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In modern-day Havana, the remnants of the glamorous past are everywhere—old hotel-casinos, vintage American cars & flickering neon signs speak of a bygone era that is widely familiar & often romanticized, but little understood. In Havana Nocturne, T.J. English offers a multifaceted true tale of organized crime, political corruption, roaring nightlife, revolution & internat In modern-day Havana, the remnants of the glamorous past are everywhere—old hotel-casinos, vintage American cars & flickering neon signs speak of a bygone era that is widely familiar & often romanticized, but little understood. In Havana Nocturne, T.J. English offers a multifaceted true tale of organized crime, political corruption, roaring nightlife, revolution & international conflict that interweaves the dual stories of the Mob in Havana & the event that would overshadow it, the Cuban Revolution. As the Cuban people labored under a violently repressive regime throughout the 50s, Mob leaders Meyer Lansky & Charles "Lucky" Luciano turned their eye to Havana. To them, Cuba was the ultimate dream, the greatest hope for the future of the US Mob in the post-Prohibition years of intensified government crackdowns. But when it came time to make their move, it was Lansky, the brilliant Jewish mobster, who reigned supreme. Having cultivated strong ties with the Cuban government & in particular the brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista, Lansky brought key mobsters to Havana to put his ambitious business plans in motion. Before long, the Mob, with Batista's corrupt government in its pocket, owned the biggest luxury hotels & casinos in Havana, launching an unprecedented tourism boom complete with the most lavish entertainment, the world's biggest celebrities, the most beautiful women & gambling galore. But their dreams collided with those of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara & others who would lead the country's disenfranchised to overthrow their corrupt government & its foreign partners—an epic cultural battle that English captures in all its sexy, decadent, ugly glory. Bringing together long-buried historical information with English's own research in Havana—including interviews with the era's key survivors—Havana Nocturne takes readers back to Cuba in the years when it was a veritable devil's playground for mob leaders. English deftly weaves together the parallel stories of the Havana Mob—featuring notorious criminals such as Santo Trafficante Jr & Albert Anastasia—& Castro's 26th of July Movement in a riveting, up-close look at how the Mob nearly attained its biggest dream in Havana—& how Fidel Castro trumped it all with the revolution.


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In modern-day Havana, the remnants of the glamorous past are everywhere—old hotel-casinos, vintage American cars & flickering neon signs speak of a bygone era that is widely familiar & often romanticized, but little understood. In Havana Nocturne, T.J. English offers a multifaceted true tale of organized crime, political corruption, roaring nightlife, revolution & internat In modern-day Havana, the remnants of the glamorous past are everywhere—old hotel-casinos, vintage American cars & flickering neon signs speak of a bygone era that is widely familiar & often romanticized, but little understood. In Havana Nocturne, T.J. English offers a multifaceted true tale of organized crime, political corruption, roaring nightlife, revolution & international conflict that interweaves the dual stories of the Mob in Havana & the event that would overshadow it, the Cuban Revolution. As the Cuban people labored under a violently repressive regime throughout the 50s, Mob leaders Meyer Lansky & Charles "Lucky" Luciano turned their eye to Havana. To them, Cuba was the ultimate dream, the greatest hope for the future of the US Mob in the post-Prohibition years of intensified government crackdowns. But when it came time to make their move, it was Lansky, the brilliant Jewish mobster, who reigned supreme. Having cultivated strong ties with the Cuban government & in particular the brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista, Lansky brought key mobsters to Havana to put his ambitious business plans in motion. Before long, the Mob, with Batista's corrupt government in its pocket, owned the biggest luxury hotels & casinos in Havana, launching an unprecedented tourism boom complete with the most lavish entertainment, the world's biggest celebrities, the most beautiful women & gambling galore. But their dreams collided with those of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara & others who would lead the country's disenfranchised to overthrow their corrupt government & its foreign partners—an epic cultural battle that English captures in all its sexy, decadent, ugly glory. Bringing together long-buried historical information with English's own research in Havana—including interviews with the era's key survivors—Havana Nocturne takes readers back to Cuba in the years when it was a veritable devil's playground for mob leaders. English deftly weaves together the parallel stories of the Havana Mob—featuring notorious criminals such as Santo Trafficante Jr & Albert Anastasia—& Castro's 26th of July Movement in a riveting, up-close look at how the Mob nearly attained its biggest dream in Havana—& how Fidel Castro trumped it all with the revolution.

30 review for Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba & Then Lost it to the Revolution

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    Do you like The Godfather II? Then read this and learn about the real gangsters behind the mob's 1950s invasion of Cuba. TJ English packs in a lot of information regarding a relatively thin sliver of time, creating in Havana Nocturne the perfect time-capsule history lesson, both exciting and captivating. English lays out the twisted web that was 1940s/50s Cuba, including the US Navy's WWII deal with Luciano that got the mobster released from prison, Cuban President Batista's friendship with the US Do you like The Godfather II? Then read this and learn about the real gangsters behind the mob's 1950s invasion of Cuba. TJ English packs in a lot of information regarding a relatively thin sliver of time, creating in Havana Nocturne the perfect time-capsule history lesson, both exciting and captivating. English lays out the twisted web that was 1940s/50s Cuba, including the US Navy's WWII deal with Luciano that got the mobster released from prison, Cuban President Batista's friendship with the US and the mob, the CIA's assistance of the Castro/Guevara revolution against the US-backed Batista regime, and more deceitful good times! I've had a fascination with gangsters and the mafia since first seeing the Godfather movies, which are heavily-based on real life criminals and incidents surrounding them. In Coppola's sequel, the setting shifts to the burgeoning hotel casino and club nightlife of Havana, Cuba just as it did for mob leaders like Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and Santo Trafficante. How they seized control, paid off the Cuban government and essentially overran an entire country is amazing. With this book I got so much more than just unbelievable stories about gangsters. The people's revolt, led by the then little-known Fidel Castro, whose bumbling and poorly outfitted attempts by all rights never should have succeeded, is an incredible life-or-death fairytale. The anything-goes party atmosphere upon the island nation rival the so-called sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. The United States' tourists, wealthy businessmen and politicians like JFK throwing their money and bodies into the carnal fray, while its government looked down its nose and cried "SHAME!" is hypocritical...at best. That any of this ever happened is astounding. The way English tells the tale is outstanding.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mizuki

    It's a non-fictional book about the American Mafia who built an empire in Havana with drizzling tourism activities, gambling and nightclubbing business, and said Mafia's coexistence with the corrupted Cuban government. It's also a story about how the nothing-to-lose revolutionaries eventually overturned said corrupted government and the Mafia alongside it. Too bad that said revolutionaries eventually became a dictatorship in the end. *sighs* After finishing this book I'd thought very long and har It's a non-fictional book about the American Mafia who built an empire in Havana with drizzling tourism activities, gambling and nightclubbing business, and said Mafia's coexistence with the corrupted Cuban government. It's also a story about how the nothing-to-lose revolutionaries eventually overturned said corrupted government and the Mafia alongside it. Too bad that said revolutionaries eventually became a dictatorship in the end. *sighs* After finishing this book I'd thought very long and hard about revolution. The revolutionaries could always hid in the forest after they threw bombs and destroyed proprieties, too bad things don't work this way now when people are facing suppression from evil governments. Not to mention, this chapter of the American Mafia's conquest of Havana had been immortalized by The Godfather Part II. The narration is very readable and interesting. Still, I must wonder why when the tour business was blossoming and casinos were opening left and right and hiring, why the majority of the population were still so poor and angry about their condition? It's worth more looking into.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A brief and engaging account of the Mafia's Cuba enterprises. Not the most useful knowledge to be found, unless you want to impress your husband during video night by pointing out all of the flaws in The Godfather, Part II. Probably not a good way to set the mood, come to think of it, but who needs the mood set? Zombies come from Haiti, not Cuba. Thus, I cannot explain why they hired one to read this book aloud. I must say, though, that I really didn't mind his style by the time I reached the en A brief and engaging account of the Mafia's Cuba enterprises. Not the most useful knowledge to be found, unless you want to impress your husband during video night by pointing out all of the flaws in The Godfather, Part II. Probably not a good way to set the mood, come to think of it, but who needs the mood set? Zombies come from Haiti, not Cuba. Thus, I cannot explain why they hired one to read this book aloud. I must say, though, that I really didn't mind his style by the time I reached the end of the book. It was rather satisfying, really.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Santiago

    I was always curious as to knowing more about the Mob ties to Cuba, as I knew just tidbits of info; 'Havana Nocturne' lays everything bare from the beginning to virtually that last shakened cocktail in the Mob-run casinos on that fateful New Year's Day of 1959. From Meyer Lansky, the Lower East Side kid who grew to be the brains behind the Mob muscle and brawn, and the brilliant architect of who was very close to making Havana the "Monte Carlo of the Caribbean"; President Fulgencio Batista, the I was always curious as to knowing more about the Mob ties to Cuba, as I knew just tidbits of info; 'Havana Nocturne' lays everything bare from the beginning to virtually that last shakened cocktail in the Mob-run casinos on that fateful New Year's Day of 1959. From Meyer Lansky, the Lower East Side kid who grew to be the brains behind the Mob muscle and brawn, and the brilliant architect of who was very close to making Havana the "Monte Carlo of the Caribbean"; President Fulgencio Batista, the dictator of Cuba who gave the go ahead to the Mob casinos on Havana - as long as he received large shares of the profits; and cast of characters who are steep in Mob lore: Lucky Luciano, Santo Trafficante, Bugsy Siegel, even the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra, makes a guest appearance. In addition to the Havana Mob syndicate who were intent on revamping the city, English also detailed the mores and attitudes of Havana which was quite the Sin City before Las Vegas, with very whim, predilection, vice and fantasy that could be indulged. And remember that character of "Superman" in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather II"? He was a real person!! But of course, as history tells us, corrpution and a dictatorship breeds dissension, and eventually, a 'revolution' will take place, which all began with a Havana lawyer - Fidel Castro. Meticulously researched and concise, not to mention a thoroughly good read, "Havana Nocturne" almost begs to posit a 'What if . . ": if Batista had effectively squashed the Fidelistas, would Meyer have succeeded in transforming his "Pearl of the Antilles"? Makes you wonder. Highly recommended.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is an engagingly-told and well-researched story, the story of Havana in the 50s, a city of nightclubs, casinos, sex shows, and the Afro-Cuban jazz scene---all run by the Mob, organized mainly by Meyer Lansky, with massive payouts to Cuban dictator General Batista. Millions were there to be made with no end in sight to the partying--but, in the jungles, the forces of revolution were gathering under Fidel Castro and "Che" Guevara... This is an engagingly-told and well-researched story, the story of Havana in the 50s, a city of nightclubs, casinos, sex shows, and the Afro-Cuban jazz scene---all run by the Mob, organized mainly by Meyer Lansky, with massive payouts to Cuban dictator General Batista. Millions were there to be made with no end in sight to the partying--but, in the jungles, the forces of revolution were gathering under Fidel Castro and "Che" Guevara...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    An excellent history of the Cuban Revolution as seen through the eyes of the American mobsters who built an incredible casino industry and practically ruled a country. This is as impartial a recitation of history as you are likely to find anywhere.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    T.J. English combines a historian's diligence with a crime reporter's appetite for bloody gossip and revealing, sleazy anecdotes. The story of how Lucky Luciano and a cabal of American gangsters worked to turn Havana into a Caribbean Las Vegas (with the help of dictator Fulgencio Batista) has been lying around for decades, waiting to be told properly, and English has done lots of valuable spadework and original reporting. He also fits the gangsters into the political currents of the time. For th T.J. English combines a historian's diligence with a crime reporter's appetite for bloody gossip and revealing, sleazy anecdotes. The story of how Lucky Luciano and a cabal of American gangsters worked to turn Havana into a Caribbean Las Vegas (with the help of dictator Fulgencio Batista) has been lying around for decades, waiting to be told properly, and English has done lots of valuable spadework and original reporting. He also fits the gangsters into the political currents of the time. For those who a5re interested in the gray area where crime, business and politics overlap, this book is a must-read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    MM Suarez

    An excellent non-fiction account of the Mob's hold on Cuba and the Batista government, and how the Castro revolution foiled their plans for the island. Well researched and beautifully written it reads like a novel, and it's both entertaining and informative. An excellent non-fiction account of the Mob's hold on Cuba and the Batista government, and how the Castro revolution foiled their plans for the island. Well researched and beautifully written it reads like a novel, and it's both entertaining and informative.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    I knew that Cuba was a "vacation spot" before Castro came to power (I recall my mom telling me her parents went there at least once) and that Batista was an "oppressive dictator" of some kind (to be fair, there are so many it's hard to keep them straight), but I didn't really know the whole story of the mob involvement in Cuba. This book fills in those details rather nicely. At the end, when Batista flees the country and the mobsters are frantically going from casino to casino to grab all their I knew that Cuba was a "vacation spot" before Castro came to power (I recall my mom telling me her parents went there at least once) and that Batista was an "oppressive dictator" of some kind (to be fair, there are so many it's hard to keep them straight), but I didn't really know the whole story of the mob involvement in Cuba. This book fills in those details rather nicely. At the end, when Batista flees the country and the mobsters are frantically going from casino to casino to grab all their money before escaping, I almost felt bad for them. But then I am reminded that all that money came from the suffering of the Cuban people, which was glossed over in this book, but oh well, a book can't have everything. And here we are 56 years later and we Americans are still going into conniptions over the mere suggestion that we loosen the embargo on Cuba. We hate Castro because he hurt our feelings way back when and has the gall to keep on living. His human rights abuses are certainly bad, but that certainly didn't bother us when Batista was in power, nor does it bother us now when it's our allies. I could keep going with this rant, but I won't bother; it's pretty unoriginal of me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    My interest in Cuba was kindled by a trip that I recently took there. I was struck by the many contradictions I witnessed, and I had a strong sense of a country on the verge of tremendous change. I was very curious to get a better understanding of what had led to the Revolution in the first place, rather than just looking at it as a failed social experiment. The book details how American mobsters became the dominant economic and political power in Cuba during the 1950s. Much of this centered on My interest in Cuba was kindled by a trip that I recently took there. I was struck by the many contradictions I witnessed, and I had a strong sense of a country on the verge of tremendous change. I was very curious to get a better understanding of what had led to the Revolution in the first place, rather than just looking at it as a failed social experiment. The book details how American mobsters became the dominant economic and political power in Cuba during the 1950s. Much of this centered on the mutually beneficial relationship between lead mobster Meyer Lansky and President Batista. It helped me to see the level of corruption and exploitation perpetrated by the Americans and Cuban politicians. The book also followed the young Fidel Castro through his formative years and his rise to power. I liked the writing style- clear, easy to follow and engaging. An excellent read for any one who wants to understand Cuba's present by understanding its past.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Maphead

    Must have been good because I couldn't put it down. Must have been good because I couldn't put it down.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    A pretty fascinating history. The author seemed a little too happy about Castro's rise to power, though, but maybe I'm just being sensitive. If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews! A pretty fascinating history. The author seemed a little too happy about Castro's rise to power, though, but maybe I'm just being sensitive. If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pete daPixie

    A fairly comprehensive history of twentieth century Cuba and the infiltration of organised crime into the island that ended with the revolution of Fidel Castro in 1959. Written chronologically in essays of around twenty page chapters, the author utilises many previous publications as well as first hand interviews to produce a coherent and well written documentary of 'The Havana Mob'.(2007) The principal players of 'Lucky' Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante with a full supporting cast of A fairly comprehensive history of twentieth century Cuba and the infiltration of organised crime into the island that ended with the revolution of Fidel Castro in 1959. Written chronologically in essays of around twenty page chapters, the author utilises many previous publications as well as first hand interviews to produce a coherent and well written documentary of 'The Havana Mob'.(2007) The principal players of 'Lucky' Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante with a full supporting cast of Mafiosi, aided and abetted by dictator Fulgencio Batista laid the world's biggest golden egg, only for Fidel, Raul and Che to achieve in weeks what Hoover's FBI along with other U.S. agencies had failed to do over decades and hole the underworld operations below the waterline. Full of fascinating anecdotes and exposure of involvement in the Havana high life of such as Frank "Any report that I fraternise with goons and racketeers is a vicious lie" Sinatra. A playground of sea, sand and sex for the rich and famous in the plush casinos, hotels and erotic hot spots that turned Cuba's capital into a Sodom and Gommorah. Sadly, the name of Jack Ruby is not mentioned in the cast list, although his associate Lewis McWillie is covered. Ruby's sojourns to Havana to visit McWillie and his reported visits to Trafficante during the Dons incarceration in Triscornia seem odd omissions. There are many ironies in the detail of Mr English's text. I had to smile when learning of Meyer Lansky's estate when he died in 1983 was just 57,000 dollars. Now the labour leader's screamin' When they close the missile plants United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore Call it peace, or call it treason Call it love, or call it reason But I ain't marching anymore!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    A year ago my roommate's mother came on her annual visit with an interesting-looking book about the Mafia in Cuba. This year she returned with the book in hand, intending to leave it with us. Havana Nocturne traces Cuban history in terms of the Mob from the twenties through the revolution in 1959 to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The focus, however, is on 12/1946, the organized crime planning conference at Havana's Hotel Nacional, to early 1959, when the gangsters were thrown out A year ago my roommate's mother came on her annual visit with an interesting-looking book about the Mafia in Cuba. This year she returned with the book in hand, intending to leave it with us. Havana Nocturne traces Cuban history in terms of the Mob from the twenties through the revolution in 1959 to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The focus, however, is on 12/1946, the organized crime planning conference at Havana's Hotel Nacional, to early 1959, when the gangsters were thrown out of the country and their properties--clubs, hotels and casinos--were expropriated. The author, who specializes in crime history, writes accessibly and informally--sometimes too informally for my tastes, concerned as I am with the documented historicity of what I'm reading. Material from published sources is supplemented by interviews with some surviving principals. While there is irony throughout and parts are positively funny, the whole picture is an ugly one, the author's thesis being that 1946-59 represented a period in which organized crime virtually took over a government for its own purposes. In this story few come across favorably. In addition to the dictator, Batista, and his thugs, the Mafia leadership and their thugs, there is an array of the rich, powerful and famous who benefitted, a list which includes the PanAm and Hilton corporations, U.S. ambassadors, Senator Jack Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, numerous film actors, stage performers and, of course, lawyers and their firms. If there are any heroes in this book they are the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and all those other Cubans who conducted the virtually bloodless overthrow of the kleptocracy.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Clif

    Havana Nocturne is a delightful read. It has adventure, revolution, violence, murder, sex, movie stars, the Mob, lavish entertainment, an exotic locale, JFK and Frank Sinatra! And it's all true. The book is based on the rise and fall of reclusive Meyer Lansky. Lansky, like many mobsters, came from a squalid youth in a poor section of NYC and found wealth addicting. No scheme was too grand, no hotel large enough. In pre-Castro Cuba it looked like the whole place could be owned what with the corrupt Havana Nocturne is a delightful read. It has adventure, revolution, violence, murder, sex, movie stars, the Mob, lavish entertainment, an exotic locale, JFK and Frank Sinatra! And it's all true. The book is based on the rise and fall of reclusive Meyer Lansky. Lansky, like many mobsters, came from a squalid youth in a poor section of NYC and found wealth addicting. No scheme was too grand, no hotel large enough. In pre-Castro Cuba it looked like the whole place could be owned what with the corrupt Batista in charge. Unlike many mobsters, Lansky preferred to manage the show rather than be in it. He held on to power because he was respected for his ability to turn ill-gotten gains into bricks and mortar. His projects flowered and Americans poured south to experience the high life, see the stars and indulge in the kinky if so inclined. Lansky's magic touch made his dreams and those of many others come true...with the notable exception of the mass of Cuban people. Than came a man with a beard to take it all away. If you are a fast reader you might be able to read this book in two days, but however long it takes you, you will enjoy it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alissa Thorne

    Mobsters and hookers and spies, oh my! A compelling and mind boggling tale of hedonistic paradise hand crafted by gangsters in the city of Havana, Cuba and later seized and crushed by Castro[1]. This historical account alternates from the lives of powerful leaders of organized crime in the era, to the big picture influences of their actions on culture and history. It's possible that a true history buff would find this somewhat lacking in detail, as the style had more of an emphasis on storytellin Mobsters and hookers and spies, oh my! A compelling and mind boggling tale of hedonistic paradise hand crafted by gangsters in the city of Havana, Cuba and later seized and crushed by Castro[1]. This historical account alternates from the lives of powerful leaders of organized crime in the era, to the big picture influences of their actions on culture and history. It's possible that a true history buff would find this somewhat lacking in detail, as the style had more of an emphasis on storytelling than education. But what a great story it was. [1] The author has an undeniable pro-Castro bent. I didn't find this to get in, the way of a great story, nor of me forming my own interpretations of events.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Melinda Elizabeth

    The Havana Mob and their business interests in Cuba is an interesting glimpse into a time long gone. Focusing on some of the less public mobsters (such as Meyer Lansky), the novel takes us through the late 40's and 50's as the Mob ran some profitable rackets out of Havana. Well detailed and paced, the book provides enough of the legal and political components to give a good background to the rising revolution soon to hit Cuba, and enough Mob gossip to make it a very interesting read. The Havana Mob and their business interests in Cuba is an interesting glimpse into a time long gone. Focusing on some of the less public mobsters (such as Meyer Lansky), the novel takes us through the late 40's and 50's as the Mob ran some profitable rackets out of Havana. Well detailed and paced, the book provides enough of the legal and political components to give a good background to the rising revolution soon to hit Cuba, and enough Mob gossip to make it a very interesting read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cristobal

    A fascinating look at the postwar history of Cuba and how thanks to an incredibly corrupt government the US mob started a plan to convert the island into its international center of operations. Interlaced with a brief history of the nascent revolutionary movement that would end up thwarting the mob's advance, the book's writing gives a great overview of the unseen forces that also allowed the revolution to triumph and how its consequences would reverberate in the US. A fascinating look at the postwar history of Cuba and how thanks to an incredibly corrupt government the US mob started a plan to convert the island into its international center of operations. Interlaced with a brief history of the nascent revolutionary movement that would end up thwarting the mob's advance, the book's writing gives a great overview of the unseen forces that also allowed the revolution to triumph and how its consequences would reverberate in the US.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joe Kraus

    A couple points of preamble, I suppose. The kind of organized crime history I write is in more or less direct conflict with what English writes. I take it as an axiom that we can never genuinely know what happened among men who, literally, lied as part of their everyday professional lives. Not only that, but they often depended on those lies having currency. As I like to put it, gangsters worked to make people believe they had power and influence at the same time as they worked to keep proof of A couple points of preamble, I suppose. The kind of organized crime history I write is in more or less direct conflict with what English writes. I take it as an axiom that we can never genuinely know what happened among men who, literally, lied as part of their everyday professional lives. Not only that, but they often depended on those lies having currency. As I like to put it, gangsters worked to make people believe they had power and influence at the same time as they worked to keep proof of that power away from anyone who might be able to prosecute them for it. They misled everyone as a practice, so how can we hope fully to untangle the true story decades later. As a consequence, I am always at least as interested in the footnotes of a gangster history as I am in the main text of it. As a result, then, I’m not doing this book justice since, in listening to it, I couldn’t indulge my habit of looking for (and evaluating) the quality of the source for each controversial claim. If I’d read this on paper, I might have better things to say about it…or possibly worse. What English does here, and also in Paddy Whacked which, while never reading in full, I’ve read in often over the years, is flesh the myth of the Mafia into a larger, at least semi-documented story. He’s a storyteller, which is something I admire, but I’m not always convinced that he’s on top of the latest findings of others who – at the price of not telling their stories as smoothly – tell them more accurately and with a greater a awareness of what the sources allow us to say with confidence. There’s a spot here early where English talks about what’s been called “The Night of the Sicilian Vespers,” a supposed wave of killings that knocked off the old time “Mustache Petes” of the Mafia in favor of the younger generation of mobsters personified by (and purportedly headed up by) Lucky Luciano. Those “Vespers” are a central part of Mafia lore and are acknowledged in FBI accounts as well as in most popular histories of the mob. The trouble is that, as academic historian Alan Block has shown, there were no such murders. With one possible exception, there are simply no records of potential Mafiosi killed in the months following Luciano’s taking out of Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. Joe Valachi may have reported it before the McClellan Committee, but it was either hearsay or myth. It didn’t happen, and English ought to be aware of that. Or, later, he’ll often quote Luciano’s “last testament,” a quasi-biography he dictated to reporters near the end of his life. Like Meyer Lansky’s interviews with Israeli journalists in the early 1970s, though – interviews that English cites several times – such autobiographical works were highly contextualized. Luciano was trying to interest someone in making a film about his life (and in bringing substantial rights fees with it) so he both glamorized his experiences and downplayed his own crimes. Lansky meanwhile was trying to get the Israeli government to grant him citizenship under the Law of Return that guaranteed it to any Jew who requested it. As a result, he played up his Jewish identity and worked to cast himself as someone who’d always been an outsider. In the sort of gangster history I value, those accounts do matter, but they matter as part of the larger, contested stories in circulation about each man. They don’t tell us what happened, but they do tell us something about the way these men were trying to shape their own reputations. To be fair, though, English has a different agenda. He has a version of organized crime history that comes out of the “great man” school. For him, the major players – Lansky above all – had a vision and went on to realize it. I don’t especially buy that Lansky scoped out the situation in the 1930s that would develop in the 1950s, but there is evidence that he did. I read it that Lansky was always looking for opportunities, that he likely explored dozens of other ventures going way back. English can’t be entirely wrong in asserting that Lansky eyed the possibility of taking over the nation of Cuba decades before it actually happened. And English has an appealing way with words and narrative. I know firsthand how hard it is to tease a narrative out of a range of characters who are working simultaneously toward a mostly shared (but sometimes contested) end. He does a nice job of moving his story forward and then back-tracking to give the biography of some new and essential figure: Batista, Luciano, Lansky, Trafficante, and Castro. No one of those chapters is as strong as the books dedicated to each individual, but those other books don’t weave so broad a story. In the end, I did enjoy the well-defined scope of the narrative here and, tip-of-the-hat, he even managed to dig up a detail that I wish I’d had for my own book. And that I could have had if I’d read this sooner – Chicago Jewish gangster David Yaras, with, I would claim his partner Lenny Patrick – ran the San Souci casino in the early mobbed up years. I knew that detail, though the FBI gives them a different Mafia partner (Detroit’s Joe Massei according to the FBI, Pittsburgh’s Sam Mannarino here), but I wish I’d known this claim that Yaras was part of first wave of short-sighted thugs as opposed to the subtler, long-term thinking of Lansky and his crew. So, if you’re curious about this era of Cuba – and it’s often fascinating for the way it helped invent a music and a style that defined much of the era – and if you’re not as hung up on the footnotes as I am, there’s a lot here to enjoy.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lois Brandt

    I read this before travelling to Cuba and was intrigued by the history of the mob, the US Government, and the Cuban government. Lots of detail here, but the devil, in this case, really is in the detail. Totally appalled at our government's collusion with the mob. Many US senators and American capitalists lost money when the Cuban revolution occurred. With the embargo we are still exacting revenge. Just enough information about Castro to push one to read further. He, obviously, had good intention I read this before travelling to Cuba and was intrigued by the history of the mob, the US Government, and the Cuban government. Lots of detail here, but the devil, in this case, really is in the detail. Totally appalled at our government's collusion with the mob. Many US senators and American capitalists lost money when the Cuban revolution occurred. With the embargo we are still exacting revenge. Just enough information about Castro to push one to read further. He, obviously, had good intentions, but power does corrupt. What Castro missed was that Democracy, as messy as it can be, is the only form of government that can work. As far as economic goes, communism doesn't work. On the other hand, this book shows what horrors happen with unregulated capitalism. I guess what is left is socialism, regulated by a democracy with strong protections for civil liberties. Cuba is a lovely country, suffering because of an immoral embargo perpetuated by myopic US politics. Read this book. Visit Cuba.

  21. 5 out of 5

    C.E. Clayton

    For the most part, this is an interesting historical account of the American Mob's lofty goals for Havana, and how they all abruptly ended with the revolution. However, the narrative wanders, detailing every single mob boss even tangentially connected to the casinos and hotels run by bigger mob players. Most of these people were murdered, so, while interesting, they weren't ultimately important to the overall history. There also wasn't a ton on what Castro was doing up in the mountains? The Revo For the most part, this is an interesting historical account of the American Mob's lofty goals for Havana, and how they all abruptly ended with the revolution. However, the narrative wanders, detailing every single mob boss even tangentially connected to the casinos and hotels run by bigger mob players. Most of these people were murdered, so, while interesting, they weren't ultimately important to the overall history. There also wasn't a ton on what Castro was doing up in the mountains? The Revolution kept getting beaten until suddenly they were victorious, so I would have liked more on what Castro was actually up to. Overall, the subject was interesting, but it was very easy for me to put this book down for days and days without feeling any burning need or drive to pick it back up again. The writing was rather dry, but it held such great promise that I'll definitely be checking out other books by this author.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Tryon

    I liked this book because it uses first person interviews to portray the fifteen years leading up to the Cuban Revolution from a perspective we don't often hear about. The faction in American society that dominates our understanding of Cuba are the expatriates who, arguably, represent the side of a repressive dictator who lost a civil war, along with some refugees who have suffered under the failures of the communist regime that has been in power ever since. But the government of Cuba has not fa I liked this book because it uses first person interviews to portray the fifteen years leading up to the Cuban Revolution from a perspective we don't often hear about. The faction in American society that dominates our understanding of Cuba are the expatriates who, arguably, represent the side of a repressive dictator who lost a civil war, along with some refugees who have suffered under the failures of the communist regime that has been in power ever since. But the government of Cuba has not failed in every respect. It certainly has retained the support of its people longer than any of the series of failed dictatorships that preceded it. One can argue that, had the American government supported the new Cuban government in 1959 (after facilitating the dictator's escape), we might have averted the Cuban Missile Crisis altogether, and Cuba would be a much different society today. Havana Nocturne presents a seemingly objective narrative that makes one think such an alternative history was within our grasp sixty years ago. One cannot escape the possibility that the United States stumbled into its hostile opposition to Castro because of the power of some rather suspect groups. These groups included organized crime, corrupt public officials, and Cuban expatriates who were beneficiaries of a military dictatorship that enabled the systematic exploitation of their country. The author, TJ English, scrupulously documents his assertions. The sources vary in quality, but the perspective English brings to this subject is important to understanding how we should approach our future foreign policy with respect to Cuba. I encourage all Americans to read this book and consider how we can replace the hostility that has dominated Cuban-American relations for the past sixty years with a more positive relationship that will benefit both countries.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Heidi Hilty

    This non-fiction account of Cuba in the post-prohibition years reads like a thriller. The real life characters of Meyer Lansky (and the Mob), Fulgencio Batista (and his brutal dictatorship), and Fidel Castro (with right hand rebels, Che Guevara, and Fidel’s brother, Raul) are juxtaposed as the regime partnered with the Mob to create a lavish “Monte Carlo” in the Caribbean and the rebels lead a remarkable uprising of the outlying areas, steadily closing in on Havana. Well researched and well writ This non-fiction account of Cuba in the post-prohibition years reads like a thriller. The real life characters of Meyer Lansky (and the Mob), Fulgencio Batista (and his brutal dictatorship), and Fidel Castro (with right hand rebels, Che Guevara, and Fidel’s brother, Raul) are juxtaposed as the regime partnered with the Mob to create a lavish “Monte Carlo” in the Caribbean and the rebels lead a remarkable uprising of the outlying areas, steadily closing in on Havana. Well researched and well written in all its “ugly glory.”

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cherryl Northcutt Valdez

    Fantastic! So much I did not know. The author spelled out how everything occured.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rita

    Cuba, in the early part of the 20th century, after its liberation from Spain, was wide open for exploitation and money-making by capitalists. Sugar cane, oil, and minerals were there to be had, if you liberally greased the palms of the politicos. P.xiv: "such was the extent of American interest in Cuba that this island, roughly the size of the state of Tennessee, ranked in third place among the nations of the world receiving U.S. investments. "The financial largesse that flooded Cuba could have be Cuba, in the early part of the 20th century, after its liberation from Spain, was wide open for exploitation and money-making by capitalists. Sugar cane, oil, and minerals were there to be had, if you liberally greased the palms of the politicos. P.xiv: "such was the extent of American interest in Cuba that this island, roughly the size of the state of Tennessee, ranked in third place among the nations of the world receiving U.S. investments. "The financial largesse that flooded Cuba could have been used to address the country's festering social problems. Hunger, illiteracy, subhuman housing, a high infant mortality rate, and the disposition of small farmers had been facts of Life in Cuba throughout the island's turbulent history." The mob in the U.S. had always dreamed of a "mobster haven" where they could run prostitution, nightclubs, casinos, etc that would generate huge income, and with a benevolent government for a business partner. Cuba in Batista's government fit the bill. In 1946, the mob bosses met in Havana to discuss putting together the endeavor. Apparently, they didn't believe in eating produce, grains, and beans; hundreds of Animals were murdered for their appetites: P.33: "the first night, the group eschewed business and met at a special banquet room on the lower level of the hotel. A gourmet feast was prepared, made up mostly of local dishes. There were crab and queen conch enchiladas brought from the southern archipelago. For the main course, there was a choice of roast breast of flamingo, tortoise stew, roast tortoise with lemon and garlic, and crayfish, oysters, and grilled swordfish from the nearby fishing village of cojímar. There was also grilled venison sent by a government Minister from Camagüey who owned livestock and, the most obscure delicacy of all, grilled Manatee. The guest drank añejo RuM and smoked Montecristo cigars." 😠😠😠😠 Narcissistic Frank Sinatra, with his Italian ancestry, was attracted to the mob in Havana. He got the mob to finance a spotlight put on him in cabarets where he performed there: P.40-1: "a partnership between Sinatra and the mob was a two-way street. According to Luciano, he and other mafiosi had invested in Sinatra's career from the very beginning. 'when the time come when some dough was needed to put Frank across with the public, (we) put it up,' Luciano recalled. 'he needed publicity, clothes, different kinds of special music things, and they all cost quite a bit of money - I think it was about 50 or 60 Grand. I okayed the money and it came out of the fund, even though some guys put up a little extra on a personal basis.' "🙄 If you ever wondered why the American mafia was seen through a glamorous filter, and depicted that way in Hollywood, when they were corrupt, morally bankrupt murderers, it was planned and carried out by a New York City mob boss named Arthur Rothstein: P.54: "...rothstein was a myth maker. He understood the Allure of the dark side for the average shnook. Having come from modest means on the lower East side, he knew that part of making the crime world irresistible - an arena to which young men would be drawn like moths to a flame -- involved creating an environment, part reality, part fiction, that everyone wanted to be in. Rothstein hung out at Lindy's restaurant in Times square and schmoozed with reporters, song and dance men, and famous athletes. He knew the writer Damon Runyon who became the basis for the character Nathan Detroit in the Runyon inspired Broadway musical, guys and Dolls. F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have used rothstein as the basis for Meyer wolfsheim, the sleek gangster immortalized in his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. Rothstein was conversant with both gutterlife and Cafe society. He fostered the illusion that all of these universes - crime, entertainment, and a celebrity filled nightlife - were part and parcel of the American underworld." Readers may be surprised to find out, as I was, that Castro did not "party." P.161: "Fidel Castro did not dance the Mambo. In fact, he did not dance at all. "Although he had been a physically active person all his life, the young revolutionary viewed dancing and partying in general as a kind of useless frivolity. He associated the nightclubs and cabarets in Havana with the upper classes, which would lead him to denounce the sort of highlife taking place in the country's capital city as the last refuge of the bourgeoisie. In a letter to a compañero on January 1st, 1955, Castro found it hard to hide his contempt for the Cuban nightlife that was then attracting tourists from around the globe. 'What do our homeland's pain and people's mourning matter to the rich and fatuous who fill the dance halls?' he wrote. 'for them, we are unthinking young people, disturbers of the existing social Paradise. There will be no lack of idiots who think we envy them and aspire to the same miserable idle and reptilian existence they enjoy today.' " And this author gave us plenty of laughs, including this one, the story of a cabaret performer from Minnesota. You can look this one up on Google and see a picture of her: P.213-4: "and who could forget the appearance in Havana of Bubbles Darlene? "An exotic dancer from Minnesota, Darlene (real name Virginia Lachinia) was in town to perform at the casino cabaret in the Sevilla Biltmore hotel. One afternoon she decided to stroll along The tree-lined Prado wearing nothing but black panties and a transparent raincoat carrying a parasol. Cars screeched to a halt and heads turned. Blond and topless, Bubbles Darlene sauntered with one hand on her hip and a Sly smile on her face. she had wisely tipped off a photographer from cabaret magazine to capture the moment on film. Supposedly, the entire stunt was inspired by a Cuban song, 'La Engañadora' - the deceiver - which tells the story of a woman who fools her boyfriend by wearing falsies. "Police arrived on the scene. An officer took the naked woman by the arm and asked, 'what's wrong with you? Where are you from?' " 'I do not want to deceive anyone,' replied bubbles. Then she tried to recite - in Spanish - the lyrics from 'La Engañadora.' "At the station a cop asked her again, 'where are you from?' " 'from everywhere,' she answered. 'art has no boundaries.' "Eventually she told the police that she was an exotic dancer who specialized in a striptease version of the Mambo. Her explanation for walking the streets was reprinted in cabaret yearbook: 'it was hot and I decided to get out of my hotel room for a walk. I was listening to the radio playing "the deceiver." I knew that the lyrics of the song dealt With a girl who wore falsies in order to have a better figure. Well, I thought, I don't need falsies and I'm going to show the world the song is not true about all girls. So I went into the street like this. I did not think the Cubans would mind.' "Bubbles was fined $50 for indecent exposure and let go. Forever after, she billed herself as 'the dancer that shocked Havana Cuba!' her walk through the streets without clothes was affectionately remembered as a symbol of the entire ribald era. In a time of fraudulent governments, secret police, clandestine political activity, and Mobsters, Bubbles Darlene, at least, was no deceiver." With a government addicted to heavy graft, the mafia proprietors of many venues were happy to oblige with no-holds-barred entertainment in many of the nightclubs and cabarets, for the sex-hungry tourists who came there with their tongues hanging out: P.218: "there were three shows a night, running from 9:30 p.m. to the wee hours of the morning. Prices ranged from $0.65 for a bench in the balcony to $1.25 for a chair in front of the stage. The place was surprisingly big, with seats for approximately 500 on the main floor and 300 on the balcony. A red velvet curtain was a holdover from the club's days as a legitimate theater. "A typical opening act featured the dance team of Lopez and Romero. To a hot Mambo rhythm, Alfred Romero and Conchita Lopez negotiated an 'Apache dance,' with Alfred stripping off pieces of conchita's clothing as they went. Eventually the female would be dancing completely naked. later came the main act, which usually involved some form of live sex. The headliner shows were better if you spoke Spanish because much of the dialogue involved vulgar Street language and sexual innuendo. "One typical skit that played for weeks at the Shanghai depicted a man and woman at a restaurant. They are seated at a bare table. A waiter approaches with menus. The man asks the waiter, 'where is the table ware?' without a word, the waiter produces forks, spoons, knives, and napkins from his pockets and sets the table. After some discussion of the menu, the woman says, 'I'll have coffee.' Out comes a cup and pot, and black coffee is poured. Salt and pepper? 'si, señor,' right here in the hip Pocket. Sugar? 'claro' – of course – in a bottle from the breast pocket. 'where, then, is the cream?' The woman asks. The waiter smiles and then pulls out his penis. The woman fondles the waiter's pinga and proceeds with fellatio until, seemingly on Cue, the waiter ejaculates into the coffee." 🙄🙄🙄🤢 As with every human leader, no matter how pure their original cause, power corrupts, and Castro was no exception. But he was especially brutal with Americans and Cubans who had gotten fat off Batista's blatantly crooked regime: P.308-9: "Fidel had gone from being a tropical Robin Hood and revolutionary leader to a full-blown Christ figure. "It did not take long for the mood to change; Fidel's new saintly persona did not embrace the concept of unconditional forgiveness. The executions began almost immediately, mostly of men who were deemed to deserve it: the worst torturers and assassins of the Batista regime, betrayers of the revolution, or anyone who had engaged in 'counter-revolutionary activity.' They were put up against the wall at la Cabaña fortress and gunned down by firing squad. "The executions without trial brought criticism from the United States and other quarters. Wasn't the 26th of July movement now engaged in the same kind of blood vengeance that typified the previous regime? Castro not only defended 'The people's right' to exact revenge on their enemies and oppressors, he became agitated whenever the question came up. Standing in the massive lobby of the Hilton hotel, which the revolutionary leadership had commandeered as their new headquarters in Havana, Castro was asked by a reporter if he was worried that the United States might intervene. He responded by saying that if the US army attempted to invade the island, there would be '200,000 dead gringos' in the streets of Cuba's cities. Castro later apologized for the intemperate remark, but the damage was done."😂 A fascinating read that was written by an author with consummate skills in his word craft, T.J. English's investigation into Cuba's history from the time of their independence from Spain, through the dictatorship of Fidencio Batista, the beginnings of Castro's revolutionary movement to his takeover, and to present-day Cuba, was developed into an informative, well-researched book. I highly recommend it to anyone who, as I did, wanted to know more about Cuba and our country's dirty involvement in it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Merittlohrsawyer

    If you are traveling to Cuba, this is a very worthwhile read on intersection of U.S./Cuba mob. Absolutely fascinating.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I read this book because Rick had read it and it was here. I prefer to get my history lesson through historical fiction :)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    This look back at Havana leading up to the revolution was a page turner, well-written history of the mob, Hollywood, and Cuban politicos. I loved every page. Some of the characters such as Lucky Luciano-are not nice people, and yet in some strange way, somewhat sympathetic. Godfather meets sopranos. But all true and documented. I read this in preparation for trip to Cuba next year. I also highly recommend Kushner’s novel: Telex from Cuba.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    I vividly remember devouring The Valachi Papers as a pre-teen and being introduced to Lucky Luciano, Joe Bonnano, Vito Genovese, etc. through its pages. Since that time, however, with the exception of when I was watching The Godfather or The Sopranos, I haven't given much thought to the Mob/Mafia/Cosa Nostra. That changed the minute I opened the cover of Havana Nocturne. All of a sudden, I was back with the same characters once again and spending time with Meyer Lansky as he sought to turn Cuba I vividly remember devouring The Valachi Papers as a pre-teen and being introduced to Lucky Luciano, Joe Bonnano, Vito Genovese, etc. through its pages. Since that time, however, with the exception of when I was watching The Godfather or The Sopranos, I haven't given much thought to the Mob/Mafia/Cosa Nostra. That changed the minute I opened the cover of Havana Nocturne. All of a sudden, I was back with the same characters once again and spending time with Meyer Lansky as he sought to turn Cuba into the mob's private island. Mr. English does a superb job of telling both the story of the rise and fall of the mob in Cuba and the story of Fidel Castro's ascent into the seat of power and in weaving the two together until we realize that they really are so intertwined that to treat them separately is to miss the big picture entirely. Although this book is built on well-researched fact, it has the feel of, and holds the reader's attention like it is, well-crafted fiction. It tells an amazing story about an extraordinary time with a cast of characters who all seem larger than life. It also reminds those of us who thought the 40's and 50's were periods of strait-laced boredom and Leave it to Beaver lives that there were a lot of people who were more than happy to dive headfirst into a pool of hedonism (even if only for a while before returning to the conformity of mid-century everyday life). While the Cuba of today is not the Cuba at the time of the revolution, reading this book cannot help but cause one to want to go to Cuba, to walk along the Malecón, to listen to the musical stylings made famous during the final days of the mob's tenure in Cuba and to try to get a sense of what it must have been like to have been there at that point in history. Mr. English does not sugar-coat the fact that the fantasy-world of sex, music, and gambling that the mob built was exploitative of the Cuban people and left a trail of pain in its wake, but he also does not try to deny its allure. In sum, I loved this book for what it taught me about the mob, what it taught me about the Cuban revolution, and for what it taught me about the Cuban people. But most of all I loved this book for being a fun read and for taking me to a time and place I had not personally experienced and leaving me feeling as though I had.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Harry Weber

    def. not my cup of tea. the story might be interesting and i'm sure it would've been an excellent read (in a different book) but it wasn't. and this solely owned to the appallingly boring schoolkid-renarration-style english chooses to use. maybe it's just me, but if i want to read a plain, dry chronicle of the sequence of events i'll read a book on history. and to Rosh (the guy who recommended this book strongly; advocated it: mate, if u want to have a thrilling cuba novel w partially the same e def. not my cup of tea. the story might be interesting and i'm sure it would've been an excellent read (in a different book) but it wasn't. and this solely owned to the appallingly boring schoolkid-renarration-style english chooses to use. maybe it's just me, but if i want to read a plain, dry chronicle of the sequence of events i'll read a book on history. and to Rosh (the guy who recommended this book strongly; advocated it: mate, if u want to have a thrilling cuba novel w partially the same events (ok, not so much mob in there), but written in a style that doesn't drop u bored to death after three pages: go read Stephen Hunter's "Havana", which knocked me off the socks)

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