Bart Jones, The Bodley Head, £12.99
Bart Jones's biography of Hugo Chavez is a welcome addition to the literature on the Venezuelan Revolution. It goes beyond a mere study of Chavez the man and delves into the political history of Venezuela and the conditions that shaped the tumultuous rise of the left in the region.
A well researched piece, it provides an excellent history of modern Venezuelan politics and also contains a number of new interviews with Chavez and many of the people close to him - from army officers who participated in the 1992 coup attempt to members of the present government.
Jones also charts the historical events that shaped Venezuelan society and Chavez's own political development. Accounts of the actions of early Venezuelan radicals such as Simon Bolivar, Zamora and Maisanta are included alongside events such as the bloody Caracazo uprising of the poor in 1989, adding a depth of understanding not present in many texts on the subject.
The book is well written and often reads like a thriller. Particularly impressive are the sections on the 1992 and 2002 coup attempts which are well researched and provide a highly detailed blow by blow account of events as they unfolded.
While this book is a good introduction to Venezuelan politics and provides many new interesting pieces of information it also has some serious flaws. Jones puts no real emphasis on the role played by ordinary people in the revolutionary process and sees them more as passive spectators who depend on Chavez to deliver them needed reforms. He describes them as having been "waiting for someone to come to their rescue". This represents a complete misunderstanding of the balance of class forces within Venezuelan society, and the book suffers a great deal from this. Ultimately Jones sees Chavez as the saviour of the people who, while making mistakes, has single-handedly transformed Venezuela.
Jones also argues that the reason for the defeat of the constitutional amendments in last year's referendum (which would have allowed Chavez to stand indefinitely) was due to a general dislike of socialism by the Venezuelan people. Without providing any evidence for this position he declares that Venezuelans want "social justice without socialism" and were scared by Chavez's increasingly radical rhetoric. As well as being inaccurate, this is completely out of line with the thrust of the rest of the book.
Jones wrote this biography with the aim of challenging the portrayal of Chavez as a tyrant and a demagogue in the US. While providing a very useful tool for those interested in Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution, the book must be read with this in mind. Jones constantly emphasises Chavez's social democratic credentials, and while supportive of his project for "socialism in the 21st century", he at times appears more interested in portraying him as a "good guy" whose "story belongs in a Hollywood movie".