It is indeed a relief to pick up a recent book concerning Cuba and not be pounded by sermons and speculation. The authors state that they have endeavored “to understand the revolution of 1959 as a Cuban phenomenon,” and to examine, “its local antecedents and its relation to Cuban values and problems.. . .” This they have accomplished by examining many facets of Cuban culture before and after 1959.
As volume ten in the series entitled “The Survey of World Cultures,” this book embodies a broad interpretation of the term “culture.” Chapters are devoted to history, economics, politics, sociology, cultural anthropology, education, and the arts. These are based on a wide range of secondary works, and the specialist will find little in the way of new information. Due to the all-inclusive nature of this volume, the authors have oversimplified in some eases. The chapter on the history of Cuba to 1959, for example, is a very general outline which has many gaps. The authors cover some of these quite well in subsequent chapters, which deal with particular areas in greater depth. This topical organization results in some repetition, and tends to leave gaps in areas for which there is no topical chapter. With the exception of economic relations, this is the case for the area of U. S.-Cuban relations.
The major emphasis of the first twelve chapters is on the period 1902-1958. Within each topical chapter this emphasis varies with the major sources used. Lowry Nelson’s Rural Cuba, and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Report on Cuba, form the backbone for several chapters, and both of these tend to stress the period after 1945. This emphasis also reflects the fact that the Cuban census of 1953 is still the most complete picture of the economy and society of Cuba available.
The last five chapters deal with the Castro Revolution. These are generally factual presentations, with some interpretation. In matters of interpretation the authors tend to follow Theodore Draper. The changes brought about since 1959 are referred to in the earlier chapters in order to retain some semblance of organizational unity.
The chapter entitled “Competition for Status” is probably the most fascinating chapter in the book. The authors delve into the sociology of cultural values in an attempt to define Cuban status symbols. They are on the right track when they place Cuba in the broader context of Hispanic American Society, but unfortunately they (like others before them) cannot resist the real temptation to stereotype. As a result, José Martí is pictured as a martyr to the machismo image, and Fidel Castro becomes the prototype of the same image. There is undoubtedly some truth in the latter characterization, but I do not think that Martí went to battle in 1895 just to prove his “maleness.”
This volume is generally accurate in matters of fact, but there are a few errors which should be corrected in future editions. The contention that there were no important sugar tariff negotiations between 1903 and 1927 ignores the tariff acts of 1909, 1914, 1921, and 1922, which were all accompanied by negotiations between the United States and Cuba. The overall worth of the book, however, is not affected by such shortcomings.
This study can be recommended as a handy reference work on Cuba. Such an objective survey will be especially useful to those who want an introduction to the society and culture of Cuba in the twentieth century. The publishers should consider issuing a paperback edition, since the high price of this edition will limit the distribution of a worthwhile study.