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Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life Paperback – April 20, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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.”
Pub1isher’s Weekly

“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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Revised edition (April 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080214411X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802144119
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There is surprisingly little out there in English on the life of the legendary leftist guerilla Che Guevara, aside from his own writings and a couple of very poorly written biographies. To say that Jon Lee Anderson's work is the definitive tale would be an accurate statement. Anderson went so far as to move his entire family to Cuba for five years while writing this hefty tome. Che's family also gave the author tremendous support and access to many of his unpublished written materials.

For those unfamiliar with who he was, Che Guevara was an Argentinian from an upstanding family and a credentialed doctor. Initially, he had ideas to use his training to help those less fortune, but as he began to read the works of Karl Marx and others (Che, we learn, was a voracious reader), his ideas became gradually more leftist until he eventually became an avowed Communist. Anderson very clearly defines Che's ideological journey, making it a definite strength of the book. Che gained lasting fame as one of Fidel Castro's right hand men, second only, and sometimes even surpassing, Fidel's brother Raoul. One of the big surprises for me was that Fidel was not initially a Communist, and Che can certainly be credited with indoctrinating him and instilling Communism as the dominant force in Cuba. Therein lies his renown.

My biggest complaint was actually the painstaking detail in this account. A voluminous 814 pages, this one could easily have had 200 pages edited out. Truly, does anyone care to know exactly what was packed in Che's jeep for a inconsequential ride through the jungle? Or need a virtually hour by hour play-by-play of guerilla movements? Che's lifelong battle with asthma is also reiterated to excess, although that health issue does at least have relevance to the tale.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a serious work of research and it deserves to be read by people interested in Che Guevara. But I can't understand all the people who seem to think that Anderson shares Che's views. The book is actually quite cynical. While the author hopefully for all time has put to rest the idea that Fidel Castro had a falling out with Che, and sent him to his death, he seems to substitute the notion that Che was just too headstrong and proud to come back to Cuba.

So, read the book, but with your eyes wide open (I'm not suggesting there are any books that shouldn't be read that way).

But you can get to know Che better by reading his work, and reading what his collaborators have to say about him. I liked the Motorcycle Diaries and Back on the Road, but they were written when he was only becoming Che. Start with Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War, 1956-58; the Pathfinder edition includes other Guevara writings from the same period that fit right in.

For some of his best speeches and writings, read Che Guevara Speaks: Selected Speeches and Writings, Socialism and Man in Cuba, Che Guevara Talks to Young People, and To Speak the Truth: Why Washington's 'Cold War' Against Cuba Doesn't End.
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The great strength of this book is also its biggest weakness: the enormous length. While serious students of the man and his times, wherever they stand, will find it extremely useful and interesting, those wanting a quick introduction to or survey of Che Guevara and his record might become overwhelmed. Nevertheless, Anderson's book is far more good than not as a resource. And it is quite readable for the ordinary reader who is willing to commit the extra time and focus required.

(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.
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