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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 11 May 2005
Before reading the book I knew little of Che. After reading the book you are so suprised how much effort has went into making the book. It is brilliantly researched and thoroughly documented. I take my Hat off to Jon Lee for he has painted a great unbiased picture of the situation in Latin America at the time as well as showing the world who Che really was. What you learn from reading the book is that the world isn't as it seems and we in the Western world are being held back from hearing many truths. This book is a must read.
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on 4 November 2004
Simply stated this book is immense. An unbiased account of one the most important historical figures of South America. Not only does Anderson provide an in-depth biography of Guevara but he also delves into the history of the time thus we get first rate writing on Khrushchev, Castro, the nuclear missile crisis, the bay of pigs. Also gives a great insight into the world of international ambassador's and diplomats and inner workings of the U.N and other international bodies. A book that cannot be praised enough.
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on 15 November 2000
This is a brilliant biography of one of the most complex and compelling characters of the twentieth century. Che's life is dissected in great detail, from his asthmatic childhood to his murder in the Bolivian jungle at the age of 39.
Much that is written about Che is ideologically driven, trying to either deify or demonise the Argentine revolutionary. To his credit, Anderson succeeds in maintaining a rational approach to his subject, making this book readable to friends and foes of Che alike.
Che was the ultimate revolutionary icon of his era. Reading this book has given me some understanding of the man that existed behind the myth. Read it !!!
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on 17 February 2006
I too did not know that much about Cuba or Che Guevara before reading this book. It was recommended to me by a work collegue as the best reference to his life on the market, and i wasnt dissapointed.
The attention to detail that the author shows is fantastic. It took me over 3 months to read, but i was glued the whole time, following Che as he developed his ideologies, his personality and his passion to make a difference for those people who are most exploited in this world.
But he doesn't shy away from contentious subjects such as the so called atrocities caried out by the Guerillas in their campaign or by Castro's regime following the revolutions victory in 59.
This book was a real eye opener to American foreign policy, especially in today's volitile global situation, and does nothing improve opinions on those in charge of the worlds largest military and economic power.
Whatever your opinion on Che, there isnt a doubt (in my mind) that this book shows him as someone, whose entire existence was devoted to helping the human race, something we can all aspire to.
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on 1 June 2006
Well what can I say, this is the only definitive analysis of Che's life I have come across and despite my reserved opinions, it is a very frank, fair and even candid piece; I appreciate the effort and meticulous detail into which the author, Mr. John Anderson delved in bringing us this work of literature which, inspite of my extremely cautious attitude, does much more good than harm. He has genuinely attempted to potray this man, so mythical and misunderstood, so known and yet unknown, so contradictorily glorified in the same commercailisation he seemed to detest (yet the same commercialisation that alerted me to this work!)...yes, this book has blessed me with an insight into the heart and soul of a man that all looking to be of any 'social worth' or to make a dent of difference in this world, can only hope to fathom. Everything taken in it's self it seems less than prudent that I should so thoroughly praise and/or rely on a piece by a journalist but Mr. Anderson's methodology does reveal that perhaps us academics ought to take abit of time in properly investigating context, in order to deliver balanced pieces of work, academic or not. This book is a must read, on a man who should be an inspiration for us all, a man who we can only hope to immitate.
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on 25 April 2007
Anderson has written a massive biography, starting when Che was a child, he takes us from his formative years, his revolutionary awakening on his famous motorcycle trips, his revolutionary battles, through to his death in Bolivia. The book is brought alive with fascinating details and interviews, and previously unpublished writings which give a thorough insight into not only the man, but the political climate of the Cold War, and the unsavoury dealings of the CIA and KGB. It does not matter whether you agree with Che's political stance or actions, this book gives a slice of recent history which is essential to the understanding of the times he lived in, and how we got to where we are today. Excellent research and extremely readable.
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on 15 January 2000
Possibly the best book I've read- it's thorough, accessible and objective. Not only does it detail Che's life, it also studies realpolitik in action, with the disgusting exploits of the CIA as they assassinate, and help to violently overthrow democratically elected governments when they disagree with the result, showing their true beliefs are those of property not freedom. The events of Guatemala, Chile, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, Sino-soviet split, and more are all documented. Famous figures such as Malcolm X, JFK, Evita, Nasser, Nehru, Mao all crop up too. Overall this should be considered a compulsory read. Granted, if you're intimidated by large book, this won't be for you- but then again what would Che think of someone who's afraid of an inanimate paper based product?
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on 1 August 2006
How many people have a poster of Che Guevara without knowing anything about the man? This book is extensive and extremely well researched, and essential for anyone who wants a balanced account of the iconic figure.

Like any biography, you have to wade through a generally uninteresting youth before the action begins, but from the beginnings of the revolution in Cuba, through to doomed adventures in the Congo and Bolivia, this is a fascinating account. What comes through is a picture of a single-minded and strong-willed man whose principles sometimes came at the expense of lives. This is neither hagiography nor character assassination.

In addition you get a rare insight into South American history and the rival politics of USA-USSR-China.
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on 27 August 2008
For detailed insight on the dynamics of the Cuban Revolution, the historical context, the complexity of events on an international scale, and Fidel Castro's strategic and political wizardry, look no further. This book is by far the best.

However, in depicting Che's "world" so brilliantly, and by dedicating a third of the book to his youth before the Cuban revolution, Anderson has had to forsake many details and, sadly, some intimacy. "The enormous gesture that was [Che's] life" (to quote the famous song) remains an... incomprehensible gesture. For that extra touch of colour and a more intimate portrait, I would recommend Paco Ignacio Taibo's "Ernesto Guevara, also Known as Che" (published in the same year). Not only does Taibo focus on Che the revolutionary, but also writes, essentially, through his protagonist's own writing. To quote Taibo, "Che's own words... There is no way to approximate that narrative tone, that incredible sincerity, and that caustic sense of humour."

Whilst Anderson dedicates many pages to Ernesto Guevara's fascinating youth, Taibo quickly gets to the Cuban Revolution. Every phase of Che Guevara's life as a revolutionary, including his two ill-fated ventures abroad, is covered in greater depth. Taibo's biography undoubtedly lacks the "scoops" contained in Anderson's book, as well as the vividly-described (and vital!) context; however, it is less "macho", and it offers a more profound portrayal of Che Guevara the man and thinker.

One criticism I have regarding Anderson's book is that he opportunistically picks positive and negative points here and there in the name of "objectivity" (perhaps to make the book conveniently palatable to a wider - read "larger" - audience). In his selective choice of anecdotes he comes across as rather self-conscious and calculating. Conversely, Taibo (like Castaneda in "Companero", another well-known Che biography) writes more spontaneously: his objectivity is not contrived, and he is more interested in understanding Che Guevara, defects and all. But Taibo's book is by no means naïve or sentimental: he endeavours to portray Che Guevara as he would have been seen back then, rather than with today's condescending hindsight (which is what Anderson does).

Another criticism is that oddly, in Anderson's book, there seems to be an entire chunk missing on how the Cuban Missile crisis came about. Was it accidentally erased? And one passage bothered me; "Who was to blame for the shortages? The US trade embargo? The revolution's radicalization that caused the exodus of technicians and managers from the island? The incompetence of the revolution's leaders in attempting to convert a capitalist economy into a socialist one? Yes, all of these were contributing factors". Anderson, who otherwise dedicates so much time to the most intricate details, for some reason does not elaborate on this monumental statement.

Last but not least, the book has been poorly proofread. Spelling and syntax errors abound, some names are misspelled, and, in the final chapter, "Bolivia" has been mixed up with "Algeria". Given the high standard of writing, this is a terrible shame.

To conclude, both biographies are excellent, but only if both books are read. Without one another, they are flawed. Although the crucial details are similar, the authors' perspectives couldn't be more different. For this reason the books beautifully complement each other. Clearly, the many positive reviews for Anderson's book are based on the assumption that readers make that the autor has written "everything there is to know" about Che Guevara. This is not true of (and not possible in) any biography.

[For those interested in reading more, aside from Taibo's book, I would recommend Che Guevara's incredible Bolivian Diary. Castaneda's biography, "Companero" is wonderful: the author is an eminent historian and he provides a masterful analysis. The only pity is that it is less reader-friendly and should be read with some previous knowledge. The much-awaited "Evocacion" by Che's widow Aleida March has just been released (yet to be published in English) and I would recommend this mainly for the poignant farewell poem that Che wrote to her shortly before he died (I am sure his biographers would have loved to get their hands on this). A short but moving account written by Che - "La Piedra" (about his mother's death) - is now freely available on the internet.]
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on 12 February 2010
As with the recollection of most iconic symbols of the human struggle against injustice and tyranny, the truth is often blurred by romantic historians of the left who elevate people like Che to almost superhuman status, or by those of the right who wish to demonise any rebel who dared to say enough is enough.
Jon Lee Anderson has not taken the middle road option and tried to be "balanced". If he had, the book would have been, like political correctness, a complete farce. Instead he has shown Che for the man he was. His frailties, contradictions and shortcomings, like all of us, are laid bare for all to see.
The series of events, both personal and otherwise, that turned a sickly middle class child into the uncompromising revolutionary with a will of steel are meticulously detailed. I admired Che before as one of the most charismatic and selfless revolutionaries of our time. I was wrong, he is the most charismatic and selfless revolutionary of our time. This book is the most comprehensive document of Che's life to date. I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested not only in the life of Che Guevara, but also the history of Latin America.
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