Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution
By Louis A. Perez, Jr.

Cuban politics and relations with the United States tend to be polarizing topics. Those who have studied Cuban history and society often have strong views about the country’s government, U.S. sanctions and how to solve its many social and economic problems. In “Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution,” Louis A. Perez examines these issues from a neutral perspective. He explains how certain events affected Cubans and balances this with an assessment of the motivations of outside actors and the pivotal events that drove the country’s history.

Much of the literature on the country tends to focus on the Castro brothers – understandably so, given that their administrations were filled with drama, intrigue and Cold War-era power struggles. Perez doesn’t fall into this trap. He devotes as much space to the Cold War period as he does to the wars for independence and the period of U.S. domination in the early 20th century. In fact, he’s one of the leading experts on 19th and early 20th century Cuba. His book includes meticulous detail and research on demographics, sugar cane production, labor and trade, which he uses to support his conclusions about the forces that drove the country’s population and politics in certain directions. He lets the country’s history speak for itself, allowing the reader to identify patterns and underlying dynamics that explain Cuba’s actions in the past and the present.

In the past three decades, Cuba hasn’t received as much attention as it did during the Cold War. But many indicators – most notably, the fate of Venezuela – suggest the island may once again become a battleground for great power competition and a focus of U.S. foreign policy. For those who want to really understand how the country got to this point in its development, “Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution” provides a good foundation.

Allison Fedirka, analyst

Red Mars
By Kim Stanley Robinson

Is geopolitics eternal? If human nature – the qualities common to all humanity that determine how we interact with each other – is intricately intertwined with geopolitics, then geopolitics should be as unchangeable as human nature is. But do these behaviors exist only on Earth? Would people living on, say, Mars interact with each other the same way people do here on Earth? Put simply, if humans were to settle on another planet, would their human nature be different than ours?

That’s the question “Red Mars” tries to answer. The novel examines how the first permanent settlement on Mars could develop and whether the expectations held by the scientists who designed it would hold up. In the novel, a group of 100 scientists arrives on Mars hoping to establish a new society, free of the bonds that have trapped humanity in what they consider cycles of tragic historical events. But not all of the founding members believe this is possible. Some don’t believe humankind can escape human nature, regardless of how or where a new society takes root. Without giving too much away, it turns out that the skeptics anticipated how history on the new planet would unfold better than the optimists did.

On a deeper level, the book is an examination of which qualities of humankind are malleable and which are eternal. Conflict is the result of certain human needs and fears, and those needs and fears don’t disappear if you change location – even if you move to a place that’s never been inhabited by human beings before. There will be winners and losers wherever competition exists, and the need for natural resources always results in competition.

“Red Mars” accomplishes what good science fiction should: It asks questions about humankind through the prism of the future. By examining how we might change as new technology makes the impossible possible, we can better understand what in our nature is adaptable and what is truly eternal.

Xander Snyder, analyst