Red Heat

  • by Alex von Tunzelmann
  • Narrated by Sarah Coomes
  • 19 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The Caribbean crises of the Cold War are revealed as never before in this riveting story of clashing ideologies, the rise of the politics of fear, the machinations of superpowers, and the brazen daring of the mavericks who took them on.
During the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, the Caribbean was in crisis. The men responsible included, from Cuba, the charismatic Fidel Castro and his mysterious brother Ral; from Argentina, the ideologue Che Guevara; from the Dominican Republic, the capricious psychopath Rafael Trujillo; and from Haiti, Franois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, a buttoned-down doctor with interests in Vodou, embezzlement, and torture.
Alex von Tunzelmann's brilliant narrative follows these five rivals and accomplices from the beginning of the Cold War to its end, each with a separate vision for his tropical paradise, and each in search of power and adventure as the United States and the USSR acted out the world's tensions in their island nations. The superpowers thought they could use Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic as puppets, but what neither bargained on was that their puppets would come to life. Red Heat is an intimate account of the strong-willed men who, armed with little but words and ruthlessness, took on the most powerful nations on earth.

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Audible Editor Reviews

Alex von Tunzelmann's Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean is a comprehensive look at the tumultuous politics of the region focusing on Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. It starts with the roots of the slave trade and the Monroe Doctrine to chronicle this past century of turmoil and political upheaval on these volatile islands. There's a lot of ground to cover here, especially considering the long and complicated relationship with these countries and their big brother to the North, the United States. Tunzelmann does a thorough job of laying out the events, providing lots of context, and portraying an accurate sense of time and place.
Sarah Coomes imparts a fine energy to the narration. The storylines here are far from the usual dry litany of historic facts and dates. There's a lot of juicy stuff here: CIA plots, brutal murders, Latin playboys, and a cast of bigger-than-life characters that you'd be hard-pressed to match in even the best fictional political thrillers. Coomes seems to always find the right tone whether laying out cold murderous plots, or relaying the horror of a brutal massacre or military action. Her occasional asides on the rumors and tabloid headlines of the time are particularly enjoyable. And Coomes’ British accent becomes material, seeming to give her a bit of third-party impartiality. There's also a fine irony in having a woman narrate this story that is so wrought with testosterone and machismo.
Tunzelmann bookends the work with a look at contemporary times, reminding us that history often repeats itself if we don't learn our lessons. The parallels here to current Middle East politics are uncanny. You see once again the U.S. history of supporting unsavory characters in the name of stability, and our sometimes myopic focus on one overriding issue above all else. In the Caribbean it was the fear of communism that overrode every other consideration, and in the end became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's hard not to react to Red Heat on a very visceral level. But it is definitely worth revisiting this era and area now and taking a good hard look at these events, especially in how U.S. policy shaped the area, and how it shaped our future. —Cleo Creech

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What the Critics Say

"[A] mesmerizing, Conradian tale where the truth is almost too dark to bear. A remarkably gripping popular history." (Kirkus)
"Von Tunzelmann’s diligent work will widen the eyes of cold war buffs.” (Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Interesting, not extraordinary.

If the author would lose the anti American rant in the preface, I would have liked it more. I don't like being bludgeoned with a political position when I read history ... I would prefer the material enable me to draw the conclusions myself. Be that as it may, after you get past the introduction, the book is actually a pretty good history of American and European incursions and injustices in the Caribbean. Invading virtually defenseless island nations for a wide variety of reasons is apparently something of a tradition and has been for a long time.

This was an area of history with which I was only tangentially familiar. It enabled me, for the first time, to put our Cuban and other Caribbean adventures into a broader context.

The book is pretty good and the narrator is okay. I personally didn't like this narrator for this material. Her voice was too high for my comfort and I found her extremely clipped accent difficult to listen to for any long period. The pace was too brisk for my taste and I think, for the subject matter.

It's a reasonably well written book ... but as history it felt out of balance: too much opinion in proportion to the information. If you are interested in this region and its history and perhaps have always wondered what beef we have with Cuba and vice versa, this will probably give you the background information you want.
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- History

Communists with halos, Americans with horns

What disappointed you about Red Heat?

If you like your history with a strong, left-wing, anti-American chaser, this is the book for you. I can tolerate historians with a notable bias, especially if the historical facts seem to be well-researched. And this book indeed appears, at least in the 45 minutes I listened to it, to have the chronology and players fleshed out pretty well. But von Tunzelmann relentlessly beats the Americans-and-other-white-Europeans-are racist-greedy-opportunists-who-exploit-and-kill-minorities-for-the-sheer-fun-of-it drum. It is a red flag (pun intended) when characters like young communist Fidel Castro are portrayed, without a hint of irony, as "freedom-fighters" against barbaric dictators. This is a sure sign you have nose-dived from biased history into outright propaganda. And it is when I pull the rip cord. It is too bad, because as a history junkie, the subject is unusual and intriguing and I was really looking forward to it.


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- William

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-14-2011
  • Publisher: Audible Studios