Revolutionary Thinking

Domenica invited Stuart Kallen, author of Che Guevara: You Win or You Die (cover below), to share some thoughts about researching and writing this new title about a high-profile political assassination, which launched in TFCB’s Fall 2012 list. From Stuart:


As a nonfiction writer, my job is equal parts reporter, historian, and storyteller. When I wrote biographies about people such as John Lennon and Pablo Picasso, it wasn’t hard for me to combine those elements into a positive read that was educational as well as entertaining. With Che the task was complicated by my knowledge that while he was a thoughtful, intellectual man with a strong moral viewpoint, he was also a cold-blooded killer. In addition, Che exhibited that great equalizer among world leaders: hubris. Going to Bolivia to ignite an insurrection there was, to my mind, a fool’s mission driven by pride and Che’s belief in his own infallibility.

I had conflicted feelings while writing about Che’s assassination in Che Guevara: You Win or You Die. The man undoubtedly started out with noble intentions. When he was a young man, he traveled around the Americas and witnessed economic injustice nearly everywhere he went. Rather than look away, or retreat to his safe, middle-class life, Guevara did something few people do—he dedicated his life to changing the world. But fighting brutal dictators often requires developing a brutal way of life. Revolutions are almost always bloody, and morals get muddled during wartime.

One of the questions that arose for me in writing this book was, Does the world and its injustices create people such as Che Guevara? Or do Che and other revolutionaries remake the world? I don’t know that I completely answered that question in my book, but I tried to illuminate the desires, beliefs, and yes, hubris of a unique man. He was of his times, he shaped his times, and we’re still talking about him long after his death. I was proud to write a book for TFCB exploring the life and times of a complicated, conflicted, and often frightening man.