Fresh Look Reviews
Fresh, unique perspectives on recent books from across the hemisphere originally published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
The realities of the “revolution” in Cuba and the mysteries of life in Havana have long eluded understanding by those outside the island. But since 2007, Yoani Sánchez has sought to shed light on the present-day reality of Cuban life through her Generation Y blog.
Now the world-renowned blogger, named by CNN and Time magazine in 2009 as one of the most influential people in the world, has compiled selected blog posts in a book that should not be missed.
Cuba libre: Vivir y escribir en La Habana (Free Cuba: Living and Writing in Havana) is a testament to her bravery and unassailable writing capacity. With impeccable conceptual clarity, and prose worthy of Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez, the book transports the reader to Havana and allows her to share the frustrations, deceptions and anger of daily life in the Cuban capital.
Sánchez paints a crystal-clear picture of a regular day on the island—a place where every year the Castro family, first Fidel and now Raúl, promises to remove the absurd restrictions imposed on the islanders, but nothing changes.
A broad consensus on education policy has emerged over the past decade, with liberals and conservatives alike championing accountability and choice in America’s public schools. Diane Ravitch, an education scholar who pushed for market-based reforms during her tenure in the U.S. federal government (George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations), recently defected from this movement. Her latest book explains why.
With remarkable clarity and authority, Ravitch, now a research professor of education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, offers a reality check to those with blind faith in charter schools and high-stakes standardized testing. Even her critics will be forced to acknowledge the evenhanded way she approaches the facts. Few will finish The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education convinced that market principles represent the elixir that can transform troubled U.S. school districts. But does the author succeed in showing that these reforms should be largely abandoned? Perhaps not.
One of the impressions left with this reader is, in turning on many of the reforms she helped launch, Ravitch has created a false dichotomy. Market-friendly policy and solid curricula are not mutually exclusive. In fact, simply jettisoning the market ideas that Ravitch once championed may not only be facile, it could also be dangerous, as scholars enthusiastically embrace each new fad, refusing to recognize the merits or lessons of the last.
Roberto Lavagna, Argentina’s economy and production minister from 2002–2005, steered his country through one of the most tumultuous periods in Argentina’s recent economic history. Taking office in the depth of the economic recession, his restructuring of the financial system helped create the conditions for recovery while also making foes along the way. In La Argentina que merecemos (The Argentina We Deserve) he reflects on policies implemented during the recession, while also looking ahead to how Argentina can achieve long-term and inclusive growth.
A well-known critic of the free market—he offered defaulted bond-holders harsh terms as part of the 2005 debt restructuring—Lavagna starts his book with a phrase slightly different than a standard development book would use: “I believe that the same dream unites all Argentines: to make Argentina that country of opportunities that we [once] knew to have…” Usually policymakers from emerging economies start their books with something along the lines of: “I believe all citizens of [insert country name] share the same dream… To make this a place where every member of society has the capacity to fulfill his or her dreams...”