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Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee…

Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life (1998)

by Jon Lee Anderson

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This is quite an extensive biography of Che Guevara. On my kindle, it amounts to over 17000 sentences, rivaling the thickest works of George RR Martin. Of course, one doesn't have to read all the notes and footnotes (which the above count includes), but then one would be missing out on interesting tidbits, such as the story of how the iconic image of Che now adoring T-shirts and other crap came to be.

The sheer amount of work that must have gone into writing this biography is mind boggling. Though it encompasses the entirety of Che's life (thankfully it doesn't dwell too much on his early childhood), this is not just the story of Che, it is at the very least a fairly comprehensive history of the Cuban revolution and a look into geopolitical situation of the world (and especially Latin America) in the middle of the twentieth century.

The author was given unprecedented access to unpublished documents about Che's life by Che's widow, Aleida March, so a few things previously unknown about El Commandante come to light. The author tries to thread a fine line between presenting Che's life in a fair, impartial manner and being too impersonal and dry for reader's taste, a task at which he sometimes fails on the latter part. For example, Che's death is presented in a very matter-of-fact way, basically "then he was taken out and shot". On the plus side, this updated edition contains information on the 1990s search for his remains and their transfer to Cuba where they now rest in the mausoleum in Santa Clara.

In the end, what rises before the reader's eyes, is an image of a courageous man who was willing to live and die by and for his principles and who expected others to the same. A man, who was a strict disciplinarian, but to no one more than himself. A revolutionary who found himself more at ease fighting a guerilla war in the jungles of Latin America and Africa than behind a desk. A man who put everything on the line to bring about what he thought a better future for the peoples of Latin America and who was in the end murdered in the attempt. Definitely a rare if not a unique breed of a political and military leader in the history of mankind. ( )
1 vote matija2019 | Jan 8, 2019 |
Ernesto "Che" Guevara's legacy was to become more symbol than man, his image made a statement. This biography sheds all of these trappings to examine the man himself, as Jon Lee Anderson tells a comprehensive story from birth to death without any gaps. Che was firstborn of four children to an upper-class Argentine family, though it sometimes struggled at managing money. A bad case of asthma began in childhood that plagued him his entire life. He was proudly defiant of social conventions, a voracious reader with early leftist sympathies, but he never chose a firm side as a youth: no protests, no serious organizational affiliations. Never a noteworthy student in terms of grades but very intelligent, at first he pursued engineering and then switched to medicine. A flare for adventure and risky behaviours landed him in a few close calls which could have made this a very short biography.

Two questions predominated that I wanted answers to. The first was, why did he choose a revolutionary life? Satisfying a thirst for travel, Che came to know the lives of lower classes not just across Argentina but throughout Latin America, cementing his socialist beliefs which eventually turned to devoted Marxism. From there it was a short step to sympathizing with Guatamala's fallen socialist regime and Cuban revolutionary aims. My second question was, why did he abandon his comfortable position in Cuba to take up causes elsewhere? Che never viewed his role at Fidel's side as an end in itself but only the first step of his own journey: a worldwide overthrow of the capitalist yoke. He was devoted to this single extreme cause with unwavering fierceness. Cuba was merely the beginning of something grander, the "freeing" of all Latin America and beyond.

The sheer amount of research and wonderfully objective writing make this biography a model to follow. There is consistent balance between personal and public views into his life, including brief backgrounds of other key players and the drawing of interesting connections. The speed of time's passage adjusted depending on how much of interest there was to share, and notification was helpfully provided when someone entered Che's life who would be of greater significance later. I only missed more insight into how the Cuban revolution was victorious against superior numbers, and a more precise study of evolution in the relationship between Che and Fidel after Fidel was in power.

Che Guevara's image is sometimes sanitized as a generic symbol for defying the status quo. His rough Marxist-agenda edges are smoothed away, his call for hatred as a tool to win bloody war against capitalist imperialism conveniently disregarded, his vow forgotten that he would have fired the Cuban missiles had they been in his power. But his story - the real story of the man, not the symbol - is a human story. A reminder that greatness begins with adopting a corresponding risk tolerance; that close-minded devotion to a cause requires sacrifice, including blinding oneself to the world's complexities beyond any simplified black-and-white view. Ultimately it demonstrates the hollowness of violence as means to an end. His image to this day is hoisted by movements embracing armed uprising as their solution, a determination to lash out and destroy as a means to create. So far as that goes, it has earned its place. ( )
  Cecrow | Apr 23, 2018 |
Over the years as Che Guevara was commodified, he became the most familiar figure and yet a misunderstood and unkown personality. He became a brand that was used to sell everything from t-shirts and mugs to canned beer. In all this commodification, Che’s life and what he stood for got lost. Who was this extraordinary man who gave up his privilege and everything he cherished and dedicated his life to an idea and died for it? This is a great biography that gives him a historical context and brings him to life.

Che is one of the most important and charismatic figures of the human struggle against injustice and oppression. This biography is meticulously detailed and comprehensive. John lee Anderson takes us from the social conditions of his childhood, his family whose independent spirit will be a great influence on him, his medical studies, to his famous motorcycle journeys and his later journeys across the Americas that awakened his political and social consciousness as he became a dedicated Marxist. The Cuban revolution after which he became the principal architect of its economic direction, and his return to Guerrilla warfare after he decided that the Cuban revolution was on the right path that eventually led to his death in Bolivia. The death that would give him such an enduring romantic legacy. The final section of this book has many poignant moments.

Che was selfless, strong-willed, honest, a lover of learning who constantly read books, and was totally dedicated to the cause of struggle against imperialism. While Fidel and Che shared the same goals and ideals, Fidel was a wily politician who presented a different face to the public from his private self and Che was honest to a fault who always spoke his mind. The author brings out both the passionate romantic and the cold rationale side of him.

As a guerilla he was a man embroiled in a violent struggle and was no saint. He was a great tactician and a charismatic leader who attracted undying loyalty from many. He led an ascetic life and expected everyone to live upto his standards. He was a strict disciplinarian. He was also very idealistic and utopian which shows in the unbridled faith and optimism that he showed even when people around him were failing him.
As an administrator he was the driving force behind Cuba’s land reforms and its successful health and literacy programs. As a Marxist, he wanted to diversify and industrialise the Cuban economy. In this he was critical of the soviet model and was more of a Maoist.

He was a dedicated internationalist and he held that socialism could only be successful with the creation of the "New Man". He believed that a change in consciousness should be simultaneous with the new material foundations. I think his idea of the "New socialist man" is his most important contribution to Marxist theory. He argued that capitalism produces incomplete alienated individuals that only a true socialist society enables a man to become a complete individual.

An excellent and inspirational biography of a truly selfless revolutionary. He dedicated his life to what he believed in and he ultimately died for it.

( )
  kasyapa | Oct 9, 2017 |
Prepare to be enthralled! To describe Che as a complex personality is much more than a cliché. You will be touched by his tenderness while being horrified at his cruelty. You will be enamoured by his sense of humour while being dismayed by his arrogance. You will be relieved that his dreams were not realized while you wonder what the world would be like if his brilliance had been directed to more peaceful means. You will be in awe of his intellect and entranced by his charisma but, most of all, you will be glad that Jon Lee Anderson did the work to bring all of this alive without mythologizing the subject. You will come away from reading this book with a deeper understanding of this historic figure and the milieu in which he lived, worked, fought and died. And, you will mourn his passing. ( )
1 vote GRB | Oct 4, 2014 |
I was curious about Che and wanted to know more about him. Who was this person who became an icon? I was afraid that there was no way to get any information that wasn't totally biased but fortunately I found this book. I really got the feeling this as honest and straightforward portrayal that you could ask for, especially for such a controversial figure.
I would recommend this book to everyone. I learned an amazing amount about a period of history that is rarely discussed honestly.
Exhaustive is not an exaggeration when describing this book, but it does add to the feeling that you are hearing the whole story. I was tempted to give it 5 stars, only hesitating because it does read more like a scholarly work than a gripping yarn. How about 4 and 3 quarters?
Don't be put off by the length and depth, I was sucked in and couldn't stop reading it. ( )
  bongo_x | Apr 6, 2013 |
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for Erica; and in memory of my mother, Barbara Joy Anderson, 1928-1994
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The revelation slipped out almost casually over a long morning's conversation over coffee in November 1995.
The horoscope was confounding.
"I don't even know in which land I will leave my bones."
Searching, crossing solutions off the list of possibilities as he went - reformism, democracy, elections - he had found Marx, then Guatemala, then Cuba, and in that baptism of fire, his discoveries of "empirical medicine" had led to "scientific truth." That truth, and the cure to man's ills, was Marxism-Leninism, and guerrilla warfare was the means to achieve it .... In essence, Che was arguing that his formula for attaining socialism through armed struggle amounted to a scientific discovery, and through this discovery would come an end to injustice and the creation of a new form of man.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802135587, Paperback)

Even to those without Marxist sympathies, Che Guevara (1928-67) was a dashing, charismatic figure: the asthmatic son of an aristocratic Argentine family whose sympathy for the world's oppressed turned him into a socialist revolutionary, the valued comrade-in-arms of Cuba's Fidel Castro and a leader of guerilla warfare in Latin America and Africa. Journalist Jon Lee Anderson's lengthy and absorbing portrait captures the complexities of international politics (revolutionary and counter); his painstaking research has unearthed a remarkable amount of new material, including information about Guevara's death at the hands of the Bolivian military.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:19 -0400)

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"Author obviously admires Guevara and thus tends to exaggerate his role in the Cuban Revolution; however, he has managed a degree of objectivity sufficient for production of the best biography of the guerrilla thus far. Author's research is wide and deep, his work is careful and meticulous, and he always remains close to the facts. Few will continue to venerate the memory of Guevara after reading this book"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.

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