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Monday, May 7, 2012

“Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause”, by Tom Gjelten

480 pages, Viking Press, ISBN-13: 978-0670019786

There has recently been a renewed interest in prerevolutionary Cuba. This stems from the fact that Cuba today is so unromantic, so poor and stricken with prostitution, that people want to understand not only the prehistory of Castro but also the time before Castro. This has given us new studies of the Mafia in Cuba and recent books on the Americans who fought in the revolution. This book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause, examines a previously unstudied subject, the history of the Bacardi family and Cuba. Most would have assumed the family, being some of the wealthier citizens of the island, would not have been Castro supporters or progressive in the least bit. But the truth is quite different.

Looking for insights on Cuban history, culture, politics, Castro--this is a good historical exposition of a country that has gone through more turmoil and experiments in government than perhaps any other in the Western hemisphere. Looking for an informative and exciting narrative about a family owned company--this is a very moving story of a strong-willed entrepreneurial family blessed with three masterful CEOs in succession who figured out how to succeed worldwide despite being headquartered in a relatively unsophisticated financial backwater. Put these two stories together and the result is the proverbial whole being greater than the sum of its parts: an excellent journey juxtaposing financial acumen combined with patriotism, on the one hand, against a variety of dismaying governmental experiments, on the other, including Spanish colonialism, years of revolution, US intervention, embryonic democracy, dictatorship, and a Marxist state economic system. This was obviously a labor of love for Gjelten, a first rate NPR reporter and analyst, as reflected in the source documentation provided unobtrusively at the end of the book, the very thorough and useful Bacardi family tree and the extensive photograph collection that brings even more life to the already well-drawn characters.

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