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Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator by Robert D. Crassweller (165,000 words, 27 illustrations)

“This is the most satisfactory study of Rafael Trujillo [1891-1961] yet published. Mr. Crassweller has used printed materials and interviews to reconstruct the life of the Caribbean strongman and his book is not the typical sycophantic panegyric published during Trujillo’s rule or a recapitulation of the worst excesses of his dictatorship. It is a surprisingly well-balanced attempt to understand the man, his motives, and his regime.

Trujillo was the product of the United States occupation between 1916 and 1924. Born in humble circumstances in 1891, his career had been inauspicious until he discovered that he might be able to obtain a commission in a new constabulary being formed by the occupation forces... within ten years he was in charge of the nation’s armed forces, and by 1930 he was President. From that time until his death he ruled his country with an iron hand, and the author lucidly shows how he converted it into his own personal estate through political and economic manipulation.

A vain man, Trujillo used the vanity of others to achieve his goals. He thought everyone had his price, and all too often he was right. Not only would Dominicans debase themselves in order to receive the dictator’s largesse, but there is evidence, as the author shows, that United States Congressmen and even the Vatican accepted favours from Trujillo. But in his quest for power he made more enemies than friends, and the account of his decline is both informative and dramatic.” — J. C. M. Ogelsby,
International Journal

“Crassweller has produced a superb volume about ‘the man’ in Caribbean politics from the early 1930’s until the rise of Fidel Castro. This portrait of Dominican politics and the ascendancy of Trujillo is chilling in its implications and far surpasses what the average critic of Trujillo imagined. The former dictator is portrayed as a tyrant in the absolute sense operating through a series of clever tactics to intimidate those around him. Individuals who were difficult to intimidate or expensive to bribe were simply killed. By means of his control of the inner circle of Dominican politics, he was able to dominate the entire country. In his personal affairs he satisfied all his whims at the expense of the Dominican people. Not content to operate the treasury as his personal preserve, he also insisted on taking money in large sums which was under his control anyway... this volume must stand as an achievement.” — Michael J. Francis,
The Review of Politics

“[H]ere we have a small miracle. I had never heard of Mr. Crassweller before. Judging wholly from the caliber of this book, however, an important new writer has made an unheralded appearance and deserves to be welcomed as one of the very few who have made a major contribution to our understanding of some part of Latin America... [Crassweller] has produced the best work on Trujillo, the man, and the Dominican Republic, the country, that we have or are likely to get in the years immediately ahead... In scope, the book is both expansive and intimate, paying careful attention to the changing historical circumstances as it concentrates on the personal characteristics and activities. Unlikely as it may seem, it gives a satisfying insight into Trujillo’s sex life as well as a detailed exposition of his political techniques.” — Theodore Draper,
The New York Times Book Review

“This book deserves to be read: no comparable picture of the Caribbean saga exists in English... a devastating history... This biography of Trujillo may be read as a super-detective story, or as colorful history, or as a commentary on our times. No one starting the book is likely to put it down, and he will be left at the end with a pressing question of how sane, clean, and healthy forces can be made to triumph in this area so vital to the safety of the United States.” — Adolf A. Berle,
The New York Herald Tribune’s Book Week

“This is a remarkable account of a remarkable period in Caribbean history... well-planned and well-written.” —
Chicago Tribune

“Mr. Crassweller’s account of this power-crazy dictator and his times is a monumental job of historical and biographical research and writing.” —
Christian Science Monitor

“This biography of Trujillo is by far the best available. In a vivid, very readable style, it presents a mass of information, much of it hardly known, most of it of historical interest... highly recommended as a lively portrait of a fascinating character.” — H. Hoetink,
Caribbean Studies

“Not only is this the best presentation of Trujillo to date, but also one of the best recent books on Latin America. The author, Robert Crassweller, has a real understanding of the Caribbean and Latin America in general produced by years of experience in the area in many different capacities.” — Ward M. Morton,
The Western Political Quarterly

“Robert Crassweller’s work is the first objective and reasonably dispassionate biography of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina to appear in any language. It gives Trujillo full credit for the positive achievements of his reign — economic growth, fiscal independence, and three decades of political stability — while portraying all too graphically the price paid for such benefits by the Dominican people — complete individual and collective subservience to the dictator. Trujillo is presented as the logical, perhaps inevitable, product of Dominican culture and history, yet more like some ancient Oriental potentate than a twentieth-century ruler; as an infinitely complex personality, who combined genius for organization and power with monumental vanity, immense greed, and profound immorality; as a true despot, who perfected the use of terror, deceit, and humiliation as political weapons; and, ultimately, as a leader who failed to lead his people toward a new social order, self-rule, and self-respect. The author’s matter-of-fact appraisal of the Trujillo regime as one of wasted ability and lost opportunity may well be a more damning indictment of the man and his rule than all the diatribes by enemies who saw Trujillo simply as the personification of evil.” — Rollie E. Poppino,
Political Science Quarterly

“I suppose everyone has told you what a subtle, elegant and penetrating account you have written of Trujillo. But let me also add my word. This combination of artistry and craftsmanship happens only about once every five years.” —
John Kenneth Galbraith