Thanks to Fidel Castro, and more recently to Che Guevara, new books on Cuba would fill to overflowing the proverbial five-foot shelf. Most of them are journalese, and some of them deserve little more permanence than yesterday’s newspaper. That is decidedly not the case with Lester D. Langley’s slender volume.
Obviously no exhaustive or encyclopedic account of a complex subject covering a century and a half in time can be given in two hundred pages or less, and Langley would doubtless be the first to admit that he did not intend to do so. He refers to his study modestly as a “historical summary.” But the volume rests on thoroughgoing research, and it is readable, objective, sophisticated in tone, and balanced in organization. All in all, it makes a real contribution to the nontransitory literature on troubled Cuba.
The author’s account of Cuban developments before the nineteenth century is designedly sketchy; after all, the United States was in no position to develop much of a Cuban policy before the 1780s. As Jefferson and Madison turn their interest to the Pearl of the Antilles, Langley’s coverage becomes more complete, even if still summary. His treatment is chronological, and virtually a whole chapter—fortunately more than most studies devote—is given to the period of the Ten Years’ War. A good balance is maintained between nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the author resists the temptation to overemphasize the events of 1898. The last substantive chapter, “Batista and Castro,” is necessarily less well-documented than earlier portions, but of course it is yet too early to write definitively about the last third of a century, especially when the two people who dominate the stage are as controversial as the ones who give their names to this chapter’s title.
The study is generally free of error. A few trivial mistakes in accenting and italicizing occur; the details of Machado’s continuismo in 1927-1928 are not quite correct; and references in two places to “Camp Colombia” should read “Camp Columbia.” But it would be picayune carping to stress such points, given the obviously solid worth of the study.