Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause

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Overview

In this widely hailed book, NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten fuses the story of the Bacardi family and their famous rum business with Cuba's tumultuous experience over the last 150 years to produce a deeply entertaining historical narrative. The company Facundo Bacardi launched in Cuba in 1862 brought worldwide fame to the island, and in the decades that followed his Bacardi descendants participated in every aspect of Cuban life. With his intimate account of their struggles and adventures across five generations, ...

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Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause

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Overview

In this widely hailed book, NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten fuses the story of the Bacardi family and their famous rum business with Cuba's tumultuous experience over the last 150 years to produce a deeply entertaining historical narrative. The company Facundo Bacardi launched in Cuba in 1862 brought worldwide fame to the island, and in the decades that followed his Bacardi descendants participated in every aspect of Cuban life. With his intimate account of their struggles and adventures across five generations, Gjelten brings to life the larger story of Cuba's fight for freedom, its tortured relationship with America, the rise of Fidel Castro, and the violent division of the Cuban nation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Bacardi liquor story is every bit as engaging as Cuba's tumultuous political history, and both narrative strands are inexorably intertwined."
-The Washington Post

"A gripping saga that tells us just as much about human nature and the struggle between power and freedom as it does about Bacardi's transformation from a fledgling business into the world's top family-owned distiller."
-The Wall Street Journal

"It's hard to imagine that any [Cuban history] is as enjoyable . . . as smooth and refreshing as a well-made daiquiri."
-Barry Gewen, The New York Times

Linda Robinson
Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba is at once a colorful family saga and a carefully researched corrective to caricatures of decadent pre-revolutionary Cuba and the 50-year disaster of Fidel Castro's rule…The Bacardi liquor story is every bit as engaging as Cuba's tumultuous political history, and both narrative strands are inexorably intertwined.
—The Washington Post
Barry Gewen
There's a shelf of histories [on Cuba] to consult. But it's hard to imagine that any is as enjoyable as Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten, a correspondent for National Public Radio. His book is as smooth and refreshing as a well-made daiquiri…What makes Mr. Gjelten's book such a standout is its quality of subjectivity. Presenting his history through the lives of people who affected the events they personally experienced and were in turn affected by them, he gives us drama, not chronology or statistics.
—The New York Times
Randy Kennedy
…succeeds in painting a vivid portrait of the company's early, scrappy years and its prominent role in the fight against Spanish rule. Emilio Bacardi, especially, comes to life as the book's most powerful character, though one so strange that Gabriel Garcia Marquez might have invented him…Gjelten also provides a fascinating look at how the company built itself into the multinational giant it has become
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

The commonplace view of Cuba's prerevolutionary business establishment as a corrupt kleptocracy is revised in this intriguing history of the Bacardi rum company and its involvement in Cuban politics. NPR correspondent Gjelten (Sarajevo Daily) paints the 146-year-old distiller, once an icon of Cuban industry, as a model corporate citizen-efficient, innovative, socially responsible and union-tolerant. Its leaders were pillars of nationalist politics, he contends: company president Emilio Bacardi was a leader of Cuba's rebellion against Spain, and in the 1950s CEO José Bosch helped fund Castro's insurrection. (After Castro nationalized Bacardi's Cuban holdings, Bosch started funding anti-Castro exiles.) Bacardi's image as Cuban-nationalism-in-a-bottle becomes farcical when the company, now a multinational behemoth, fights an absurd court battle with Cuba's state rum company over the "Havana Club" trademark. But Gjelten's account of a liberal, progressive Cuban business clan complicates and enriches the conventional picture of a society torn between right and left dictatorships. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Equal parts company history, family history, and country history, this is a history of Cuba as filtered through a tall rum and Coke. Gjelten, a noted NPR correspondent, follows the Bacardi family tree back to Facundo Bacardi, who started the rum business in 1862. From there the tumultuous stories of Cuba and Bacardi are intertwined, through the Cuban revolution in 1868, the Spanish American War in 1898, Prohibition in the United States in the 1920s, Batista's coup in 1952, and finally Fidel Castro's takeover in 1958. After the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Bacardi property in Cuba was seized and production was moved to Mexico and other locations. The all-important Bacardi trademark stayed with the family, enabling them to use brand leverage to strengthen U.S. and European sales and thus make up for their loss of income and property in Cuba. By 1983, Bacardi accounted for two-thirds of the world's rum sales. With the passing of power from Fidel, Bacardi may yet return to its homeland. Overall, Gjelten has concocted an interesting combination of corporate and political history. Purchase where there is interest.
—Susan Hurst

Kirkus Reviews
A refreshing history of the folks who brought the world the Cuba libre, and who agitate for a Cuba libre even today. The Bacardi rum dynasty is now headquartered in Puerto Rico, but its origins are Cuban-and, writes NPR correspondent Gjelten (Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege, 1995), Cuban of a particular kind, nationalistic and proud. The 19th-century residents of Santiago were mostly Catalan businesspeople and artisans who, contrary to countless stereotypes, were renowned for their work ethic and thriftiness. The Bacardi empire grew from a small shop, spearheaded by a light, dry, tasty rum that "became the drink of choice . . . just as Cuba was becoming a nation." Thereafter it was tied up, in a complicated way, with Cuban self-identity, celebrated by Hemingway and by countless Cuban intellectuals, diplomats and even dissidents. Indeed, writes Gjelten, the far-flung Bacardi family was also well known for standing in opposition to the various tinhorn tyrants who followed independence, notably Fulgencio Batista. In a nicely ironic moment, Gjelten observes that Batista, a former army sergeant, came to power thanks to American fears of a Communist Cuba in the 1930s. The Bacardis were progressive and seemingly incorruptible, which put them at odds with that reactionary, thoroughly corrupt regime. They also ran afoul, however, of Fidel Castro, whom most of the Bacardis supported to some degree or another, but who moved to nationalize the rum industry. In the bargain, Fidel made of the Bacardis a powerful foe-though, like most Cubans in exile, its members "repeatedly misjudged conditions in Cuba and made erroneous predictions," particularly on the matter of when Castrowould leave office and his revolution would collapse. A solid, journalistic treatment of commercial and political history, of a piece with Tom Miller's Trading with the Enemy (1992), Ann Louise Bardach's Cuba Confidential (2002) and other studies of the island. Agent: Gail Ross/Gail Ross Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143116325
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/25/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 153,360
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Gjelten is a veteran correspondent for National Public Radio on international issues and a regular panelist on the PBS program Washington Week. His reporting from Bosnia won him George Polk and Robert F. Kennedy awards. He is the author of Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his family.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2008

    Masterful History and Biography

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2008

    THE GINGO GOT IT RIGHT

    About time someone took the time and effort to research about the Bacardi Family and there heritage and what a dream can come true Bravo Tom, Bravo.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    An experienced journalist researches history.

    Having read quite a few histories of Cuba, this book, although not directly a history of the island, reveals an excellent portrait of Cuba from the second half of the XIX century to the present, using the Bacardi family as a centrifugal force in Cuban politics.

    Tom Gjelten used an extensive bibliography and personal interviews to succeed in providing a very enjoyable and didactic account of the history of perhaps the most notorious Cuban surname in the last 160 years.

    At no point does Gjelten interject his opinions and with his fluid style never renders a boring sentence.

    Highly recommended.

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  • Posted November 15, 2009

    Cuba thrives on its heritage of rum-making

    This book is well-written and well-researched and gave an insight of life on the island before and during the Castro years.

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