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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hugo Chavez Biography by Venezuelan Journalists, October 13, 2007
This review is from: Hugo Chavez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela's Controversial President (Hardcover)
This book has been described as an unbiased look at Hugo Chavez but in my opinion it doesn't quite live up to that description. The Authors' Note touches upon the difficulty of such an endeavor, quoting Georg Lichtenberg from the 18th century: "Even impartiality is partial." My impression is that the authors recognized a need for change in Venezuela in the 1990s -- and may even have had sympathy for such change -- but they don't believe Hugo Chavez is the proper man to lead the nation forward.

The authors' overriding point seems to be that Chavez is power mad, driven by an unquenchable desire for ever more power. An example: "He was the man of the hour and he enjoyed it, though he never lost sight of his real goal: power and everything that went with it." But it would be the rare political leader for whom this claim could not be made, especially one seeking such a major shakeup as Chavez. And while there is little doubt that Chavez enjoys being in the spotlight, it's also true that his antics bring worldwide attention to issues he feels need to be addressed. At another point in the book, the authors relate an unflattering personal incident then add, "All of this, however, remains in the murky terrain of speculation," as if the incident was too juicy to leave out, even though it was perhaps unfounded.

Having said that, the bias I perceived did not much interfere with the book. For one thing, not all of Chavez's life story is admirable, such as the years spent plotting the failed 1992 coup while serving in the the military. As you are perhaps aware, in an odd turn of fate, this failed coup -- or more accurately, the televised "for now" speech given after his surrender -- turned Chavez into a folk hero and served as the springboard to his future political success.

It is important to note that the book is much more a personal biography of Chavez than it is an analysis of his policy initiatives. Some of the most interesting information is from his childhood. One incident regarding his first day of school stands out: He and his grandmother were turned away from the schoolhouse because the boy's shoes were too shabby. Such an event leaves a lasting impression and helps explain Chavez's bonds to the nation's poor. As he grew older, Chavez became a voracious reader and read many books from the political left, these books being readily available at the home of two of his friends.

While roughly the first half of the book is chronological, the chapters in the second half are topic oriented, such as the one devoted to Chavez's relationships with women. The departure from chronology is not much of a problem, but it did distract me earlier in the book when his second wife, Marisabel, was mentioned in passing, then mentioned again as an ex-wife -- all before she'd been introduced to the reader. I was suprised so little was written about the actual campaign leading up to the 1998 presidential election. We read that Chavez is polling at only 7% and then, before you know it, he is being sworn into office, his support having somehow risen to 56%. The 2002 coup attempt was of course covered, and here I felt the authors were quite successful in describing it with impartiality.

This book was originally written in Spanish by the two Venezuelan journalists in 2004, updated in December 2006, and translated into English in 2007. It is packed with interesting quotes about Chavez from friends, foes, and family, and the authors took great pains to point out the quotees' biases toward Chavez, often using descriptive phrases such as "friend of Chavez" or "opponent of the Chavez government." The authors also did a nice job selecting the 30+ photos included in the book.

All in all, the authors did a good job of covering Chavez, and I liked the fact that they were Venezuelan and lived through the times and events described in the book.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 2, 2008 10:57:32 PM PST
WeeZieinc says:
this is a very good review of the book.
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