Cuba: An American History (Hardcover)
Utterly fascinating in and of itself, the history of this island nation—from the day Columbus set foot on its shore to present-day Biden’s promise to reverse the reversal of reopening relations—encompasses colonialism, revolution, and a legacy of slavery, mining, and sugar cane exploitation. Cuba also retains focus of the entwinement of Cuba and the US, thus simultaneously serving as an off-shore history of this country. Most astonishingly, Ferrer’s writing is so engaging that the book reads like an entertaining story, compelling and hard to put down from beginning to end. -Peter
An epic, sweeping history of Cuba and its complex ties to the United States—from before the arrival of Columbus to the present day—written by one of the world’s leading historians of Cuba.
In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, the United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, where a momentous revolution had taken power three years earlier. For more than half a century, the stand-off continued—through the tenure of ten American presidents and the fifty-year rule of Fidel Castro. His death in 2016, and the retirement of his brother and successor Raúl Castro in 2021, have spurred questions about the country’s future. Meanwhile, politics in Washington—Barack Obama’s opening to the island, Donald Trump’s reversal of that policy, and the election of Joe Biden—have made the relationship between the two nations a subject of debate once more.
Now, award-winning historian Ada Ferrer delivers an ambitious and moving chronicle written for a moment that demands a new reckoning with both the island’s past and its relationship with the United States. Spanning more than five centuries, Cuba: An American History provides us with a front-row seat as we witness the evolution of the modern nation, with its dramatic record of conquest and colonization, of slavery and freedom, of independence and revolutions made and unmade.
Along the way, Ferrer explores the sometimes surprising, often troubled intimacy between the two countries, documenting not only the influence of the United States on Cuba but also the many ways the island has been a recurring presence in US affairs. This, then, is a story that will give American readers unexpected insights into the history of their own nation and, in so doing, help them imagine a new relationship with Cuba.
Filled with rousing stories and characters, and drawing on more than thirty years of research in Cuba, Spain, and the United States—as well as the author’s own extensive travel to the island over the same period—this is a stunning and monumental account like no other.
About the Author
Ada Ferrer is Julius Silver Professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, where she has taught since 1995. She is the author of Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898, winner of the Berkshire Book Prize for the best first book by a woman in any field of history, and Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, which won the Frederick Douglass Book Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University as well as multiple prizes from the American Historical Association. Born in Cuba and raised in the United States, she has been traveling to and conducting research on the island since 1990.
“The heroes of Ada Ferrer’s narrative are the island’s nationalists and reformers. . . . [She] reveals a relationship that is deeper and more troubled than it may appear. . . . Yet readers will close Ms. Ferrer’s fascinating book with a sense of hope. . . . moving.” —The Economist
"Cuba: An American History focuses on the equivocal relationship of the two countries, and presents it convincingly as symbiotic. . . . On the Castro era, Ms. Ferrer’s pages are exemplary—full of plausible detail, lively insights, and lucid prose. . . . By being equally severe with Cuban leaders and U.S. leaders, Ms. Ferrer achieves an honorable objective: pleasing nobody by being just." —Wall Street Journal
“Important. . . . rather than putting geopolitics or 'great men' at the heart of the book, Ferrer’s focus is on the Cuban people, the descendants of whom are calling for libertad." —The Guardian
"To explore the history of Cuba is to explore the history of the United States. . . . Ferrer is an exceptionally thorough guide of the 15th century onward, careful to keep her readers’ attention with interesting characters, new insights on historical events and dramatic yet accessible writing. This new history of Cuba shows how connected all of our countries’ histories really are." —BookPage (starred review)
A fluid, consistently informative history of the long, inextricable link between Cuba and the US, well rendered by a veteran Cuban American historian. . . . Ferrer is an endlessly knowledgeable guide. . . . She is especially good in delineating how a distinct Cuban identity was forged over the centuries. A wonderfully nuanced history of the island nation and its often troubled dealings with its gigantic and voracious neighbor." —Kirkus (starred review)
"Ferrer has produced an English-language history of Cuba remarkable not only for being comprehensive, but also eminently readable. . . . Ferrer delves into deep background that students of contemporary history may have never before encountered." —Booklist (starred review)
“Ada Ferrer’s astonishing Cuba succeeds brilliantly with an original approach, written in two voices, folded together seamlessly—one personal, from the depths of family transplantation, and the other a historian’s lyrical narrative. She captures the epic sweep of the island’s story of slavery, massive sugar production, colonialism, and revolution. But she also shows how Cuba and the United States have so long been joined at the hip in shared culture, political crises, and tragedy for the famous and the ordinary. Ferrer’s own ‘heavy inheritance’ is North America’s as well. Above all, Ferrer has achieved a page-turning masterpiece of her craft; rarely is good history this kind of literary performance.” —David W. Blight, Yale University, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
“A riveting, nuanced, and insightful narrative told through a multitude of personalities—from the well-known to those whose names have been lost to history. Here is the saga of Cuba presented in all the complexity it deserves: an American story that is inseparable from that of the United States. This clear-eyed chronicle will forever change your perspective on the historic relationship between the two countries and upend much of the history you thought you knew. Ada Ferrer is a gift, a scholar with the subtle prose of a novelist and the heart to chronicle a history that is both personal and epic. Cuba is an absolutely essential read.” —Ana Menéndez, Florida International University and author of In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd
“Revolutions breed history wars. The role of such forces as—colonialism and capitalism, nationalism and imperialism, slavery, race, and socialism, for example—in the shaping of the Cuban past has long been contested terrain. Traversing it demands sober judgement and a steady hand. Fortunately for her readers, Ada Ferrer possesses both in abundance. Hers is a balanced, revelatory, and thoroughly enjoyable exploration of the complex history of this endlessly fascinating country and its relationship with its powerful neighbor. This elegantly written book is as much the history of a country that, for far too many Americans, remains exotic and enigmatic, as it is a surprisingly revealing history of the United States itself, viewed through a lens ninety miles away.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University
“Ada Ferrer’s Cuba is a remarkable work of history. Covering more than five centuries and much of the Atlantic world, Cuba is also deeply thoughtful and highly personal in a way that truly enriches it. Imaginatively conceived and beautifully written, Cuba tells complex human stories in riveting ways and challenges our understanding of an island whose history has shaped—and will continue to shape—the Americas. Cuba is An American History in the fullest sense.” —Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
“With singular mastery and insight, Ada Ferrer reconstructs the intertwined histories of Cuba and the United States. It is an intimate and timely story, of conflict and misunderstandings, but also of opportunities and possibilities.” —Alejandro de la Fuente, Afro-Latin American Research Institute, Harvard University
“Ada Ferrer makes Cuba’s American history come to life. Whatever you may think of the politics around Cuba, its rich and complex history and that of its people is told here in a thoughtful and compelling way, with revealing detail, deep research, and beautiful writing.” — Soledad O’Brien, Host of Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien and author of Latino in America and The Next Big Story
“Ada Ferrer has written a sweeping, beautiful, and indispensable history of an endlessly fascinating country. Cuba captures the breadth and emotion of the story of a small country that has been at the center of so many major events shaping our world.” —Ben Rhodes, author of After the Fall: Being American in the World We Made
“So near and yet so far. We think we know Cuba but this book reveals that we have never grasped its epic and frequently tragic history. Ada Ferrer offers us the penetrating perspective of someone who is neither the complete insider nor the complete outsider, but who cares passionately about Cuba and its confounding entanglement with the US.” —Lynn Hunt, author of History: Why It Matters
“In clear and elegant prose, Ada Ferrer, a leading historian of Cuba, vividly brings to life the history of Cuba. I now have an unequivocal answer to those who ask me to recommend a book that will introduce them to the island nation, as well as a clear choice when selecting a text that will engage my students in the dramatic story of Cuba.” —Lisandro Pérez, author of the award-winning Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York
“With deft prose and a subtle sensibility, Ada Ferrer narrates the intimate, intertwined histories of the United States and its island neighbor, Cuba. Antonio Maceo, José Martí and others sought to transform the Spanish colony into a cross-racial republic, while thwarting U.S. intrusion into the larger Americas. But powerful outsiders have presumed the right to shape events on the island, and found domestic allies willing to assist. As Ferrer’s delicate stories of ordinary people unfold alongside the doings of visionaries and politicians on both sides of the straits of Florida, she wonders: Could there eventually emerge a mutual respect that might save our respective rulers from folly?” —Rebecca J. Scott, author of Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery