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Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  814 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
Bitter Fruit is a comprehensive and insightful account of the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954. First published in 1982, this book has become a classic, a textbook case of the relationship between the United States and the Third World. The authors make extensive use of U.S. government documents and inter ...more
Paperback, revised & expanded, 330 pages
Published October 1st 2005 by Harvard University Press (first published 1982)
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Community Reviews

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Jun 24, 2009 Heather rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those interested in the seedy side of the U.S. government and well, everyone
Recommended to Heather by: Maya, my Spanish professor
Shelves: own, history
I learned that part of the reason we have a "so-called immigration" problem is due to the good old greed of American capitalism. We get involved in Latin America and train people for coups and put in dictators in order to keep the status quo and then people wonder why people flock to the States from Latin America! An amazing and eye-opening read!
Adelina Vaca
Oct 31, 2012 Adelina Vaca rated it it was amazing
I ordered this book because I had to give a conference in Guatemala and was confused about the beginning of the country's long armed conflict. I figured this was a good place to start, and it was. It helped me understand better not only the American role in Guatemala, but also a lot of the current attitudes and opinions in Latin America about work, big international companies and America.

Unlike some reviewers, I don't find it biased at all, in fact I read it without much knowledge of the conflic
Erik Graff
May 14, 2013 Erik Graff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
This, like Kinzer's All the Shah's Men, is a very readable history designed for the non-specialist. Unlike some histories, the authors do not conceal their disdain for those Washington policy-makers, most particularly the Dulles brothers, who destroyed the fledgling Guatemalan democracy's attempts at moderate social reform and consigned the country to decades of civil war. Sadly, this is but a case study of the typically short-sighted and self-interested motives which inspire much of the foreign ...more
Jan 16, 2009 Carey rated it it was amazing
Believe it or not, Chiquita Banana (then United Fruit) really did orchestrate the overthrow of the government in Guatemala. Yay for imposing dictatorships in foreign nations that are friendly to US corporate interests!
Apr 26, 2011 Paul rated it it was amazing
Book that introduced me to Central American history and politics. Reads like a John le Carre thriller and will get your blood boiling. Que viva Arbenz!
Feb 12, 2012 Ed rated it liked it
Shelves: central-america
The term banana republic seems odd in the 21st century. They must be small, odd places tucking into strange corners of the world, perhaps something like the republic of Fredonia (Duck Soup) or the Grand Duchy of Fenwick (The Mouse that Roared). Sixty years ago “banana republic” meant most of the countries of Central America and the Caribbean basin; Guatemala was the best/worst example.

Formerly a colony of Spain, Guatemala became the property of the United Fruit Company. In addition to millions o
Nov 04, 2013 Tim rated it it was amazing
Bitter Fruit relates the history of the 1954 CIA-directed coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz. Together with the 1953 putsch against Iranian President Mohammed Mossadegh, that gave the CIA two successful knock-outs against democratically-elected governments in two years. Both incidents are notable for the hubris and hypocrisy on the part of the US, as well as the pyrrhic nature of their victories.

Kinzer's book on Nicaragua in the 1980s, Blood of Brothers, is one of the best and most
Maiga Milbourne
Aug 04, 2011 Maiga Milbourne rated it it was amazing
MUST READ. I think I've decided I prefer my history written by journalists-- far easier to read. This text reads like a blueprint for current US foreign policy. There's so much here that serves to illustrate US government relationship to corporations and the reality of intervention. In many ways the US orchestrated coup in Guatemala set the stage for future US operations while simultaneously plunging the majority of Central America into thirty years of civil war.

One of my biggest take aways was
Una investigación que relata la cruda realidad de la intervención de la CIA en Guatemala. Nombres, fechas, hechos que van hilvanando la historia de un país que quiso progresar y buscar la independencia económica; pero la ambición de riquezas y poder de una sola Compañía (United Fruit Company) mutiló los ideales de una generación que buscaba justicia para el pueblo. Schlesinger y Kinzer lograron en base a una exhaustiva investigación, revelar la telaraña que tejió la CIA para atacar a un "enemigo ...more
Sep 08, 2008 Evan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Who would have thought that your government would misrepresent the threat that another country posed to the United States, manipulate and mislead the media and the American public, and overthrow a sitting government, all in the name of U.S. corporate interests and protecting us from communism (or some other "ism")?

To call the U.S. government "complicit" in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans would be a generous understatement, given the role our CIA, State Department, and militar
Katie Jones
Oct 28, 2011 Katie Jones rated it liked it
I think this book is a must-read for Americans. Especially those of us living in Guatemala. Although a bit dense and textbook-like at times, it gives a very thorough and eye-opening account of the US' role in the Guatemalan coup that ultimately set Guatemala's democracy back decades. It's quite shameful how one powerful US corporation (United Fruit) could manipulate an entire nation down a path of chaos. And all because they felt entitled to land that they weren't even cultivating.
May 13, 2015 Cris rated it it was amazing
In this book you will discover the genesis of America's 20th (and 21st) century policy of political and economic protectionism, wherein an entire nation of people and its democratically elected government are subverted and then dominated by United States embargoes, sanctions, political strong-arming, corporate maneuvering, clandestine CIA operations, and eventually outright war, murder, and invasion, all done in an attempt to protect the United States' regional corporate interests (in this case, ...more
Mar 16, 2010 Joel rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I was forced to read this as part of a Political Science course. What a good book. It was informative and shows how the US government secretly would overthrow a government during the 1950's. It also reveal a lot of details you would never have known. If you like political science and can read with an open mind then you wold like this. I only wish when I read it I checked out its validity.
Jun 19, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: histories
Really readable and interesting history of the 1954 US-engineered military coup in Guatemala. Great snapshot on how effed up US policy was regarding Latin America in the 20th Century and the Cold War, if you didn't know anything about it. Predominantly focuses on the years immediately preceding and following the coup, but also lightly covers the subsequent 40 years of disaster that followed.
Sep 02, 2009 Noah rated it it was amazing
This was very well documented story on the Guatemalan Coup in the 1950's. It is very insightful and gives a good look at the nuts and bolts of foreign dictatorship by US interests. I invite you to read a small side story on those events at my personal website:

Jan 09, 2016 Mauro rated it it was amazing
Did you know that the American coup in Guatemala in 1954 (land reform, United Fruit Company*, etc.) was what drove Che Guevara to join the Cuban Revolution?

* Fun fact: United Fruit hired a prominent P.R. guy (who wrote a book called Propaganda) to create the impression Guatemala was filled with Communists so that the Eisenhower administration etc. etc.
Jun 30, 2009 Simon rated it it was amazing
An important bok about how US-led interference in Guatemala in essence in support of the US-based United Fruit Company led to decades of horror for the people of this country.
May 17, 2011 Jessa rated it it was amazing
The United Fruit company's coup of the democraticatically elected governement in Guatemala. Corporate colonialism vis a vis the US government. A must read.
Jul 27, 2009 Caitlin rated it it was amazing
The most disturbing book I have ever read, for how much it reveals on American corruption. A necessary read for any American interested in Latin America.
Apr 27, 2013 Socki rated it it was amazing
do yourself and the world a favor and read this book and understand a part of history that so many people are completely unaware of. READ and LEARN!
Feb 01, 2009 Derick rated it really liked it
This book explains very well the causes of the civil war in Guatemala and how the U.S. interfered in the modern history of the country.
Jul 31, 2010 Dan rated it really liked it
Very good book. How did Dulles get an airport named after him?
Apr 14, 2016 Jerome rated it really liked it
A great, well-written history of the overthrow of the Arbenz government. The authors tell the story of the coup in a balanced, restrained tone and let the facts tell their own story. The style itself is fast-paced while not oversimplifying things.

The authors do a great job putting the story of the coup in its historical context, and how unfounded US fears of communist influence in Latin America at this time really were. At the same time, they avoid acting as apologists for the Arbenz government
Yet another example of in-depth reporting revealing the extent to which general media falsifies and quite openly collaborates with state institutions to ensure a digestible perspective, no matter what the topic may be.

Kinzer and Schlesinger do a solid job of uncovering sources, documents, and conversations that together converge into the second US "regime change," or intervention (the first having been Iran and the overthrow of Mossadeq - a story incidentally covered by Kinzer years later in a s
Jul 31, 2012 Oscar rated it liked it
I'm not sure how much I agree or disagree, because this is basically the only book I have read about the topic.
It is one of the few books I could find that dealt with Guatemalan history exclusively. I need to reread it now that I got the basics down, and maybe I'll get more of their particular point of view.

Their main thesis, as I remember it (because I write this 6 years after having read the book) is that the intervention in Guatemala in '55 was more due to the Arbenz government being a threa
Demetrius Lindsey
Mar 26, 2013 Demetrius Lindsey rated it really liked it
This week’s book Bitter Fruit can be best classified as a mere edition to the collection of Central Intelligence Agency operations. This edition in the history of the CIA is one of the lesser non operations but its success lead the CIA into creating a model for American coups aboard. Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer the authors of Bitter Fruit ask the question “Was Operation Success necessary and did it really advance U.S. interests, in the long range and in the aggregate?” (xiii) The sour ...more
Marla McMackin
Jul 22, 2012 Marla McMackin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: latin-america
In Bitter Fruit, Schlesinger and Kinzer present a case study of the 1954 overthrow of Guatemala’s democratic government by the United States. In fifteen chapters first published in 1983, the journalists offer a dense, but fast-paced narration of “the tragedy that befell Guatemalan democracy” (p. xv), when the United States destroyed the popularly elected reform government led by President Jacobo Arbenz, ushering in a decades long era of military terror.

The work opens with a vivid account of the
Matthew J.
Jun 07, 2013 Matthew J. rated it really liked it
Fast-paced, well-documented account of how the United States overthrew Guatemala's democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz, in the 1950's.

U.S. businesses (mainly the United Fruit Company) didn't like Arbenz's reform policies, so they lobbied the CIA to paint Arbenz as a communist in a massive, well-coordinated smear/fear campaign. Basically, the privileged United Fruit Company didn't like the idea of Guatemala having a leader who wasn't on their company payroll.

As a result, U.S. trained r
Blair Easton
Aug 19, 2007 Blair Easton rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: U.S. business interests
Read this while traveling in Guatemala. Read along with "Confessions of an Economic Hitman." The author, Kinzer, has written another book called "Overthrow," and "Bitter Fruit," follows the same mechanism - protecting U.S. business interests abroad, under the guise of promoting democracy. 1950's. Guatemala had an historically oppressed and marginalized native Mayan population, and a state backed oligarchy of European heritage. Most of the land was owned by a few. One of the few was United Fruit ...more
Betsy Georgitis
Mar 04, 2013 Betsy Georgitis rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Yes, this book is a slow read but it did keep my interest due to the details about this operation and some of the key players." While the sort-run outcome of the intervention in 1954 was viewed at the time as a success for the United States in the Cold War, in a larger perspective it is increasingly difficult to see it as such. Indeed , in the light of subsequent events it might reasonably be considered little short of a disaster" I must admit, my knowledge of the extent of US involvement ,in pa ...more
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