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."
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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.