Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, 1961
Most people are familiar with the basics of the Cuban Revolution of 1956 to 1959: It was led by two of the 20th century’s most charismatic figures, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara; it successfully overthrew the island nation’s U.S.-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista; and it quickly went awry under Castro’s rule. But less is remembered about the amateur nature of the upstart movement, or the lives of its players.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the revolution, Smithsonian magazine writer Tony Perrottet draws on his new book ¡Cuba Libre!: Che, Fidel, and the Improbable Revolution That Changed World History to offer a look at some of the human drama that played out against the backdrop of political upheaval. He surveys how a scruffy handful of self-taught subversives, many of whom were just out of college, young lawyers, literature majors, and art students—including a number of extraordinary women—defeated 40,000 professional soldiers.
Perrottet’s dive into the revolution reveals fascinating details. How did Castro’s highly organized lover Celia Sánchez whip the male guerrillas into shape? Who were the two dozen American volunteers who joined the Cuban rebels? How do you make land mines from condensed milk cans—or, for that matter, cook chorizo à la guerrilla?
Join Perrottet for a lively look at a liberation movement that captured the global imagination with its spectacular drama, foolhardy bravery, tragedy, and sometimes, high comedy—and that set the stage for Cold War tension that pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war.
¡Cuba Libre! (Blue Rider Press/Penguin) is available for sale and signing.
Cuba in the 1950s was as its height as a hedonistic tropical getaway for movie stars, gamblers, and gangsters. Smithsonian.com examines how an underlying culture of poverty and political ferment made the island ripe for the coming revolution.