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Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution Hardcover – June 3, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 290 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Old Havana mambos on the brink of the abyss in this chronicle of Cuba in the decades before the 1959 revolution. True-crime writer English (Paddy Whacked) presents an empire-building saga in which the "Havana Mob" of American gangsters, led by visionary financier Meyer Lansky, controlled Cuba. Empowered by permissive gambling laws and payoffs to dictator Fulgencio Batista, the Mafia poured millions into posh hotels, casinos and nightclubs, skimmed huge profits and sought to make Havana its financial headquarters. The results: exuberant nightlife, a giddy Afro-Cuban jazz scene, sordid backroom sex shows and the occasional grisly gangland hit. English revels in purple prose ("the island seethed like a bitch with a low-grade fever") and decadent details, including an orgy with Frank Sinatra and a bevy of prostitutes that was interrupted by autograph-seeking Girl Scouts and a nun. But his estimate of the importance of the Havana mob and its "showdown" with Castro's puritanical rebels seems inflated. More supplicant than suzerain to Batista, the mob focused on internecine feuds and paid little attention to the brewing insurrection. The casinos, hotels and nightclubs were all the mob owned-but they sure threw one hell of a party. Photos. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The penetration of American organized crime into the gambling and entertainment industries in Cuba has been well documented. The actual process of this takeover is quite interesting, involving political corruption, mob culture, and the interaction of Cuban ruling elites and revolutionary figures. English, who teaches a course on organized crime at the New College of California, places Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano at the center of his narrative. As portrayed by English, these boyhood friends combine brutality, cynicism, and an expansive vision of creating a criminal empire with a protected base in Cuba. English writes eloquently about prerevolutionary Havana, where the glitter of nightlife and an “anything goes” facade covered up the widespread poverty and decadent political culture under Batista. As long as English sticks to organized crime he remains on solid ground. Unfortunately, when he ventures into the political realm, he oversimplifies, displaying an appalling ignorance of the complexities of the various groups opposed to Batista. Still, this is a valuable examination of organized-crime figures and their efforts to thrive in a seemingly receptive environment. --Jay Freeman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061147710
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061147715
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (290 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Quixote010 VINE VOICE on June 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Crime novels abound. There's no question that we enjoy reading fiction and non-fiction about the gangster element. This is one historical presentation that is certain to please readers.

Unlike other books that often rehash well-known facts about criminals and their actions, Havana Nocturne is an entertaining review of the historical activities of the Mob in Cuba from the mid-1940s until the Castro revolution takeover in 1959. History has often avoided or ignored the Mafia's involvement in Cuba, forgetting that many of the activities there superceded or coincided with the development of Las Vegas.

Rather than a presentation of repetitive facts, however, this book does an excellent job of condensing the political events of the time while also explaining the decades-old Mob interest in Cuba.

Readers will find the story reading like a fantasy as they discover interesting facts surrounding the activities of Frank Sinatra, John F. Kennedy and the bawdy nightlife of the Caribbean.

For those interested in understanding why the US has avoided involvement in Cuba for 50 years, how Batista ruled Cuba and Castro took control, and how the Mafia nearly rose to power internationally, I strongly recommend this book.
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I loved this book for a lot of reasons but it didn't make me want to take my clothes off and go dancin' in the rain. In fact, after reading this account of Havana I wonder when it was that Ricky Martin thought such frivolity would be a good idea. The history of the city and the lifestyle surrounding it's golden years seemed exciting but a little dangerous.

Author T.J. English did a wonderful job of researching the happenings in Cuba in his non-fiction winner, "Havana Nocturne." I relish well- researched histories and with about 330 end notes, some 25 insider interviews, and 11 pages listing the books, articles, essays, transcripts, reports, documentaries, television programs, institutions, and FBI files that English relied on for his information, this book certainly qualifies.

Usually that much research material produces a book with the trudging characteristics of a Russian epic that takes several years to read, but not Havana Nocturne. English has deftly woven the information into a tight record of a couple of decades of activity, and produced an entertaining account of what the Mob and the Cuban government was involved in, all the while naming those who participated in some highly nefarious schemes. All the familiar big-city Mafiosi characters are here, along with the hangers-on from Hollywood, Tampa, Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and Las Vegas-- those who loved the glamour and excitement of a glittering Havana especially prepared to lure them in.

Famous Americans such as John F.
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Format: Hardcover
This wonderfully researched book will be pleasing and enlightening to people who may have two completely differing reading interests. Any Mafia aficionado or student of the history of Cuba, ranging from Governmental corruption to the revolution will be equally mesmerized. The author deftly fits the two stories, which at times precede each other... and at other times post date each other... and of course at times overlap each other... together like a well thought out jigsaw puzzle.

In the eleven years following World War II "direct U.S. business investments in Cuba grew from $142 million to $952 million." (In today's dollars that would be 5-10 times more.) The extent of American interest in Cuba, an island the size of the state of Tennessee, ranked in third place among the nations of the world receiving U.S. investments." The Havana mob which was comprised of American Mafia and their associates, included such historical underworld figures as Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Santo Trafficante, Albert Anastasia, and others. The author skillfully takes you back to Lucky and Meyer's childhood where they grew up together and forged a lifetime friendship and business relationship that eventually led to Meyer Lansky a Jew to be the actual de-facto leader of the mob's dream expansion into Cuba. In case the potential reader isn't aware of the fact; no person can become an official "made-man" unless he's one-hundred-percent Italian. The reader is adroitly taken back through Meyer's entire life, from his growing up tough, despite never rising past 5-feet-4-inches in height as an adult. His absolute love of gambling... but not needing to gamble... is what eventually made him the Mafia's architect in Las Vegas and Cuba.
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Format: Hardcover
The story of Meyer Lansky and his plans to make Cuba into a mobsters' dream: "90 miles from the United States with a friendly (i.e., corrupt and venal) government". Sound familiar? Then you've seen "Godfather II" as I have and believe you're familiar with this story. But there is so much more to it, and T. J. English writes with gusto, amusement and at times admiration at how the American mobsters, led by The Little Man, Jewish Meyer Lansky, dared to dream they could rule Havana aided and abetted by the amoral and corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista. They weren't counting on the Castro brothers and their compatriot, Che Guevera, who had a different vision for Cuba. They became increasingly disgusted at the exploitation of the Cuban people, particularly as sex workers, for the amusement of the gringo tourists. No one gets off easy here, not JFK, not Sinatra, not the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, all of whom were beneficiaries and abettors of the corruption of the Mob. A terrific read and a history lesson which goes down smoothly.
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