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Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (Latin American Studies)

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  680 ratings  ·  53 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 inte

Paperback, revised & expanded, 358 pages
Published December 30th 2005 by David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (first published 1982)
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The Kaleidoscope by Adrian MendozaBitter Fruit by Stephen C. SchlesingerI, Rigoberta Menchú by Rigoberta MenchúGlimpses of Guatemala by Alex MorrittA Decent Woman by Eleanor Parker Sapia
Latin American Studies
2nd out of 103 books — 8 voters
Banana by Dan KoeppelLove in Infant Monkeys by Lydia MilletThe Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich CohenBanana Cultures by John SoluriEliot's Banana by Heather Swain
19th out of 60 books — 2 voters

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Community Reviews

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Erik Graff
May 14, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Jun 24, 2009 Heather rated it 5 of 5 stars
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: history, own
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
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
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!
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!
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
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
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
Sep 08, 2008 Evan rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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.
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.
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.
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:

Mauro Javier
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.
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.
The United Fruit company's coup of the democraticatically elected governement in Guatemala. Corporate colonialism vis a vis the US government. A must read.
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.
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!
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.
Very good book. How did Dulles get an airport named after him?
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
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
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
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.
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 4 of 5 stars
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
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
This is the most engaging and revealing book I've read on US foreign policy. It's a case study on our ongoing efforts to control the third world and suppress democracies... from Harvard University Press... untouchable as far as facts and analysis is unconcerned. Though Harvard awarded a fellowship to one of the main Generals responsible for the genocide that unfolded in the aftermath of the US coup so don't be too impressed by the publisher.

A blurb on the back says it reads like a cloak and dag
Excellent explanation of how the CIA, with the help of John Foster and Allan Dulles, overthrew a democratically elected leader to save a multi-national corporation's land holdings. Flying into the Dulles airport will never be the same again.
Interesting topic, but it moved a little slowly for me. It took some effort to finish it. I still gave the book three stars because I learned a lot from it.

This is the story of how the CIA conspired with a banana company to overthrow Guatemala's democratically elected president in the early 1950s. It's sort of a replay of what the US did to Iran a couple years previously: imaginary "communist" threat, incumbent president who enjoyed popular support, underhanded shenanigans on the part of the CIA
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