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There is no stronger proof of the power of marketing to overcome reality than the posthumous reputation of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. At a time when the death penalty was increasingly regarded as a barbarous relic of a bygone age, an enthusiastic mass-executioner - after only the most summary of trials - came to represent youthful rebellion. His puerile economic theories self-evidently entailed the most absolute form of tyranny, yet Guevara came to represent the free spirit itself - complete with wind through the hair - for the flower-power generation and all its progeny.

How did this remarkable transmogrification come about? This is one of the questions - perhaps the most interesting that can be asked about Guevara - that this dual biography of Castro and Guevara does not answer. It does not answer it because it does not ask it. And it does not ask it because its attitude to the dynamic duo is unclear.

The book ends after nearly 400 pages with the following declaration:

"The fact that both men's stars seemed to dim when they parted suggests one thing: they may be two of the most iconic individuals of the twentieth century, but it is [their] common bond that underpins their individual acclaim. It seems right that it is so, for they achieved more together that they ever did apart."

Although one senses an underlying sympathy for Castro and Guevara in these words, rather as one feels when one is being followed on a dark night, they are sufficiently ambiguous or slippery for any deep admiration to be disavowed. For example, it can hardly be denied that, in overthrowing the Batista regime, Castro and Guevara performed a remarkable feat - indeed one of the most astonishing political feats of the 20th century. If someone had invented what actually happened as the plot of a novel, it would have been decried as implausible or even as totally impossible. For a group of 82 young men to invade a country in a leaky rust-bucket of a boat, for the great majority of them to be killed almost immediately on landing, and yet for the invasion ultimately to succeed in overthrowing a government equipped with a large army and something of an air force, is an exploit of epic proportions.

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