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What do you think about Julia Sweig’s Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know?

By Paul Ryer, Notes & Queries, Seminars & talks, Syllabi & pedagogy Add comments

Sweig cover photoRecently, the Cuban Research Institute posted an announcement for a forthcoming book presentation (full text here) of Julia Sweig’s new book, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford, 2009.  On first inspection, the book seems accessible to undergraduates and fairly balanced, albeit from a North American perspective.  It is structured in a question & response format which betrays the journalistic underpinnings of the approach, and political (or politicised) topics predominate.

My question for colleagues is: what do you think of the book?  I ask because, for years I have used Jules Benjamin’s The United States and the Origins of the Cuban Revolution: An Empire of Liberty in an Age of National Liberation (Princeton, 1992) to help frame the events and politics of the early revolutionary years, but it is now almost 20 years old.  Although I’ve been looking, still have not found a text that comes close to Benjamin for lucidity, detail, dialogism, and an awareness of wider structural forces/context.  (Indeed, IMO Benjamin’s book should be required reading not just in Cuban studies, but for anyone (e.g. politicians) who has trouble understanding nationalistic responses to projections of U.S. power anywhere).  In any case, I am afraid Sweig may be sufficiently accessible to students, and cover both the early and more recent events of the Revolution, but not nearly as well grounded as Benjamin.  Does anyone have an opinion about either of these texts, or have a suggestion about comparable others worth teaching?

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