Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba--and Then Lost It to the Revolution
Booklist Reviews 2008 April #1
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. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2008 April #1
Following the success of his previous mob histories, Paddy Whacked and The Westies , English relates the rise and fall of the mob in Havana, from the early days of Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano to the cruel regime of Batista and then Castro's revolution. English's engaging narrative reads with the gripping quality of fiction: the dark underworld of Havana comes to life in the author's lively descriptions of gambling, drugs, and sex. Using government hearings, published sources, and his own recent interviews, the author shows us Lansky and the mob, for whom Cuba was a dream come true—a gambling Mecca turned money magnet—all under the protection of the corrupt Batista administration. Mobster types descended on the island for a share of the excitement and profits, but revolution was fermenting. The dream burst as Castro and the "bearded ones" targeted gambling, corruption, and American influences so prevalent in Havana. English mixes his own insights about the Cuban Revolution into his specific accounts of mob influence and criminal activity. The results are highly recommended for public and academic libraries.—Boyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Libs., Alabama[Page 92]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
PW Reviews 2008 February #1
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)[Page 50]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.