The best books on U.S. involvement in Latin America

Russell C. Crandall Author Of "Our Hemisphere"? The United States in Latin America, from 1776 to the Twenty-First Century
By Russell C. Crandall

Who am I?

I've been interested in U.S.-Latin American relations ever since my junior year in college when I studied abroad in Chile, a country that had only two years prior been run by dictator Augusto Pinochet. Often referred to as America’s “backyard,” Latin America has often been on the receiving end of U.S. machinations and expansions. In terms of the history of American foreign policy, it's never a dull moment in U.S. involvement in its own hemisphere. I have now had the privilege to work inside the executive branch of the U.S. government on Latin America policy, stints which have forced me to reconsider some of what I had assumed about U.S. abilities and outcomes. 


I wrote...

"Our Hemisphere"? The United States in Latin America, from 1776 to the Twenty-First Century

By Russell C. Crandall, Britta H. Crandall,

Book cover of "Our Hemisphere"? The United States in Latin America, from 1776 to the Twenty-First Century

What is my book about?

“Our Hemisphere”? uncovers the range, depth, and veracity of the United States’ relationship with the Americas. Using short historical vignettes, Britta and Russell Crandall chart the course of inter-American relations from 1776 to the present, highlighting the roles that individuals and groups of soldiers, intellectuals, private citizens, and politicians have had in shaping U.S. policy toward Latin America in the postcolonial, Cold War, and post–Cold War eras. The United States is usually and correctly seen as pursuing a monolithic, hegemonic agenda in Latin America, wielding political, economic, and military muscle to force Latin American countries to do its bidding, but the Crandalls reveal unexpected yet salient regional interactions where Latin Americans have exercised their own power with their northern and very powerful neighbor.

The books I picked & why

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Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954

By Piero Gleijeses,

Book cover of Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954

Why this book?

I read historian Shattered Hope while a graduate student at an American university and it forever changed my sense of the complexity and nuance of Cold War-era U.S. interventions in the Americas, in this case, Washington’s overthrow of a democratically-elected leftist head of state: Jacobo Árbenz. Two decades hence, I love the book even more for its boldness and historical rigor but also the author's willingness to break taboos like the widely-held notion that there was little communistic influence in Árbenz’s government. 

Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954

By Piero Gleijeses,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The most thorough account yet available of a revolution that saw the first true agrarian reform in Central America, this book is also a penetrating analysis of the tragic destruction of that revolution. In no other Central American country was U.S. intervention so decisive and so ruinous, charges Piero Gleijeses. Yet he shows that the intervention can be blamed on no single "convenient villain." "Extensively researched and written with conviction and passion, this study analyzes the history and downfall of what seems in retrospect to have been Guatemala's best government, the short-lived regime of Jacobo Arbenz, overthrown in 1954, by…


Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990

By Robert Kagan,

Book cover of Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990

Why this book?

Penned by a conservative scholar who held a high-level Latin America foreign policy position in the Reagan administration, I don’t always agree with Kagan’s logic or evidence. But he is a fantastic writer and gives readers a riveting, albeit controversial, first-person account of the Reagan team’s adversarial relationship and interventions in Marxist revolutionary Nicaragua. 

Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990

By Robert Kagan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A detailed history and analysis of the Nicaraguan Revolution and the American response to it


Latin America's Cold War

By Hal Brands,

Book cover of Latin America's Cold War

Why this book?

Lucidly written and soberly considered, Latin America’s Cold War is one top-five pick for a host of reasons, not least of which is that it forces us to consider that the usually potent Uncle Sam did mean that Latin American actors did not have influence, for good or ill. Rightist Latin American militaries, for a searing case, had their reasons for combatting leftist guerrillas, not just serving Washington’s bidding. 

Latin America's Cold War

By Hal Brands,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Latin America's Cold War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For Latin America, the Cold War was anything but cold. Nor was it the so-called "long peace" afforded the world's superpowers by their nuclear standoff. In this book, the first to take an international perspective on the postwar decades in the region, Hal Brands sets out to explain what exactly happened in Latin America during the Cold War, and why it was so traumatic.

Tracing the tumultuous course of regional affairs from the late 1940s through the early 1990s, Latin America's Cold War delves into the myriad crises and turning points of the period-the Cuban revolution and its aftermath; the…


The Invaded: How Latin Americans and Their Allies Fought and Ended U.S. Occupations

By Alan McPherson,

Book cover of The Invaded: How Latin Americans and Their Allies Fought and Ended U.S. Occupations

Why this book?

Professor McPherson’s stellar history paints an incredibly rich portrait of protracted U.S. interventions—the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua, most critically—during the so-called Banana Wars in the first decades of the 20th century. This painstaking researched and lucidly penned tome demands that we take the Latin American side of the story when we study the searing history of Uncle Sam interventionism. 

The Invaded: How Latin Americans and Their Allies Fought and Ended U.S. Occupations

By Alan McPherson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1912 the United States sent troops into a Nicaraguan civil war, solidifying a decades-long era of military occupations in Latin America driven by the desire to rewrite the political rules of the hemisphere. In this definitive account of the resistance to the three longest occupations-in Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic-Alan McPherson analyzes these events from the perspective of the invaded themselves, showing why people resisted and why the troops
eventually left.

Confronting the assumption that nationalism primarily drove resistance, McPherson finds more concrete-yet also more passionate-motivations: hatred for the brutality of the marines, fear of losing land, outrage…


Reagan and Pinochet: The Struggle Over U.S. Policy Toward Chile

By Morris Morley, Chris McGillion,

Book cover of Reagan and Pinochet: The Struggle Over U.S. Policy Toward Chile

Why this book?

So much ink has been spent on the Nixon administration’s early 1970s plotting and policies during the regime of democratic socialist president Salvador Allende. This exquisite book is a sharp reminder that, while far less studied, the Reagan administration was deeply involved in a Chile run by the very political actor who ousted Allende: General Augusto Pinochet. Yet, contrary to what we often assumed, the Reagan team eventually embraced a policy aimed to get Washington’s erstwhile ally out of power. 

Reagan and Pinochet: The Struggle Over U.S. Policy Toward Chile

By Morris Morley, Chris McGillion,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book is the first comprehensive study of the Reagan administration's policy toward the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Based on new primary and archival materials, as well as on original interviews with former US and Chilean officials, it traces the evolution of Reagan policy from an initial 'close embrace' of the junta to a re-evaluation of whether Pinochet was a risk to long-term US interests in Chile and, finally, to an acceptance in Washington of the need to push for a return to democracy. It provides fresh insights into the bureaucratic conflicts that were a key…


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