Alex von Tunzelmann's Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean is a comprehensive look at the tumultuous politics of the region focusing on Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. It starts with the roots of the slave trade and the Monroe Doctrine to chronicle this past century of turmoil and political upheaval on these volatile islands. There's a lot of ground to cover here, especially considering the long and complicated relationship with these countries and their big brother to the North, the United States. Tunzelmann does a thorough job of laying out the events, providing lots of context, and portraying an accurate sense of time and place.
Sarah Coomes imparts a fine energy to the narration. The storylines here are far from the usual dry litany of historic facts and dates. There's a lot of juicy stuff here: CIA plots, brutal murders, Latin playboys, and a cast of bigger-than-life characters that you'd be hard-pressed to match in even the best fictional political thrillers. Coomes seems to always find the right tone whether laying out cold murderous plots, or relaying the horror of a brutal massacre or military action. Her occasional asides on the rumors and tabloid headlines of the time are particularly enjoyable. And Coomes’ British accent becomes material, seeming to give her a bit of third-party impartiality. There's also a fine irony in having a woman narrate this story that is so wrought with testosterone and machismo.
Tunzelmann bookends the work with a look at contemporary times, reminding us that history often repeats itself if we don't learn our lessons. The parallels here to current Middle East politics are uncanny. You see once again the U.S. history of supporting unsavory characters in the name of stability, and our sometimes myopic focus on one overriding issue above all else. In the Caribbean it was the fear of communism that overrode every other consideration, and in the end became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's hard not to react to Red Heat on a very visceral level. But it is definitely worth revisiting this era and area now and taking a good hard look at these events, especially in how U.S. policy shaped the area, and how it shaped our future. Cleo Creech
The Caribbean crises of the Cold War are revealed as never before in this riveting story of clashing ideologies, the rise of the politics of fear, the machinations of superpowers, and the brazen daring of the mavericks who took them on.
During the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, the Caribbean was in crisis. The men responsible included, from Cuba, the charismatic Fidel Castro and his mysterious brother Ral; from Argentina, the ideologue Che Guevara; from the Dominican Republic, the capricious psychopath Rafael Trujillo; and from Haiti, Franois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, a buttoned-down doctor with interests in Vodou, embezzlement, and torture.
Alex von Tunzelmann's brilliant narrative follows these five rivals and accomplices from the beginning of the Cold War to its end, each with a separate vision for his tropical paradise, and each in search of power and adventure as the United States and the USSR acted out the world's tensions in their island nations. The superpowers thought they could use Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic as puppets, but what neither bargained on was that their puppets would come to life. Red Heat is an intimate account of the strong-willed men who, armed with little but words and ruthlessness, took on the most powerful nations on earth.
If the author would lose the anti American rant in the preface, I would have liked it more. I don't like being bludgeoned with a political position when I read history ... I would prefer the material enable me to draw the conclusions myself. Be that as it may, after you get past the introduction, the book is actually a pretty good history of American and European incursions and injustices in the Caribbean. Invading virtually defenseless island nations for a wide variety of reasons is apparently something of a tradition and has been for a long time.
This was an area of history with which I was only tangentially familiar. It enabled me, for the first time, to put our Cuban and other Caribbean adventures into a broader context.
The book is pretty good and the narrator is okay. I personally didn't like this narrator for this material. Her voice was too high for my comfort and I found her extremely clipped accent difficult to listen to for any long period. The pace was too brisk for my taste and I think, for the subject matter.
It's a reasonably well written book ... but as history it felt out of balance: too much opinion in proportion to the information. If you are interested in this region and its history and perhaps have always wondered what beef we have with Cuba and vice versa, this will probably give you the background information you want.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
If you are interested in recent history of Latin America and the US, you'll probably enjoy this well researched book on Cold War conflict between the US, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. The author's case that it's necessary to look at all these countries together is quite convincing and novel (for me, anyway). She provides fascinating detail and insight into the principal players, from Toussaint l'Ouverture all the way down to Fidel Castro and including the Kennedys and the sinister Papa Doc. She also makes the important point that knee-jerk anti-Communism in the US provoked irrational reactions to nationalist (non-Communist) movements in the Caribbean, setting the stage for military dictatorships in the region. Experts as well as the general public will, I think, enjoy this book. However, a major drawback is Sarah Coome's narration. I generally like the English accent, but she overdoes the pauses and lilts. Her horrendous pronunciation of names in Spanish and French turned me off completely. I don't expect a narrator of Latin American history to speak French or Spanish well, but I do expect her to get advice on not mispronouncing hames in these languages in the egregious manner of Sarah Coomes.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What disappointed you about Red Heat?
If you like your history with a strong, left-wing, anti-American chaser, this is the book for you. I can tolerate historians with a notable bias, especially if the historical facts seem to be well-researched. And this book indeed appears, at least in the 45 minutes I listened to it, to have the chronology and players fleshed out pretty well. But von Tunzelmann relentlessly beats the Americans-and-other-white-Europeans-are racist-greedy-opportunists-who-exploit-and-kill-minorities-for-the-sheer-fun-of-it drum. It is a red flag (pun intended) when characters like young communist Fidel Castro are portrayed, without a hint of irony, as "freedom-fighters" against barbaric dictators. This is a sure sign you have nose-dived from biased history into outright propaganda. And it is when I pull the rip cord.
It is too bad, because as a history junkie, the subject is unusual and intriguing and I was really looking forward to it.
6 of 11 people found this review helpful
It took me a while to get through this book. It is a sorry story of American involvement in the Caribbean. Yet, it is well done, and it appears to be accurate. I wish our current politicians understood this.
Epic, sweeping & meticulously researched saga of the tumultuous 20th century history of the Caribbean islands. Alex puts in lot of hard work in writing the history for her readers. And it shows. Also I love the fact that she is able to bring out the human nature of the historical figures, instead of just making them dry caricatures. We are all human and sometimes it best to understand history within the context of the frailties and pitfalls of human nature. The sequence describing the tantrum thrown by Papa Doc when his daughter went off with her disgraced husband is an excellent example of this type of historical narrative.
My only grudge is that this is really 3 books combined in one - History of Cuba, that of Haiti & of the Dominican Republic. Although intertwined, each would have made a compelling narrative on its own. I felt towards the end not enough justice was done to telling the story of Castro & to some extent Che. At one point I got on Netflix and watched a documentary on Castro which gave me lot more information.
That doesn't take away at all from the compelling nature of this book. It should be required reading for any student of Caribbean history. And a pleasurable, informative and fascinating read for any history buff.
The audible narrative is also pleasant and the reader captures the spirit of the book well, along with her emphasis on French pronunciations which makes it even more interesting.
Thanks Alex for another wonderful historical read (following Indian summer)
Von Tunzelman's has written a colorful history of Hati, Dominican Republic, and Cuba during the cold war. If you're interested in the history of Caribbean politics, and the U.S role, then this will serve as an interesting primer. She provides many details that would make a fascinating novel, that are even more compelling because they are true.
The author's premise that the U.S.'s paranoia of Communism, and it's reluctant support of dictators who used the issue to garner U.S. support, while they oppressed their people, is well founded.
Although, Von Tunzelmann covers Castro's rise comprehensively, she neglects to write about his many years of dictatorship of the island. Absent are reports of the thousands of political prisoners rotting away in Castro's prisons. This absence undermines her argument. Obviously, the thousands of people who escaped during the Mariel Harbor boat lift are proof that the Castro rule is not as benign as she would like us to believe. In spite of this, her argument that Castro could have been persuaded to have friendly relations with the U.S. before the relationship soured, has validity.
2 of 4 people found this review helpful
I can handle a leftish screed because I don't fear contrary viewpoints. What I can't handle is falsehoods masking themselves as truth. Case in point, Fidel Castro was never scouted by any US baseball teams and never received any offers from the Giants, Senators or the Yankees. Even a cursory google search by the author would have turned up many websites debunking this tired, decades-old myth. This calls into question the credibility of every other "fact" stated in the book.
0 of 1 people found this review helpful
The British female narrator is a pleasure to listen to and the story is one of which I was almost completely ignorant of before I listened to this. Highly recommended.
0 of 1 people found this review helpful