Fidel has a gargantuan hunger for information, a huge trove of knowledge, and an equally prodigious memory. He never forgets facts and figures, a remarkable asset he nourished at law school, where he forced himself to depend on his memory by destroying the materials he had learned by heart.
He is a micromanager. There is a sense of perfection in everything he does, applied through a superbly methodical mind and laser-clear focus. He has astounding political instincts, notably an uncanny ability to predict the future moves of his adversaries (Fidel is a masterly chess player). Fidel’s “rarest virtue,” says his intimate friend Gabriel García Márquez, “is the ability to foresee the evolution of an event to its farthest-reaching consequences.”
Fidel is also a gambler of unsurpassed self-confidence. He has stood at the threshold of death several times and loves to court danger. “Fidel has to manufacture the danger that lets him feel alive,” notes journalist Eugene Robinson. Above all, Fidel has an insatiable appetite for the limelight, and a narcissistic focus on his theatrical role: The one thing that infuriates Fidel is to be ignored.
Says Walter Russell Mead: “Fidel needs international celebrity the way a fire needs oxygen.” His beard is also more than a trademark; he likes to hide his double chin; likewise, he wears false teeth, and his long fingernails are lacquered and filed. He never laughs at himself unless he makes the joke. And he assiduously avoids singing or dancing—he is perhaps the only male in Cuba who has never been seen to dance.
Fidel nurtures his image with exquisite care, feigning modesty to hide his immense ego. He sees himself as a leader of vast international significance, and the “absolute patriarch” of his country, suggests Bardach. He also claims that his place in history does not bother him. Yet in the same breath he likens himself to Jesus Christ: Fidel has carefully cultivated the myth of Fidel the Christ-like redeemer figure.
Fidel’s revolutionary concept has been built on communicating with the masses through public speeches, televised in entirety. Fidel is masterfully persuasive, an amazingly gifted speaker who in his better days could hold Cubans spellbound with oratory, using his flattery and enigmatic language to obfuscate and arouse. His speeches lasted for hours. Fidel’s loquaciousness is legendary. He is not, however, a man of small talk; he is deadly serious whenever he opens his mouth. His digressive repertoire is immense: “Fidel, the former lawyer, can argue anything from any side at any time,” writes Bardach. He also listens intently when the subject interests him; he is a great questioner, homing immediately to the heart of the matter.