Darrell E. Levi’s biography of Michael Manley traces the life of this complex Caribbean leader from his early years as a schoolboy to his reelection as Jamaican prime minister in 1989. Not surprisingly, half of the book deals with Manley’s political development and democratic socialist government (1972-80). The work is thoroughly researched and copiously annotated. Formative influences—people and experiences—are carefully traced. Throughout the work chronological order is rigorously followed, allowing for the neat organization of data but often stranding themes and abruptly severing threads of analysis. An insightful introduction and conclusion frame the discussion.
The author presents a dense array of historical information, including a host of quotes from Manley’s correspondence and speeches as well as personal and political anecdotes. Alas, they often appear simply arranged on the page—catalogued, rather than critically assessed or integrated into the narrative. Sections sometimes read like random press releases. Page 217, for example, begins with a paragraph on the political violence of 1980, followed directly by a laundry list of Manley’s private activities, including his mail-order purchase of 350 bare-root roses.
Foreign policy, considered Manley’s strong suit, is summarized, as is politics, under subheadings of chapters that are in turn organized by years, complicating the task of analysis. Relations with an increasingly hostile Washington in the 1970s are discussed as is the U.S. destabilization campaign. With the exception of Cuba, however, regional relations are underplayed. Venezuela, for example, is mentioned only briefly on four pages, and its influential president, Carlos Andrés Pérez, a colleague of Manley’s in the Socialist International, is entirely ignored in the text.
In the end, despite the author’s obvious sympathy for his subject and for Jamaica, the work’s fragmented structure and style render it more useful as a compendium and a chronicle than as a work of interpretation. Still, revealing this vast archive of material by and about Michael Manley in a comprehensive volume of political biography provides an important service to other scholars of Jamaica and the Manley years.