About Time I Read It: Havana Nocturne by T. J. English

Ever since I saw it advertised in the Quality Paperback Book Club catalog just over a decade ago I’ve been wanting to read T. J. English’s Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution. Honestly, I’m not sure why since I’ve never been a giant fan of organized crime sagas. (Although The Godfather and its sequel The Godfather Part II are two of my favorite all-time films.) But maybe I could not resist its promised tales of glamorous and sexy floorshows, high stakes gambling, corruption, and political intrigue from years gone by. Last week at my public library I finally gave in to my slightly less than wholesome desires and borrowed a copy of English’s 2008 book. Either I’m morally corrupt or it’s a heck of a book because I couldn’t put it down.

For 60 years Americans pretty much did as they wished in Cuba after defeating the Spanish in the Spanish-American War at the turn of the 20th century. During Prohibition Americans flocked to the island to imbibe its many intoxicants while others illegally shipped those same liquors back to the states. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933 things quieted down for the next 10 years or so because of the Depression and World War II. Then, after the United States emerged victorious from the War and entered an era of unprecedented prosperity Cuba’s capital of Havana transformed was transformed into a roaring adult playground of hotels, casinos, brothels and nightclubs. And the Mob ran it all.

Even though the FBI’s dictatorial Director J. Edger Hoover publicly proclaimed the Mafia was a myth, many powerful American congressmen thought otherwise and began using the new medium of television to hold televised hearings to expose the Mob’s many criminal activities. As a result the barons of American organized crime like Meyer Lansky, Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Santo Trafficante saw Cuba as a potential goldmine untouchable by American law enforcement. By investing in casinos, fancy nightclubs with world-class entertainment and high-rise hotels the Mob bosses hopes to build the Caribbean’s answer to Monte Carlo. With the island nation’s dictator Fulgencio Batista and his cronies paid off and in on the operation Cuba was, in effect a sovereign nation ruled in the best interests of organized crime.

As the old cliche goes, nothing last forever. Even though by the late 1950s Cuba had one of the strongest economies and highest standards of living in Latin America and certainly in the Caribbean, no matter how much money the casinos and fancy hotels generated, or rum, sugar and nickel Cuba exported little if any of that wealth trickled down to the nation’s millions of peasants and impoverished urban dwellers. Sweeping reforms were impossible since the nation was hopelessly corrupt and Batista ruled with an iron hand. Only after Fidel Castro and his band of armed revolutionaries toppled the old order would change come. When it finally did, Havana’s reign as the Caribbean’s premier entertainment capital came crashing to an end.

2 thoughts on “About Time I Read It: Havana Nocturne by T. J. English

  1. Pingback: Nonfiction November 2019: Week 1 | Maphead's Book Blog

  2. Pingback: 2019 In Review: My Favorite Nonfiction | Maphead's Book Blog

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