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Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba... and Then Lost It to the Revolution Paperback – Jun 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 396 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch; Reprint edition (Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061712744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061712746
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.7 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 396,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Draws on previously hidden historical sources and survivor interviews to profile mob-infiltrated Havana in the 1950s and cite the contributions of such figures as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, in an account that traces the relationships between President Batista and such mafia leaders as Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. Simultaneous. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By marcoscu TOP 500 REVIEWER on 8 Aug 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first visited Havana in 1988 and was lucky enough to live their for most of the 1990's and the spirit of the 1950's was everywhere. Due to the lack of modern consumer goods during that time household items, furniture, cars, and many other things from before the revolution were still in use. Older Cubans told me stories of the casinos, movie stars, gangsters and the pleasures and horrors of life under the dictator Batista. I remember attending a party once in Frank Sinatra's former house in Miramar, seeing a storeroom where hundreds of old slot machines were held, reading old copies of the Havana Post... I lived in the Vedado district very close to the hotels which housed the casinos which were the focal point of the gambling industry. Nearly all of Havana's older hotels - Nacional, Riviera, Capri, Havana Libre - feature heavily in this book. These are the places where the gangsters lived and conducted their business and are still popular today with tourists.

So I have always had a great interest in this period of Cuban history and was very keen to read this book. I was not to be disappointed as the book is well researched and very readable marred only by a few out of place turns of phrase (why use profanity in serious work of non fiction?) and some evidence of padding. The account of the events of January 1st 1959, when Batista fled the island, are particularly compelling.

If you have an interest in the American gangsters, Cuba, or have lived in Havana, or stayed in the hotels featured then I can heartily recommend this book. When it comes out in paperback this would be a great read for the flight to your next Cuban holiday!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mark P Makey on 29 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
..a great book and well researched with plenty of interesting accounts by the people that lived through this exciting time in Cubas turbulent history ! A fantastic insight !
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Eriksson on 23 Mar 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
very intereting if one iwants to learn about Cuba before Castro. Also very well written and entertaining.I recommend this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 170 reviews
139 of 143 people found the following review helpful
A sure bet... 9 Jun 2008
By Quixote010 - Published on Amazon.com
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.
93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
Livin' la vida loca not all that healthy. 21 July 2008
By Schuyler T Wallace - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Steve Allen, Lucille Ball, Marlon Brando, George Raft, Graham Greene, Errol Flynn, Dorothy Dandridge, Ava Gardner, Eartha Kitt, Ginger Rogers, Tony Martin, Johnny Mathis, Donald O'Conner, and Tyrone Power, among many others, became real aficionados of the wild Cuban lifestyle and spent a good deal of time sampling it. Give English credit. He's not a muckraker and lurid details of their visits are sparse, but their presence is acknowledged.

Fulgencio Batista's turbulent career as dictator and his repressive regime through the 1950s is brilliantly chronicled as is his open-pocket acceptance of the Mob's movement into the biggest luxury hotels and gambling casinos in Havana. English parallels the lush life and Batista's corrupt governmental activities with the story of a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro who lives in the Cuban mountains, plotting to overthrow Batista and implement his own ideas for the Mob. The author tells of the Revolution, the ouster of Batista, and the double-cross Castro executes against the American mobsters, a move that virtually sent Cuba into an economic downward spiral from which it has never recovered.

This book was a pleasure to read. The writing is taut: the activity is crisply presented. There are many characters involved but the author never loses the reader to the playbill. I haven't enjoyed a book this much for some time. I highly recommend it.
60 of 68 people found the following review helpful
The real Hyman Roth 22 July 2008
By Rita Meter Maid - Published on Amazon.com
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.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
By Rick Shaq Goldstein - Published on Amazon.com
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. Meyer's idol as a young man was Arnold Rothstein, who was famous within mob circles for a number of things, but perhaps his biggest claim to fame was that; "HE WAS THE MAN WHO FIXED THE 1919 WORLD SERIES!" "From the beginning, Lansky understood that games of chance hit some men where they could not breathe. Gambling pulls at the core of a man, he once famously uttered. Most of his life would be spent profiting from the truth of this maxim". Along with Luciano, Ben "Bugsy" Siegel, was one of Lansky's best friend's since their teenage years, yet history credits (or fingers) Meyer for ordering the hit on Bugsy that entailed so many gunshots, that his "intact" eyeball was later found fourteen- feet away from his body. This murder, that was made famous in the Warren Beatty movie in later years, was ordered with the belief that Bugsy was "skimming" money from his mob brethren while overseeing the building of the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas.

Assisting and making possible the mob's dream of a gaming and hotel jackpot in Cuba was Major General and later President Fulgencio Batista. Cuban corruption was not only rampant... and expected... but was part of Lansky's plan and budget. Once again the author brilliantly details the payoffs as well as the dishonest banks and businesses. The reader will also be educated on Fidel Castro's life from being a child of a well off family, to law student, to revolutionary leader. Included is his historically famous "HISTORY WILL ABSOLVE ME" speech.

Intermixed with the gambling and Cuban government are riveting scenes of Frank Sinatra transporting millions of dollars in a suitcase from America to Cuba, acting as no more than a "bagman" for his pal Lucky Luciano. You'll feel like a fly on the wall as Sinatra and Lucky are involved in a wild orgy, which is interrupted, when security in the hotel mistakenly lets a nun and some girl scouts in to the room where the orgy is being held. You'll learn about Senator John F. Kennedy's orgy during a trip to Cuba in December 1957, paid for in full by a Mafia boss.

The legendary "MURDER INCORPORATED" is dissected including the story of Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, "who was a "canary" who "sang like a bird". Before he was done singing "he had given details on some two-hundred murders, he had personally participated in or had intimate knowledge of, leading to forty-nine prosecutions. Several top killers went to the electric chair, including the murderous Louis Lepke."

In 1941 "Kid Twist" "was still giving information and building cases for the Brooklyn D.A.'s office. "Next in line to be prosecuted was Albert Anastasia. The D.A.'s office announced that they were on the cusp of "the perfect case" against the feared BOSS of Murder Inc. The most prized informer in the history of organized crime was being held in a room at the Half Moon Hotel, on the boardwalk in Coney Island. He was guarded round the clock by a contingent of six cops, proud members of New York's finest. Somehow, "Kid Twist" took the plunge. The cops said they didn't know how it happened. They were dozing off when "Kid Twist" tried to escape and "fell" six stories to his death. Or maybe he tried to commit suicide. Forever after, some in the press and public believed that cops had been paid off and were part of the hit. "Kid Twist's" demise led to one of the more famous epitaphs in mob history:"

******* "HE COULD SING BUT HE COULDN'T FLY!" *******
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating 13 Jan 2009
By A Vandermeer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I recall very vividly reading the headlines regarding Fidel Castro's revolution as a boy in 1959 as I unbundled newspapers in prepration for delivery on my route. As an 11 year old, I wondered whether Castro was a "good guy" or a "bad guy." I posed the question to my father and received an equivocal response. I gather, in retrospect, that he didn't know either, and neither did most Americans at the time.

This book presents some of the history of of pre-Castro Cuba from about the middle 1940's from the point of view the "Mob's" securing a foothold there and becoming, by 1959 a dominant force in the tourist, gambling and vice industries. The facts seem to be well documented, and the book reads almost like a novel.

I found the following brief excerpt to be particularly telling:

"Nor was Santo Trafficante inclined to flee [from post-Castro Havana]. In a phone conversation with his attorney, he declared, 'Castro is a complete nut! He's not going to be in power or office for long. Either Batista will return or someone else will replace this guy because there's no way the economy can continue without tourists, and this guy is closing all the hotels and casinos. This is a temporary storm. It'll blow over.'"

Now, nearly fifty years later the Castro strom still has not blown over.

Havana Nocturne is well written, thoroughly researched and entertaining. What it lacks, to me, is any insight into the mindset of the Cuban people generally and why they rallied behind Castro and his ragtag band of revolutionaries. It is clear that the Mob interests in Havana had too much faith in Batista for their own good, and underestimated Castro's determination and charisma.

Highly recommended.
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