Louis Perez’s wonderful new book is a welcome addition to an emerging field of study. Natural disasters, especially hurricanes, have attracted little serious attention from historians of the Caribbean (or elsewhere, for that matter). Individual calamities often appear as dramatic scenes in larger studies of cities, colonies, and nations, but few scholars have considered hurricanes as important agents of change in themselves or explored the impact and meaning of the storms in any detail. Pérez addresses this oversight and in doing so makes an important contribution to our understanding of nineteenth-century Cuba.

The book focuses on three specific hurricanes that struck Cuba in 1842, 1844, and 1846. Pérez and other scholars argue that calamities are caused by social forces as much as natural ones, and that understanding the effects of disasters requires placing them in their larger social, economic, and cultural contexts. Pérez,...

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