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The Rebel Scribe: Carleton Beals and the Progressive Challenge to US Policy in Latin America

Carleton Beals was among America’s most distinctive foreign correspondents. His colorful, combatively critical reporting of U.S. intervention in Latin America had a fearless energy and authority that won him millions of readers. He interviewed the Nicaraguan rebel leader Sandino in the camp from which he fought thousands of U.S marines in 1928, covered two revolutions in Cuba (1933 and 1959), and interpreted the Mexican Revolution for American readers. Beals’s dispatches and features appeared regularly in the Nation, New Republic, Current History and the Progressive, and often in the New York Times. Time magazine called him “the best informed and the most awkward living writer on Latin America.”rnrnAt once biography and analytical history, The Rebel Scribe tells the story of a fiercely independent non-conformist. It probes Beals’s interactions with political leaders, democrats, demagogues, populists and revolutionaries, and reveals how his ability to immerse himself in their societies gave his accounts a palpable authenticity and, time has shown, a prescience that is almost prophetic. Christopher Neal’s layered narrative traces how Beals identified patterns of political behavior and concepts that later became fully-fledged schools of thought, such as the idea of a Third World, dependency theory, U.S. neo-imperialism, and aspects of critical theory. His story sheds light on the evolution of U.S. foreign policy and intervention, from Mexico and Nicaragua in the 1920s, to Cuba and Vietnam in the 1960s. It reveals the fraught trail that faced—and still faces—contrarian journalists who challenge conventional assumptions, while also showing how probing journalism drives change.

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