- Paperback: 672 pages
- Publisher: Grove Press; Revised edition (April 20, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 080214411X
- ISBN-13: 978-0802144119
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 141 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life Paperback – April 20, 2010
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Superb . . . Mr. Anderson does a masterly job in evoking Che’s complex character, in separating the man from the myth . . .”The New York Times Book Review
Excellent . . . admirably honest [and] staggeringly researched . . . It is unlikely that after Anderson’s exhaustive contribution, much more will be learned about Guevara.”Los Angeles Times
[Che’s] ideal, that curious mixture of resoluteness and recklessness . . . is brilliantly evoked in Jon Lee Anderson’s massive biography which traces, with exacting precision, the avatars of Che’s epic life . . . . The portrait is now as complete as it will ever be.”The Times Literary Supplement (London)
An enduring achievement. It is hard to imagine that any [other biography] will match the volume and detail of research here . [Guevara’s victories and failures, equally spectacular, are part of our common history .Che lives, not only in this book, but in the world.” The Boston Globe
Groundbreaking. . . . Anderson’s book is an epic end run around the guardians of the Che legend.” The New Yorker
A masterly and absorbing account of Latin America’s famous guerrilla leader . . . Anderson’s book, easily the best so far on Guevara, is a worthy monument to a flawed but heroic Utopian dreamer.” The Sunday Times (London)
Remarkable . . . Anderson’s account is well rounded and far from uncritical . . . [his] journalistic flair and hard legwork are evident.” Foreign Affairs
Exceptional and exciting . . . Anderson’s up-close look, with beauty marks and tragic flaws so effortlessly rendered, brings the reader face to face with a man whose unshakable faith in his beliefs was made more powerful by his unusual combination of romantic passion and a coldly analytical mind’ . . . An invaluable addition to the literature of American revolutionaries.” Booklist
A solidly documented biography that succeeds, with brilliant effect, in stripping away the layers of demonization and hero worship that for so long have concealed the human core of this legendary figure. . . Thanks to Jon Lee Anderson, we now have the true story, the real man, a portrait of exceptional substance to confound the myth and enhance our understanding of the facts.” The Kansas City Star
Jon Lee Anderson . . . draws upon an unprecedented wealth of new information . . . [an] assiduously researched and perhaps definitive biography.”
San Francisco Chronicle
A skillful interviewer, Anderson elicited information from dozens of participants in Guevara’s life .Combining contradictory sources and an immense amount of detail, Anderson produces a multifaceted view of Guevara as a person, seething with ambiguities and complexities. This is an achievement that makes Che Guevara essential for anyone seriously interested in Guevara or the Cuban revolution.” The Nation
Thirty years after his death, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life gives an admirably balanced account of the Argentine adventurer, his real achievements and glamorous Robin Hood appeal . . . . An excellent guide to the myth behind the martyr.”
The Independent (London)
Exhaustive and convincing.” The New York Review of Books
The best [biography of Guevara] is Anderson’s epic. . . . A book that puts the evolution back in revolution, a meticulous record of this extraordinary life.”
It is Anderson’s careful research that will define Guevara for the future.”
The Denver Post
A thorough and unbiased biography of a little-understood man, dead 30 years, who remains a father figure to modern-day revolutionaries around the world . . . A book that sees the forest for the trees, and in a life as complicated and significant as Che Guevara’s, that was no small task.” The Oregonian
Detailed . . . the book tells as much as is likely to be known about Guevara’s end....As Mr. Anderson tells it, Che lives.” The Economist
The merit of Anderson’s work lies not only in the richness of details, but also in its objectivity. . . . Anderson’s book recounts in minute detail the chronology of an obsession.” Latin Trade
A sweeping biography of the Latino revolutionary and pop-culture hero. Anderson . . . steers clear of ideology, arguing that the Argentine-born Guevara was both a brilliant tactician and fighter and the truest representative of the old international communist agitator the State Department warned us about. . . . Students of Che’s life and deeds need look no farther than Anderson’s volume.” Kirkus Reviews
Jon Lee Anderson has rediscovered the historical Guevara, and his authoritative biography goes far in obliterating all the sentimental dross that has accrued around the figure of the heroic guerilla.” The New York Press
You would do well to read Jon Lee Anderson’s monumental biography, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life....The book’s mere table of contents could serve as the syllabus for Che l0l.” The Washington Post Book World
[Anderson] has researched diligently and has had access to much unpublished documentation....This biography is absorbing and convincing because of its wealth of new information and willingness to let Guevara himself speak, in quotations from unpublished letters and diaries. . . . An indispensable work of contemporary history.”
The Guardian (London)
Five years of research and unprecedented access to friends, family and unpublished archives have allowed Anderson to fulfil his stated aim, to present the truth about Che Guevara.” Literary Review
A massive, painstaking biography of the Argentine guerilla leader who devoted his life to the ideal of a unified Latin American revolution.”
A revealing portrait of the many Ches: the quixotic, freewheeling youth rambling around South and Central America in search of the good fight; the willful, asthmatic Jacobin of the Cuban Revolution’; and finally...the holy martyr of armed rebellion at age 39. . . Che lives on as a paradox of his own time and ours.”
Time Out New York
Jon Lee Anderson’s authoritative new biography shows both the passionate idealist and the cold-hearted disciplinarian.”
Vividly detailed . . . Anderson weaves a compelling psychological profile of Guevara.”
The Buffalo News
Che Guevara by Jon Lee Anderson may still be the best [biography of Che] for its deft stvle and its details of Che’s post-Cuba adventures. It is also the only one to carry interviews with Che’s widow, Aleida.”
His biography appears to be definitive . . . . Obviously a reporter of great energy and enterprise, he scored at least two major scoops in his research: obtaining Che’s uncensored diary of the guerrilla war in Cuba and discovering more or less where Che’s body was buried in Bolivia . . . genuinely gripping.”
[Anderson] manages to reflect his subject’s special gleam,’ the mix of qualities that made the Argentine-born adventurer irresistible to those of his contemporaries bent upon the violent overthrow of governments, and a durable icon for succeeding generations of revolutionaries. Che Guevara is the best treatment of its subject to date . . . . because the patient reader can distill from it a vivid sense of Che the man.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Neither Castañeda nor Taibo has written the definitive biography of Guevara. If anyone has, it is Jon Lee Anderson, whose Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life appeared earlier this year.” The Boston Book Review
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(In honor of the book's length, this review is also painfully long.)
Turning to content, accusations of bias against Anderson are certainly fair. The author clearly admires his subject and the consequent weaknesses from that admiration may confirm the old adage that "praise is the shipwreck of historians". Still, the book does not at all constitute a "whitewash". A careful reader with a liberal (in the broad sense) view will find enough in here to accurately condemn Ernesto "Che" Guevara for his distorted and profoundly disturbing worldviews, along with the violence and tyranny that the Argentina-raised, Cuba-naturalized revolutionary chose to nurture.
On the positive side, Anderson's admiration did give him motivation and credibility to access very significant and fresh sources for the biography. Such material include family papers and former Soviet personages and documents. (The author's extensive personal investigative efforts also led to the finding of Che's burial location and remains.)
The living Che we meet is well-drawn. And he is far from the rather silly counter-image currently being propagated in right-wing anti-Che circles. That simple-minded anti-Che image is of someone who is a sustained anti-black racist, a homophobe, a mad sadist, and a coward. Such mostly false caricature is not designed represent the historical person, but serve more to stick out a tongue at and shame the hipsters who now wear the iconic Che t-shirt. In fact, that coward-bigot image is quite unsupported by the historic Che's clear record. (The idea that Guevara was a coward also runs against the up close testimonies of both friends and enemies, the course of his life, and even the recollections of the Cuban-American CIA man who doggedly hunted Che down. The former expressed a final admiration for Che's personal courage.)
The truer Che that comes across in the book -- although the author mostly fails to call Che out on it -- is a sincere and dangerous fanatic whose genuine sense of honor, along with other serious capacities for virtue in the forms of empathy, humor, heroism, literary expression, and personal thoughtfulness, is well outweighed by his embrace of dark and even monstrous perspectives. Those perspectives included an extreme Marxism-Leninism, a preference for cold-blooded violence, a ridiculously bigoted anti-Americanism/anti-Anglo-Saxonism, and a slavish gullibility towards the megalomaniacal totalitarian Fidel Castro, whose tyranny Che enabled and willingly inflicted.
The author's too-favorable bias comes through more via omission and emphasis rather than in any distortion or willful obfuscation of fact. Anderson does appear to sincerely want to be fair. But he underplays quite a bit and may even excuse the remorseless killings which Che supervised and helped personally perform immediately following the Cuban revolution. On that occasion, hundreds were regularly executed in captivity and in cold blood, with barely the due process of a traffic ticket and sometimes with the presence of a lynch mob. Such was hardly a step up from the gangsterish Battista regime that Fidel and Che overthrew. Che's later mismanaging of Cuba's economy gets barely a touch as well, as far as I could tell, although we get overpowering detail elsewhere in the book on Che's guerrilla warfare logistics. (This often consists of seemingly endless accounts of Che and his acolytes executing deserters and those out-of-shape guerrilla comrades who get just too exhausted climbing hills.)
Still, the strongly negative parts of Che's life and legacy are not concealed amidst the presentation of the paradoxically positive and attractive parts of his personality. Marxism appeals to the intelligent and compassionate Che immensely despite it being an idea so stupid and malevolent that the 19th century anarcho-communist Bakunin could precisely predict its repeated evil manifestations a generation before it was even tried. (Che ultimately finds the Soviet Union too relaxed, and Mao to be a better deal!)
Che's anti-imperialism and communism are also shown to be infected with a lifelong simple-minded anti-gringo racism. This troublingly distorts his entire world view, and even inclines Che favorably towards wanting to see a global nuclear war between the US and USSR.
Despite the author's defensiveness about Che, the suppression of freedom of expression and political pluralism by Che and the Castros in Cuba is clearly presented. Anderson even favorably includes a telling anecdote wherein a "bourgeois" assistant wittily and bravely confronts Che about it. And Che's descriptive summary of what constitute the sincere aims of his socialism -- workers are to become cogs in a vast machine of consumer goods production (yes, pretty much Guevara's precise words) -- sounds more like a nightmarish caricature of capitalism.
The people, the masses, the peasants, and the workers, are material Che would save and transform -- human enough for pity but not serious enough to be trusted to rule and choose and trade for themselves. The book is clear about this worldview being Che's.
Ultimately, a potentially good and caring soul was twisted, or twisted himself, into being a ruthless larger-than-life armed agent and apostle of violent totalitarianism. He was thus a sort of left-wing mid-20th century version of Osama bin-Laden. Rather than being a forceful voice and even fist against the Latin American class systems and a scourge of the political autocracies bequeathed by Spanish colonialism and reinforced by America's predatory and Cold War imperialisms, Che chose to subscribe to counter-tyranny, like bin-Laden.
And so, by the book's end (should there be a SPOILER ALERT here??), when Che is summarily shot by the CIA-assisted Bolivian military, Anderson's book's content also allows you to conclude, from the stupendously researched facts marshalled within, that those agents of a different source of repression probably did the world a favor. By exiling Che from life and mischief into kitschy t-shirt immortality -- whatever the demerits of the killers' own causes and their summary justice -- they shut down a dangerously sincere, influential and charismatic force for evil.
To Anderson's great credit, this book is honest and thorough enough to allow one to conclude the above even in the face of the author's mostly admiring tone and narrative.
This book will let you know more about the guy on all the T shirts and what he was about, very interesting book.