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The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba's Last Tycoon Hardcover – August 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The rise and fall of sugar trader Julio Lobo becomes a window into prerevolutionary Cuba, the mechanics of building an economic empire--and the author's own personal history--in this atmospheric biography by Rathbone, deputy head of the Financial Times's Lex column and former World Bank economist. Lobo, "Cuba's richest man and one of the world's greatest speculators," is an intriguing subject ("friends nicknamed him El Veneno, the poisonous one, for his charm and sibylline tongue"), and Rathbone handles his volte face, from hobnobbing with Bette Davis to the loss of his fortune and death in exile in Spain, with finesse. Ample drama--multiple divorces, audacious hostile takeovers, assassination attempts--is given gravity by Rathbone's parallels with and personal connections to his subject: his family traveled in Lobo's social circle in Cuba during the first half of the 20th century. An exceptionally rich portrait not only of an empire and its progenitor but Cuba itself, and the economic legacy of Castro's revolution, the loss of capital, and the end of Cuba's "great age of sugar."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

No critics disputed that John Paul Rathbone has written an excellent biography of Julio Lobo. Their enthusiasm varied somewhat, however, in relating Lobo's life to the larger story of Cuba. Reviewers interested in business and trade had no trouble understanding Lobo's importance, but many who would have otherwise not shown much interest in sugar were similarly impressed by Rathbone's use of the tycoon's life to show how Cuba has changed. A few critics, however, found the fit unsatisfying and some of Rathbone's personal digressions distracting (his mother was a Cuban exile of Lobo's social class). Overall, though, critics felt The Sugar King of Havana to be essential reading for those interested in business history or Latin America.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; First Edition edition (August 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202583
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202582
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #790,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One point of the history of the western hemisphere that is rarely pressed to any depth is the relationship the United States has had with the countries of the hemisphere south of its' borders. These relationships are very complicated and probably the most complicated of all has been that with the island nation of Cuba. When the island is mentioned, it is generally in relation to the communist government of Fidel Castro and how the collective opinion of the Cuban exile community will affect an American election.
This book is a history of the island as it relates to one of the richest Cubans, how he made, spent and eventually lost his fortune. Before the Communists gained power in Cuba, the production of sugar was the main industry and Julio Lobo was one of the titans of that industry. He was so powerful that he was even able to stand up and overcome the powerful American corporate interests, cornering the sugar market to his and Cuba's benefit.
While he was extremely wealthy, Lobo was a modest man; he was one of the few sugar tycoons that took a deep interest in his workers. Unlike most other owners he visited his plantations and mills and personally spoke to many of the workers. When Cubans opposed to his interests were criticizing Lobo, the labor union representing his workers issued a strong message of support for him.
However, the real interesting aspect of this book is the downward spiral that the Cuban society was seemingly locked into. The succession of dictatorships was each worse than the previous and semi-open warfare between several factions was taking place. Government corruption increased dramatically so there was a power vacuum when Batiste suddenly fled unannounced from his position as president.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By I. Martinez-Ybor VINE VOICE on July 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
John Paul Rathbone in "The Sugar King of Havana" has written four different books and woven them into one seamless romantic narrative of great sweep and import which manages in less than three hundred pages, to move as well as to impart much valuable insight about Cuba and its society in the last century. This is an indispensible book for anyone interested in Cuba, Sugar and, of course, Julio Lobo. Throughout, Mr. Rathbone's writing flows easily and lucidly and brings matters into perspective with elements of universal culture that, as in a medieval illuminated manuscript, decorate as well as underline the importance of a given text.

At no time is one strand divorced from the other: Mr. Rathbone, of Cuban maternal descent, gives us a précis of Cuban history with the objectivity yet sentimental attachment of someone born after the time of events which fill out the narrative. His take on the development of Cuba as a political and economic entity are knowledgeable and correspond to the traditional analysis that measures the history of Cuba as falling between one significant fault line: the nefarious coup-d'etat of 04 September 1933. At that time, notwithstanding difficulties, there was institutional and economic development that were propelling Cuba out of its colonial past, whether under Spanish or U.S. hegemony. After the Batista sergeant's revolt in unholy alliance with radical student groups and initially, Communists, the institutional framework of the barely thirty year old republic crumbled, any hope for reform was rapidly betrayed, and Cuba lapsed into a period of corruption, violence, and decadence which, except for a brief period in the 1940's, eventually led to the total failure and collapse of the republic and the onset of communism.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Andrew J. Rodriguez on August 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a descendant of Bernabe Sanchez, and son of a former Galban, Lobo & Co. associate,
I consider "The Sugar King of Havana" the most fascinating biography of Cuba's most peculiar and mesmerizing businessman.

Intertwined with the intriguing story of Julio Lobo's life, this well researched book offers the reader a most accurate and unbiased sequence of historical events that ultimately culminated in Cuba's deceptive revolution.

To readers interested in late nineteenth and twentieth century Cuba, "The Sugar King of Havana" is a must read.

Andrew J. Rodriguez
Award-winning author of "Adios, Havana," a Memoir.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By 27Quincy on September 5, 2010
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As other reviewers have pointed out, this is really several books in one: (1) a family history, (2) a history of Cuba before the revolution to now, and (3) a biography of Julio Lobo. The weakest link, in my view, is the last one, and that's my central problem with the book. Its title, after all, is "The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba's Last Tycoon." I think the reader is entitled to expect some insight into Lobo, but I got none. Rather, I got facts that never really added up to a real portrait of a man. It's clear that the author admires Lobo and believes that he was an entirely upright businessman, but it's also clear that a lot of people didn't like him. Was that just resentment, or could Lobo perhaps not have been as appealing a figure as the author casts him? To me, the biography part of this book fell totally flat, and I never felt that I understood what made Lobo "tick." That being said, I don't regret buying and reading the book, because I thought it provided a good overview of Cuban history in the last century, and anchored the revolution in its historical context. So it's a fine read if you're interested in Cuban history, but don't buy it if you're looking for a riveting biography.
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