The best books about Cuba and the United States

Who am I?

Van Gosse, Professor of History at Franklin & Marshall College, is the author of Where the Boys Are: Cuba, Cold War America, and the Making of a New Left, published in 1993 and still in print, a classic account of how "Yankees" engaged with the Cuban Revolution in its early years. Since then he has published widely on solidarity with Latin America and the New Left; for the past ten years he has also taught a popular course, "Cuba and the United States: The Closest of Strangers."


I wrote...

Book cover of Where the Boys Are: Cuba, Cold War and the Making of a New Left

What is my book about?

The ignominious failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 marked the culmination of a curious episode at the height of the Cold War. At the end of the fifties, restless and rebellious youth, avant-garde North American intellectuals, old leftists, and even older liberals found inspiration in the images and achievements of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary guerrillas. Fidelismo swept across the US, as young North Americans sought to join the 26th of July Movement in the Sierra Maestra.

Where the Boys Are captures the strange essence of that much-abused decade, the 1950s, at once demonstrating the perfidy of Cold War American liberal opinion towards Cuba and its revolution while explaining why Fidel and his compañeros made such appealing idols for the young, the restless, and the politically adventurous.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos

Van Gosse Why did I love this book?

Perez is a commanding figure in this scholarship, deeply learned. I like teaching this concise book of his, full of powerful illustrations (cartoons over many decades), because it really gets at how North Americans have projected their racialized and sexualized fantasies and obsessions onto this island, unable to perceive Cubans as real people, let alone historical actors.

By Louis A. Pérez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cuba in the American Imagination as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This title presents the images of beneficence, acts of aggression.For more than two hundred often turbulent years, Americans have imagined and described Cuba and its relationship to the United States by conjuring up a variety of striking images - Cuba as a woman, a neighbor, a ripe fruit, a child learning to ride a bicycle. One of the foremost historians of Cuba, Louis A. Perez Jr. offers a revealing history of these metaphorical and depictive motifs and uncovers the powerful motives behind such characterizations of the island.Perez analyzes the dominant images and their political effectiveness as they have persisted and…


Book cover of Guantánamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution

Van Gosse Why did I love this book?

“Gitmo” is where the relationship between these nations gets concrete, through the protectorate (1902-1934), republican (1934-1959), and revolutionary eras (1959-present). This fine study gets down into the nitty-gritty of who labors for whom (Cubans for the U.S. military), who controls the physical space in and around a foreign military base (and the foreign military based in it), and the steadily growing class conflict in this flashpoint of empire leading up to the Revolution, followed by an odd stasis since then.

By Jana K. Lipman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Guantánamo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Guantanamo has become a symbol of what has gone wrong in the War on Terror. Yet Guantanamo is more than a U.S. naval base and prison in Cuba, it is a town, and our military occupation there has required more than soldiers and sailors - it has required workers. This revealing history of the women and men who worked on the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay tells the story of U.S.-Cuban relations from a new perspective, and at the same time, shows how neocolonialism, empire, and revolution transformed the lives of everyday people.Drawing from rich oral histories and little-explored…


Book cover of Pleasure Island: Tourism and Temptation in Cuba

Van Gosse Why did I love this book?

The Machado Era (1924-1933) and the build-up of U.S. tourism are key to Cuba’s later history, but I have always found that period hard to teach. Schwartz does an admirable job of documenting the close connections between business circles in both countries, and the process by which Cuba became a playground for wealthy Americans in the ‘Teens and Twenties, fueling both deep corruption and a powerful anti-imperialism.

By Rosalie Schwartz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pleasure Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pleasure Island explores the tourism industry in Cuba between 1920 and 1960, as international travel ceased to be primarily a privilege of the wealthy, incorporating the world's growing middle class. Rosalie Schwartz examines tourists' changing ideas of leisure and recreation, as well as the response of a colonial-era Spanish city turned fleshpot and endless cabaret. The tourism industry mushroomed in and around Havana after 1920, as hundreds of thousands of North Americans transformed the city in collaboration with a local business and political elite. The Depression, exacerbated by a bloody revolution in 1933, plunged the tourism industry into a downward…


Book cover of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana

Van Gosse Why did I love this book?

Utterly engrossing, this behind-the-scenes narrative over many decades demonstrates that the Cuban diplomats were almost always willing to move towards normalizing relations, but were repeatedly stymied by non-negotiable demands from the U.S. side. Besides that, it’s full of piquant details, involving the many non-official actors and secret meetings in New York, on the island, or in other countries. Diplomatic history rarely gets this exciting!

By William M. LeoGrande, Peter Kornbluh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Back Channel to Cuba as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Challenging the conventional wisdom of perpetual hostility between the United States and Cuba--beyond invasions, covert operations, assassination plots using poison pens and exploding seashells, and a grinding economic embargo--this fascinating book chronicles a surprising, untold history of bilateral efforts toward rapprochement and reconciliation. Since 1959, conflict and aggression have dominated the story of U.S.-Cuban relations. Now, William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh present a new and increasingly more relevant account. From John F. Kennedy's offering of an olive branch to Fidel Castro after the missile crisis, to Henry Kissinger's top secret quest for normalization, to Barack Obama's promise of a…


Book cover of Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976

Van Gosse Why did I love this book?

A watershed work in the new history of “the global Cold War” in the Third World, where Cuba’s revolutionary government acted with remarkable audacity to offer material, human, and military support to African revolutionaries (with the Soviet Union often a minor player). Gleijeses performed archival feats in Cuba, Africa, and the U.S. to bring together this many-sided portrait of skullduggery, intimate solidarity, and Cuban revolutionary agency.  

By Piero Gleijeses,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Conflicting Missions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on unprecedented research in Cuban, American and European archives, this is an account of Cuban policy in Africa from 1959 to 1976 and of its escalating clash with US policy towards the continent. Piero Gleijeses aims to shed new light on US foreign policy and CIA covert operations, revolutionize the view of Cuba's international role and provide the first look from the inside at Cuba's foreign policy during the Cold War.


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The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Historical fiction author Lover of hidden stories Research nerd Opera fanatic

Maryka's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Model Spy is based on the true story of Toto Koopman, who spied for the Allies and Italian Resistance during World War II.

Largely unknown today, Toto was arguably the first woman to spy for the British Intelligence Service. Operating in the hotbed of Mussolini's Italy, she courted danger every step of the way. As the war entered its final stages, she faced off against the most brutal of forces—Germany's Intelligence Service, the Abwehr.

The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

What is this book about?

Celebrated model Toto Koopman had beauty, brains, and fame. Born to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother, she took up the life of a bon vivant in 1920s Paris and modeled for Vogue magazine and Coco Chanel. But modeling didn’t satisfy her. Fluent in six languages, she was adventurous and fascinated by world politics.

In London she attracted the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, the William Randolph Hearst of England. She soon became his confidante, companion, and translator, traversing the Continent and finding herself caught in the winds of impending war. Beaverbrook introduced her to influential people, including a director at…


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Interested in Cuba, pop culture, and Havana Cuba?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Cuba, pop culture, and Havana Cuba.

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