In Arana's energetic and highly readable telling, Bolívar comes alive as having willed himself an epic life. . . . She brings great verve and literary flair to her biography of Bolívar." (Hector Tobar The Los Angeles Times)

"The 'George Washington of South America,' who freed various countries from Spanish colonial rule, emerges in this account as a complex hero. . . . Arana offers a clear-eyed assessment of the ideals, alliances, and human frailtiesthat drove Bolívar’s choices and shaped the Americas." (The New Yorker)

“Inspired. . . . Arana ably captures the brash brilliance of this revered and vilified leader.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Arana is an indefatigable researcher, a perceptive historian, and a luminous writer, as shown in her defining, exhilarating biography of the great South American liberator Simón Bolívar. . . . Her understanding of the man behind the fame—and behind the hostility that enveloped him in his later years—brings this biography to the heights of the art and craft of life-writing.” (Booklist (starred review, Top 10 Biographies of the Year))

“[Arana's] vivid portrait shows us a charismatic man of high ideals, fiery oratory, unflagging energy and resolve, bold strategies, and a romantic aura. . . . Arana’s dramatic narrative is appropriately grand and enthralling . . . and it makes Bolívar an apt embodiment of the ambitions and disappointments of the revolutionary age.” (Publishers Weekly)

“This well-rounded work reveals not just an accomplished military tactician but also an able statesman. . . . An important contribution to Bolivarian studies.” (Library Journal (starred review))

"A fascinating biography of the charismatic military leader who sparked a revolution." (Abbe Wright O Magazine)

"So who was [Bolivar] that, two centuries after his birth, Chavez would be but the latest to manipulate the flexible power of Bolivarian myth to ideological ends? The answer is complex, and it therefore makes sense that someone with a novelist's grace and a journalist's precision would produce such a satisfying response. Arana . . . manages to both praise Bolivar's achievements and critique his shortcomings, thereby illuminating both the man and the messiah (or demon) that he sometimes became." (Earl Pike The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Epic is a word used too often to describe lesser work, but Marie Arana’s marvelously readable Bolívar: American Liberator is a biography that earns its adjective. . . . For those who know little of Bolívar’s history — that includes most people in North America — here is a biography that sparks the imagination in its depth and perception, and its unflagging narrative.” (David Walton The Dallas Morning News)

“Thrilling, authoritative and revelatory, here at last is a biography of Bolivar, the maker of South America, that catches the sheer extraordinary unique adventure and titanic scale of his life with accessible narrative and scholarly judgement.” (Simon Sebag Montefiore)

Customer Reviews

Very well written and subject thoroughly researched.
David H. Cary
Simon Bolivar (1783-1840) is the great liberator of South America from the yoke of Spanish colonialism.
C. M Mills
I was genuinely disappointed when I read the last page and had to put the book aside.
Robert K. Warski

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By EWebb on April 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
It is obvious from the first page that the author is a novelist as well as historian because the book really reads like a novel, but let's face it Bolivar lived his life like the main character in an exciting novel which is why this biography is perfect for the man.

Bolivar has been an underappreciated historical figure (here in the states at least) but this book gives him his due. The author gives a balanced account of Bolivar's life and gives the reader a taste of both his flamboyance and the personal sacrifices that he made in liberating South America.

The author meshes a brilliant story with Bolivar's positions and philosophies on slavery, warfare, government and other issues.

Bolivar is a colorful hero who should get the historical esteem he deserves here in the US because of this book. I'm hoping for a movie or miniseries to come soon as well. The book would make a great start for a screenplay.

If you're familiar with Bolivar this book just magnifies his story. If you're not be ready to be enlightened and amazed. Either way you'll truly enjoy reading this one.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David J Kent on April 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Simón Bolívar liberated six South American countries from Spanish rule. An amazing achievement. Marie Arana has accomplished no less an amazing achievement in her mighty tome Bolívar: American Liberator (Simon & Schuster, 2013). Arana's book is impressive, both in its girth (464 pages of text plus over 100 pages of notes) and the depth of research conducted into Bolívar's life.

Born into a wealthy family in 1783 Caracas in the Venezuelan portion of the Spanish empire, Simón Bolívar hardly seemed destined to be a revolutionary. A slight 5'6" in height and only 130 lbs, he nevertheless was a "spirited youth." He grew up in luxury in a country in which the Spanish crown had imposed strict divisions between the classes and races. A trip to Europe as he came of age exposed him to even greater privilege, but also inspired him to pledge that he would liberate his homeland. Arana captures this coming of age in a story that reads like a novel.

After two revolutions fail to take hold, Bolívar finally is able to lead the creation of a third republic that begins a constant battle that would consume him for the rest of his life. Arana deftly intertwines the events of the United States (War of 1812) and Europe (Napoleon, Spanish wars) with the major battles and exploits of Bolívar and other key players both within and without of his control. In what we now might call "mission creep," the revolution to rid Venezuela from the Spanish spreads across greater Granada and beyond to encompass what now includes Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and the newly created Bolivia (named after Bolívar).
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By eCid on April 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
+For anyone interested in the great Age of Enlightment that was the end of the 18th century--a time that rocked and changed nations across the Americas as they separated from their Mother Countries and the monumental quake that shook the monarchies of Europe, should be fascinated by this eye-opening book. Most people in the north of the Americas were too busy getting their fledgling countries going to notice much what was going on to the south. However, John Quincy Adams and James Monroe here in the U.S. were aware that what was happening in Venezuela and the northern countries of South America was an almost exact parallel to what was going on here in the new United States. From that point on, the paths diverged dramatically. But in the end, the new North American government, busy with its own dealings with Spain, paid no more than superficial attention to the bloody struggles of its southern neighbors.

Marie Arana has done a masterful job of bringing to life the leader of that revolution to the south, a man characterized as 'bigger than life' and by Jose Marti, one noted Hispanic writer in the typical flowery rhetoric of the times as, "...of Bolivar you can only speak from mountaintops,or amid thunder and lightning, or with a fistful of freedom in one hand and the corpse of tyranny at your feet." Ms. Arana brings Simon Bolivar down to earth in a highly readable, impressively researched manner. In the process she throws important light on the sometimes puzzling and little understood attitudes and realities of race and social class that still plague the southern continent.

For anyone who wishes to understand "Latinos" or "Hispanics" better (reference the growing importance they have right here in the USA), this really is must reading.

And, incidentally, the kindle version of this book reads beautifully.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By David Kinchen on April 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Although there are sixteen cities or counties named for Venezuelan-born Simón Bolívar in the United States -- including Bolivar (Jefferson County) West Virginia, next door to Harpers Ferry -- the real Great Liberator -- the man behind the elaborate uniforms he's pictured in -- is not very well known in the United States.

Marie Arana of The Washington Post remedies that in her masterful, comprehensive and very readable biography. Even so, the military leader/politician's life and philosophy was so complicated that you'll probably come away from Arana's book with more questions than answers. And that's a good thing to take away from an outstanding biography.

If there's truth in Harry Truman's famous statement that if you want a friend in Washington, DC get a dog, advice given to Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco (24 July 1783 - 17 December 1830) would be to get dogs in the capitals of all six of the countries he's credited with liberating: Caracas, Venezuela; Bogota, Colombia; Panama City, Panama (then part of Colombia); Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru (together with Argentina's Don José de San Martín), and La Paz, Bolivia.

The book's publication was timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his first effort to throw off the Spanish yoke from Venezuela, the first of six countries he's credited with freeing. In so doing, he traveled more than 75,000 miles on horseback -- gaining the nickname "Iron Ass" -- and became the greatest figure in Latin American history.
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More About the Author
Marie Arana was born in Lima, Peru, the daughter of a Peruvian father and an American mother. Her latest book is a biography of the South American founder Simón Bolívar, "Bolívar: American Liberator," which was released in April 2013. Highly praised in the United States and Britain, it won the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 2014. Marie is also the author of an acclaimed memoir "American Chica," which described her bicultural childhood between North and South Americas. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN-Memoir Award, and chosen best book of the year by several publications. Her novels, "Cellophane" and "Lima Nights," are dramatically different works, the first being a rich, lush satire of the Amazon jungle, the second being a stark, urban love story set in contemporary Peru; both were cited by numerous national publications as one of the best books of the year. Her book "The Writing Life," is a collection from her well-known column for The Washington Post, which explores the way writers think and work. Marie wrote the Latin American script for the film, "Girl Rising," which premiered in March 2013. Marie is the former editor in chief of "Book World" at The Washington Post and a senior consultant to the Librarian of Congress. You can find more information about her at