We learn very little that is new from this biography of Cuba’s aging leader, written by Britain’s ambassador to the island in the early 1990s. At best, one might be able to speculate on the kind of distortions Leycester Coltman reported to the Foreign Office about Cuba as it endured tumultuous and extraordinary changes during his tenure as London’s man in Havana. The revolutionary regime had to restructure fundamentally its economy and global market relations and faced severe challenges to its legitimacy when the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe’s trading system collapsed. But Coltman’s relatively brief summary of events from 1991 to 1994 lacks anecdotes, observations about Cubans’ daily lives, or even personal reflections that might have given some depth to this superficial part of the book.

In fact, Coltman did not intend The Real Fidel Castro to be a first-person kind of...

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