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Cuba: what everyone needs to know, By Julia E Sweig

Apart from the blind spot Sweig shares with all political scientists – a refusal to take the arts seriously, especially culpable in Cuba's case – this lucid Q&A-style survey more or less lives up to its subtitle.

Topic by topic, the Washington-based scholar asks shrewd questions and offers in every case a frank and fair mini-essay in reply. For an island story blown about over 50 years by rabid pro- and anti-Castro propagandists, that is no mean feat. Has the rule of Fidel's brother Raul loosened a monolithic system, and will change now quicken?

Sweig notes signs of "gradual reform" and Caribbean perestroika, but sagely warns that "multi-party political democracy" looks far away. Meanwhile, this scrupulous balance-sheet of reasons for pride and pain in Havana will inform and enrich any trip.