To explore the history of Cuba is to explore the history of the United States. In her new epic history, Cuba: An American History, author and historian Ada Ferrer shows the complex ties between these two countries going back centuries.
As the myth goes, Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492. But in actuality, he didn’t discover anything in the United States; he landed in Cuba, which was already very much inhabited. Columbus and his men killed most of the Indigenous population and, with Spain’s backing, introduced an economy that used enslaved labor to produce sugar, tobacco and rum.
With his blunder of mistaking Cuba for India, Columbus initiated Spain’s centurieslong era of colonial dominance—with Havana, Cuba, at the center of it all. By the 18th century, Havana was the third-largest city in the New World. Britain and France, looking to end Spain’s colonial power, sought control of Cuba for its strategic location in the Caribbean, as well as for its military fortifications and natural riches. Meanwhile, as England’s colonies in North America grew, the fledgling United States profited enormously from Cuba’s economy. Eventually, because of their symbiotic relationship, Cuba supported the United States’ fight against Britain.
As time went on, Spain’s control of the Americas eroded, especially after the Seven Years War and the Spanish-American War. Ferrer’s retelling of these wars’ events from an updated, more nuanced perspective will bring a fresh view to history you thought you already knew. The narrative is often simplified as “the United States saved Cuba,” but Ferrer’s look at the Spanish-American War frames it as the point at which relations between the two countries finally began to sour.
Organized into 12 parts and accompanied by stunning historical photographs and illustrations, Cuba covers more than five centuries of complicated and dynamic history. Although much of the book covers the upheaval and chaos of the 20th century, 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.