Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba...and Then Lost It to the Revolution

Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba...and Then Lost It to the Revolution

by T. J. English


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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 & 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. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061712746
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/09/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 113,205
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

T. J. English is a noted journalist, a screenwriter, and the author of the New York Times bestsellers Havana Nocturne, Paddy Whacked, and The Savage City, as well as of The Westies, a national bestseller, and Born to Kill, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. He has written for Vanity Fair, Playboy, and Esquire, among other publications. His screenwriting credits include episodes of the television crime dramas NYPD Blue and Homicide, for which he was awarded the Humanitas Prize. He lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Introduction     xiii
Mobster Mambo
Feeling Lucky     3
The Mob's Playground     30
El Judio Maravilloso (The Marvelous Jew)     51
Well-Charactered People     72
Razzle-Dazzle     93
The Ghost of Jose Marti     115
Gambler's Paradise     139
La Enganadora (the Deceiver)
Arrivederci, Roma     161
A Bullet for El Presidente     183
Carnival of Flesh     205
Tropical Vengeance     226
A Handmade Woman     247
The Sun Almost Rises     268
"Get the Money"     289
Epilogue     321
Acknowledgments     331
Appendix     335
Notes     337
Sources     369
Index     381

What People are Saying About This

Sam Giancana

“Finally, the definitive book has been written on the Mob’s heyday in Cuba. Havana Nocturne is at once compelling and incisive—an entertaining page-tuner that will both shock and inform.”

From the Publisher

"English's engaging narrative reads with the gripping quality of fiction.... Highly recommended." —-Library Journal

Legs McNeil

“Sex and drugs and rockin’ mambo! Havana Nocturne is a dazzling parade through the Mob’s interests in Cuba. A must for Mob fans everywhere.”

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Havana Nocturne 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Just after WWII, the American government deported Mafia boss "Lucky" Luciano sending him home to Sicily. However, instead of crossing the Atlantic, Luciano landed in Cuba where financial genius Meyer Lansky was setting up shop. Cuban dictator Batista and the island's laws encouraged gambling investment. Soon Havana became the center of gambling, prostitution, and nightclubs while also turning into the central bank of mob activities in North America. Tourism flourished. While the United States struggled with the beginning of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, Havana was the true melting pot, as the Mafia welcomed anyone willing to spend. Everything collapses when Castro's revolution kicks Battista and the mob off the island in 1959. True crime author T.J. English provides a fascinating look at the Mafia in Cuba from the end of WW II to the Communist takeover. His theory is that Batista worked for Luciano as opposed to the prevalent belief that the mob chief was a welcomed "guest" of the dictator as long as he paid for the privilege. Fans will enjoy the deep look at the mob controlled activities in Havana and the author's contention of "How the Mob Owned Cuba ... And Then Lost It to the Revolution". Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've never really been fascinated by real-life tales of gangsters, but a recent re-watching of ''The Godfather, Part II'' happened to coincide with the publication of this book, so I gave it a shot. T.J. English's new book is so much more than a Mob-related history. There's political intrigue, the economics of tourism, gambling, and sugarcane, Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution, and an astounding [for the time] level of cultural intermingling as whites, blacks, and Latinos came together at the Mafia-run hotels, casinos, and nightclubs in the 1950s. Even if you don't normally spring for titles in the True Crime section, make an exception for this one.
chrisromano More than 1 year ago
Well written, well researched. A peek into how the mob ran Cuba and came close to establishing their very own country. The book has the usual suspects; Lansky, Castro, Battista, Luciano, etc., but also focuses on lesser known Cuban players and on the island. The mob screwed it up, the government screwed it up, and fifty years on we still can't go there. A pity. Sounded like a great place.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have a huge interest in both the Italian mafia and in latin/hispanic history, so this book was a fantastic look at how both intermixed. It gives excellent detail and background of all the major players including Luciano, Lansky, Batista and Castro, among others'even a bit about Frank Sinatra'. I particularly enjoyed that the author spoke in an objective tone. I would suggest this book to anyone with an interest in the mob or how American interests impacted Cuba during that time period.
Lance_Charnes More than 1 year ago
Havana Nocturne is a history book that wants to be made into a film. The elements are all there: Cuba on the edge of revolution, the superstars of the American Mob, dream-palace hotels and casinos, celebrities, corruption, debauchery, and the boom times of the 1950s. It even name-checks The Godfather, Part II on several occasions. But it is a history, and a chewy one at that. Right out of the gate, author English hits you with a blizzard of largely Italian and Cuban names (many of which will bleed together if you're not used to sorting them out) and the skein of alliances, feuds and friendships that tie them all together. This is not only a recounting of the rise of the Havana Mob, but also the flourishing of American organized crime following World War II, meaning we also get cameo appearances by Estes Kefauver, J. Edgar Hoover and obscure mob bosses from outside New York City and Miami. You have to pay attention. Luckily, once he has his milieu established, English keeps the proceedings going quickly and throws in enough anecdotes to keep his work out of textbook-land. There's plenty in here to piss off partisans on all sides: Sinatra as Meyer Lansky's bagman! JFK in a Mob-sponsored Cuban orgy! The CIA supplying Batista! The CIA supplying Castro! And on it goes. Perhaps the most fascinating creature in this zoo is Fulgencio Batista, the two-time dictator of Cuba, Mob accomplice, U.S. client, the handsome, charming, delusional sumptuary who ruled his land through corruption, censorship and terror. It's a picture that's been painted before, but once again it will make you wonder whether the Castros have been any worse for Cuba than what came before them. Havana Nocturne could use a map of 1950s Havana and some charts showing the relationships between the members of its sprawling, shifting cast. More pictures of the pleasure palaces would also help (English rhapsodizes about the plush hotels and casinos, but we're still left wondering what they looked like). While English gives us a sketch of how Cuba's sex workers fared during the casino bubble, some more discussion of the impact on the average Habanero of the Havana Mob and the Batista regime would be welcome and would help explain how Castro was able to conquer the nation. If you're interested in postwar Mob history, the American colonial influence in the Caribbean or the rise of Castro, you could do worse than Havana Nocturne. Don't expect a beach-easy read, and beware of some of the blurbs; this ain't Elmore Leonard or Hemingway. Still, it's a good story about a fairy-tale time and place.
JIngels45 More than 1 year ago
At this point I have read every book written by Mr. English. He does not disappoint with Havana Nocturne. He does a wonderful job of documenting the state of Cuban politics up to and including the revolution. He does a wonderful job of showing how the rise of the mafia coincided and coexisted with the decline and rise of Cuban leaders. Havana Nocturne does a wonderful job of showing how the mob won and lost Cuba and how some associated with the mafia bet heavily on Cuba and lost it all when Batista was deposed. A wonderful book that you will not want to put down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are a fan of Cuban music, as I am, you'll find this book very interesting. Very detailed.
BitterCynic More than 1 year ago
I really loved the parallel narratives of Fidel Castro and the mob figures who exploited Cuba with Batista's connivance; it is beautifully paced. The author brings to life the exciting and corrupt synthesis of culture, society, politics and greed in both Cuba and the United States that created this unique bubble of history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book that engrossed my attention from start to finish. The contents was well researched and exceptionally written. A must have book for any fan of the True Crime genre.
Hagelstein on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well-researched and deftly written history of how organized crime got a foothold in Havana but was ousted by the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. Meyer Lansky, Santo Trafficante and other American mobsters subverted the Cuban government with sex, celebrities, and money - plenty of money. As T. J. English puts it: "The dream was that Havana would be a party that never ended. Instead, it turned out to be one of the great hangovers of all time."
psghook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
great history,great read
osodani on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very interesting read - it gives a thorough history of the mob involvement on the island, and how that affected the revolution. It stays away from the titillating and focuses on Meyer Lansky, almost as an anti-hero.
susanamper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author would have readers believe that Cuba's heyday as the playround of the East Coast is inextricably tied with the rise of Fidel Castro. It just ain't so. The mob casinos run by Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano just happend to be in play when Castro sets out to take down the government of dictator Batista. There is lots of information about the casinos the mob owned, and who ran them and how much money they made, but not much else. If you've always been dying to know more about Meyer Lansky, then this is the book for you. For all else, it's a skip.
Beith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having been born in 1973 and grown up in Australia, I¿ve never really known that much about Cuba. From film and television I knew that smoking Cuban cigars was naughty because the U.S. had a trade embargo with them and any country that wanted to be friends with the U.S. respected that. From the same sources, I knew that there were many Cubans in Florida and that the media reported them to be mostly rabidly anti-Castro. I knew that people routinely risked the seas to escape from Cuba in a similar way that my best friend in high school had escaped from Communist Poland. But at the same time I was vaguely aware that perhaps once Castro had been a man of more democratic principles, loved by the Cubans before they came to fear that they may disappear at night never to be heard from again. After all, activists both trendy and genuine wore T-shirts with Castro¿s once-partner¿s face on it and Streisand listed Guevara as one of her father figures in the live version of ¿Poppa can you hear me¿ alongside Gandhi. The implication was that, as in so many places around the world, the U.S. had had some role to play in the making of their monster to the South.The focus of Havana Nocturne is the mob in Cuba and their attempt to create their ultimate haven, within easy reach of everything that was good in America and without any thought for the Cuban people living in fear and poverty outside their Casino walls. T. J. English expertly, and necessarily, weaves the stories of the mob and the revolution together to create a thoroughly engrossing read that connects the dots so deliberately left unconnected for so many years. He leaves aside the demonization of any one of his true characters and, without pulling any punches, shows us flawed human beings and gives us greed, revenge and human failing as the ultimate culprits in the mess that is Cuba.I¿ll feel a lot more educated about the whole issue now as the U.S. begins to deal with a post-Castro Cuba. Whether this tiny country can recover from their decades of corruption, trade sanctions and U.S. meddling will be a test with international relevance.
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