Fidel Castro's latest book peeks at his younger years, but has few new biographical details

HAVANA (AP) — Fidel Castro's new book spins tales of his childhood, university years and life through his 20s in his whimsical and long-winded style — but contains little information that hasn't appeared in other sources.

The 833-page "The Strategic Victory" on the battle that helped speed him to power in 1959 is not yet available to the general public. However, The Associated Press obtained a copy Tuesday from those distributed during a special, closed-door unveiling Monday night attended by Castro himself.

Castro said he was surprised that the book is being released mere weeks after he completed it and has already begun work on a second volume.

The son of a wealthy though unrefined landowner, Castro was educated in Roman Catholic schools, joined a gun-toting radical student group while studying law at the University of Havana and launched a disastrous attack on a Cuban military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago, where nearly all participants were killed or captured.

He was eventually freed into exile in Mexico, returned to Cuba and began a guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra mountains in the island's east that led to the ouster of dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Though Castro has authored numerous books — this one is his second since a 2006 health crisis forced him to cede power to his younger brother Raul — publishers have long clamored for a chance to publish his complete memoirs.

The book is not meant to be a memoir, but contains an autobiographical section in the introduction.

Castro includes impressions of his early years, such as when his parents sent him to Santiago to attend school, but he instead remained at home for a year with a foster family that never enrolled him.

It offers some dreadfully dry details about his college days, during which he had no choice but to carry a gun, he said, and tried but failed to win major class office. The story follows him as he became increasingly involved in the anti-government underground while in his 20s.

But it only confirms what has appeared in past unauthorized biographies or his spoken autobiographies.

The book focuses on an important battle in 1958 that saw Castro's forces prevail over thousands of government soldiers in the Sierra Maestra. That victory paved the way for Batista to flee Cuba the following New Year's Day.

Organizers of Monday's book launch said 3,500 copies would be made available in coming days and 50,000 copies would eventually be published.

The book has 25 chapters and features maps, photos and illustrations of the weapons that Castro's bearded rebels used during the fighting with government forces. There are also color reproductions of notes scrawled by Castro and his chief subordinates.

Castro disappeared almost completely from public view after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006, but has suddenly begun making almost daily public appearances lately.

He turns 84 on Aug. 13, has not been seen publicly with Raul and has skipped major political events. Still, he has been popping up in other, unlikely places, from a meeting with Cuban ambassadors at the foreign ministry to the dolphin show at the Havana aquarium.