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Fidel Castro: A Biography

Volker Skierka, Patrick Camiller (Translated by)

ISBN: 978-0-745-69304-0 September 2014 Polity 488 Pages


Fidel Castro is one of the most interesting and controversial personalities of our time – he has become a myth and an icon. He was the first Cuban Caudillo – the man who freed his country from dependence on the USA and who lead his people to rediscover their national identity and pride.

Castro has outlived generations of American presidents and Soviet leaders. He has survived countless assassination attempts by the CIA, the Mafia, and Cubans living in exile. He has become one of the greatest politicians of the 20th Century. His biography, and the history of his country exemplify the tensions between East and West, North and South, rich and poor.

As Castro's life draws to a close, the question as to what will become of Cuba is more important that ever. Will Castro open Cuba to economic reform and democratization, or stick to his old slogan socialism or death?

In this remarkable, up-to-date reconstruction of Castro's life, Volker Skierka addresses these questions and provides an account of the economic, social, and political history of Cuba since Castro's childhood. He draws on a number of little-known sources, including material from the East German communist archives on Cuba, which were until recently inaccessible.

This is an exciting, painstakingly researched, and authortiative account of the life of one of the most extraordinary political figures of our time.

List of plates.

A Note of Thanks.


Preface to the English Edition.

1. The Heroic Myth.

2. The Young Fidel.

Among Jesuits.

Among gangsters.

3. The Young Revolutionary.

Storm and stress: Moncada.

“Che”, the Argentinean.

Stormy crossing on the Granma.

A guerillero in the Sierra Maestra.

321 against 10,000.

4. The Young Victor.

Communists and “barbudos”.

1,500 revolutionary laws.

5. Old Enemies, New Friends.

The great powers at the gates.

The CIA, the Mafia and the Bay of Pigs.


“Mongoose” and “Anadyr”.

Thirteen days on the brink of a third world war.

Three gamblers.

6. The Long March with Che.

Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.

The new man.

The demise of Che.

7. Bad Times, Good Times.

War and peace with Moscow.

Ten million tons.

Into the Third World.

The revolution devours its children.

8. Alone Against All.

Exodus to Florida.

Rectificacion and perestroika.

The Soviet imperium collapses.

The brother’s power.

War economy in peacetime.

9. The Eternal Revolutionary.

Class Struggle on a dollar basis.

Cuba and the global policeman.

Castro, God and the Pope.

Freedom or “socialismo tropical”.

10. Don Quixote and History.




"A comprehensive and highly readable biography written in a remarkably even-handed tone."
The Guardian

"Volker Skierka has written the book that those wanting to understand the present-day politics of Cuba and its ruler have been awaiting for a long time. He has done so with a freshness, simplicity and elegance that makes it a pleasure to read ... accessible and fascinating to the casual reader and the specialist alike."
BBC History Magazine

"An exceptional, evenhanded portrait of an undeniably strong leader's strengths and weaknesses."
Midwest Book Review

"A fascinatingly good read and a treasure trove of information."
Morning Star

"Volker Skierka's study of Castro stands out for its admirable clarity and accessibility. Synthesizing a wealth of literature, and casting a cool eye on the official pieties of both Havana and Washington, Skierka has drawn a critical but far from unsympathetic portrait of this extraordinary figure of the Cold War world whose personal tenacity ensured that Cuban Communism survived with him into the new millennium."
James Dunkerley, Queen Mary University

  • an exciting, and authoritative account of the life of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century;
  • the most up-to-date, comprehensive biography of Fidel Castro available;
  • the first account to cover the end of the cold war and communism in Europe;
  • draws on a number of little known sources, including material from the East German communist archives on Cuba, which were until recently inaccessible;
  • as Castro’s life draws to a close, asks what will become of Cuba: will Castro open Cuba to economic reform and democratization, or stick to his old slogan “socialism or death”?