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Fatal Glory

Narciso Lopez and the First Clandestine U.S. War against Cuba
Tom Chaffin

BUY Cloth · 282 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813916736 · $49.50 · Oct 1996

Until now, the story of Narciso Lopez's daring invasions of Cuba has remained one of the great lost sagas of American history. Wildly famous during the mid-nineteenth century as the leader of a filibuster, a clandestine army, Lopez led the first armed challenge to Spain's long domination over Cuba. While U.S. historians have tended to view Lopez as an agent of pre-Civil War southern expansionism, Tom Chaffin reveals a broader, more complicated picture. Although many southerners did assist Lopez, the web of intrigue that sustained his conspiracy also included New York City, steamship magnates, penny press editors, Cuban industrialists, and nothern Democratic urban bosses.

Drawn from archives in both the United States and Cuba and enlivened by first-person accounts and reports from federal "special agents" assigned to spy on Lopez, Fatal Glory holds appeal for both scholars and the general reader with an interest in Cuba, U.S. foreign policy, or the U.S. sectional crisis of the 1850s.


Fatal Glory is that rare book of history with the sweep and pleasure of a novel. This little-known story of one of our Cuban misadventures serves as a dark-hued mirror to the present. Mr. Chaffin has written a nuanced and penetrating saga.

Andrei Codrescu, NPR commentator, author of The Hole in the Flag

Fatal Glory makes an important contribution too our understanding of filibustering and its relationship to American political culture in the middle of the nineteenth century.

James M. McPherson, Princeton University

Thomas Chaffin's nicely written, sensibly argued new book on Narciso López is by far the best account of an important, but underappreciated, episode on the road toward the American Civil War.

William W. Freehling, University of Kentucky

Fatal Glory tells an exciting story in an engaging style that is enhanced by the author's through grasp of the subject matter and the historical period. Chaffin successfully undermines the generally accepted notion that Narciso López was merely a pawn for southern planters interested in expanding slavery.

Gerald E. Poyo, St. Mary's University

Fatal Glory is an outstanding study of López'’s efforts to overthrow Spanish rule in Cuba between 1848 and 1851.... Tom Chaffin has done an exemplary job of integrating various related topics into his narrative. It is clearly a labor of love.... A model historical monograph.

Journal of American History

Had López’'s mid-nineteenth-century misadventures been better chronicled in more recent times they might have given pause or provided lessons to modern-day plotters in their efforts to oust the present Cuban government. Chaffin seeks to correct the historical oversight in this meticulously documented volume.

Miami Herald

About the Author(s): 

Tom Chaffin teaches U.S. history and is Director of the Emory Oral History Project at Emory University. His work has appeared in both scholarly and general publications, including Nation, Progressive, New York Times, and Audubon magazine.

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