New Book: Selwyn Ryan’s Eric Williams, the Myth and the Man


Selwyn Ryan’s Eric Williams: the Myth and the Man (2009) seeks to illuminate the political career of “one of the Caribbean’s most elusive figures,” Eric Williams, the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Ryan uses a wide array of primary sources, letters, interviews, material from the Public Records Office in the United Kingdom, the State Department Records in the United State of America and the Eric Williams Memorial Collection in Trinidad and Tobago, to provide a sophisticated political analysis of Williams’ role in Trinidadian and Caribbean politics. The manuscript focuses on Williams’ entry into politics and his tenure as prime minister from 1956 until his death in 1981. Ryan also provides an interesting analysis of Williams’ seminal work Capitalism and Slavery and his role as a scholar. The author brings a unique perspective to the work as both a scholar and a participant in Trinidad politics.

Selwyn Ryan has a PhD in Political Science from Cornell University. He is Professor Emeritus and former Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. He also taught at York University (in Canada), the University of Ghana, and Makere University (in Uganda). He is the author of more than fifty articles and several books, including The Disillusioned Electorate: The Politics of Succession in Trinidad and Tobago; Race and Nationalism in Trinidad and Tobago, 1995-2002; Winner Takes All: The Westminster Experience in the Caribbean; and Pathways to Power: Indians and the Politics of National Unity in Trinidad and Tobago.

In his review, “Greatness . . . at a Cost,” Louis Regis explains that Ryan’s writing reveals as much about its author as it does about its subject, and illustrates this by quoting the following:

The focus here is on the public as opposed to the private Williams. My principal concern is with Williams as scholar, builder of the nation-state of Trinidad and Tobago, shaper of public policy, and political man. Yet a biographer could not avoid dealing with the personality issue and the various contested claims that Williams was psychiatrically challenged and that his presumed illness is the key to understanding his curious and contradictory and strange behaviour, as well as some of the policy and personnel decisions he made. Regretfully one could not be faithful to the record without also dealing with the many allegations about sleaze that dogged Williams’s regime and that he seemed unwilling or unable to address successfully (4).

Ryan himself states that his primary purpose in writing this monumental, 842-page biography of Eric Williams was “to go behind the mask and the tribal myths to try to answer the perennial question: ‘Who was the real Eric Williams?’” and warns that his perspectives on the myth and the man “may not be very pretty.”

For full reviews, see and

For book description and purchasing information, see

One thought on “New Book: Selwyn Ryan’s Eric Williams, the Myth and the Man

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