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

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In modern-day Havana, the remnants of the glamorous past are everywhere—the old hotel-casinos, vintage American cars, and flickering neon signs speak of a bygone era that is widely familiar and often romanticized, but little understood. In Havana Nocturne, T. J. English offers a riveting, multifaceted true tale of organized crime, political corruption, roaring nightlife, revolution, and international conflict that interweaves the dual stories of the Mob in Havana and the event ...

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Havana Nocturne

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Overview

In modern-day Havana, the remnants of the glamorous past are everywhere—the old hotel-casinos, vintage American cars, and flickering neon signs speak of a bygone era that is widely familiar and often romanticized, but little understood. In Havana Nocturne, T. J. English offers a riveting, multifaceted true tale of organized crime, political corruption, roaring nightlife, revolution, and international conflict that interweaves the dual stories of the Mob in Havana and the event that would overshadow it, the Cuban Revolution.

As the Cuban people labored under a violently repressive regime throughout the 1950s, Mob leaders Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" Luciano turned their eye to Havana. To them, Cuba was the ultimate dream, the greatest hope for the future of the American 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 and 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 and casinos in Havana, launching an unprecedented tourism boom complete with the most lavish entertainment, the world's biggest celebrities, the most beautiful women, and gambling galore. But their dreams collided with those of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and others who would lead the country's disenfranchised to overthrow their corrupt government and 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. and Albert Anastasia—and Castro's 26th of July Movement in a riveting, up-close look at how the Mob nearly attained its biggest dream in Havana—and how Fidel Castro trumped it all with the Cuban Revolution.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Through most of the 1950s, Cuba was ruled by brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista. In Havana, however, a second government, no less powerful and no less brutal, ruled. Mob bosses Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" Luciano turned the island's largest city into a devil's playground of gambling, prostitution, and drugs. In Havana Nocturne, T. J. English recounts a time when American gangsters plied their savage trade just 90 miles from U.S. shores.
Miami Sun Post
“It’s a roaring story, equal parts fact and myth, and for the first time, it gets told in its violent entirety by no less a crime scribe than T.J. English…compellingly telling.”
Miami Herald
“Engaging….English’s brand of narrative is history, and he aims to set the record straight.”
San Antonio Express-News
“Spellbinding prose…Havana Nocturne is a powerful reminder of how the mob nearly achieved its biggest payday and how Castro beat the house, forever changing the course of history.”
The Scotsman
“All the razzle-dazzle is here—Sinatra, the black sedans, the showgirls—but English goes further, to show how gangsterismo permeated the politics of Cuba and influenced its destiny.”
New York Times Book Review
“A whiz-bang account of the Mafia’s short-lived romp through 1950s Cuba.”
New York Post
“[An] entertaining new book…by veteran crime writer T.J. English”
San Francisco Chronicle
“A tight storyteller, English provides a juicy mix of true crime and political intrigue, all set against the sexy sizzle of Havana nightlife.”
Washington Post
“[An] excellent new book.… [English] provides a detailed account of the personalities and elements that made up Cuban life. His well-researched descriptions of how business, gambling, politics, revolution, music and religion all played off each other give Havana Nocturne a broad context and a knowledgeable edge.”
Village Voice
“While Havana Nocturne makes you glad that Batista and his gangster pals ultimately got what they deserved, it also makes you regret never having gotten the chance to soak up a few mojitos while catching the floor show at the old Tropicana.”
Tom Miller
Briskly paced and well-sourced, Havana Nocturne has the air of a thriller with the bonus of being true…English, a true crime writer whose previous books include Paddy Whacked and The Westies, provides a detailed account of the personalities and elements that made up Cuban life. His well-researched descriptions of how business, gambling, politics, revolution, music and religion all played off each other give Havana Nocturne a broad context and a knowledgeable edge.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Old Havana mambos on the brink of the abyss in this chronicle of Cuba in the decades before the 1959 revolution. True-crime writer English (Paddy Whacked) presents an empire-building saga in which the "Havana Mob" of American gangsters, led by visionary financier Meyer Lansky, controlled Cuba. Empowered by permissive gambling laws and payoffs to dictator Fulgencio Batista, the Mafia poured millions into posh hotels, casinos and nightclubs, skimmed huge profits and sought to make Havana its financial headquarters. The results: exuberant nightlife, a giddy Afro-Cuban jazz scene, sordid backroom sex shows and the occasional grisly gangland hit. English revels in purple prose ("the island seethed like a bitch with a low-grade fever") and decadent details, including an orgy with Frank Sinatra and a bevy of prostitutes that was interrupted by autograph-seeking Girl Scouts and a nun. But his estimate of the importance of the Havana mob and its "showdown" with Castro's puritanical rebels seems inflated. More supplicant than suzerain to Batista, the mob focused on internecine feuds and paid little attention to the brewing insurrection. The casinos, hotels and nightclubs were all the mob owned-but they sure threw one hell of a party. Photos. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Following the success of his previous mob histories, Paddy Whackedand The Westies, English relates the rise and fall of the mob in Havana, from the early days of Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano to the cruel regime of Batista and then Castro's revolution. English's engaging narrative reads with the gripping quality of fiction: the dark underworld of Havana comes to life in the author's lively descriptions of gambling, drugs, and sex. Using government hearings, published sources, and his own recent interviews, the author shows us Lansky and the mob, for whom Cuba was a dream come true-a gambling Mecca turned money magnet-all under the protection of the corrupt Batista administration. Mobster types descended on the island for a share of the excitement and profits, but revolution was fermenting. The dream burst as Castro and the "bearded ones" targeted gambling, corruption, and American influences so prevalent in Havana. English mixes his own insights about the Cuban Revolution into his specific accounts of mob influence and criminal activity. The results are highly recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Boyd Childress

Kirkus Reviews
Or, how are you going to keep the syndicate in Sicily and Little Italy once the wiseguys see the bright lights of Havana?Crime writer English (Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish-American Gangster, 2005, etc.) unfolds a story whose main outline will be familiar to any fan of The Godfather: Part II, but whose twists and turns no screenplay could keep up with. That story opens at the close of World War II, when Cuba was ruled by yet another in a line of dictators and mob boss Charles "Lucky" Luciano was, in theory, being deported to his native Italy after long imprisonment for various crimes committed in the United States, including extortion and tax evasion. Meyer Lansky, another prime suspect in the annals of American crime, knew otherwise. "Luciano was in Cuba," writes English, "and the Mob was on the move." Cuba was to become an offshore base for a new kind of organized crime, one that Lansky and Luciano had been working on for years, appealing as always to personal vice but with a sleeker veneer. Prefiguring Las Vegas, Havana became a headquarters for a kind of color-blind sex and music tourism. Jim Crow prevailed at home, but Jews and Italians could mix easily while listening to the dulcet tones of Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis in the Cuban capital, "one of the hippest ‘scenes' in the world." (The popular singer and movie star Carmen Miranda is implicated, too, if only by association.) With the tourism came other business. As English notes, U.S. business investment in Cuba was $142 million at the beginning of the 1950s, and $952 million at the end of the decade, money that propped up the Batista regime-thus giving Fidel Castro yet another reason not to likeAmericans, or Italians, for that matter. A capably told history of how the Mob lost control of the island empire.
From the Publisher
"English's engaging narrative reads with the gripping quality of fiction.... Highly recommended." —-Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061147715
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/3/2008
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

T.J. English is the New York Times bestselling author of Havana Nocturne, Paddy Whacked, The Westies, and Born to Kill, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. His screenwriting credits include TV episodes of NYPD Blue and Homicide, for which he was awarded the Humanitas Prize. He lives in New York City.

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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
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 48 )
Rating Distribution

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(25)

4 Star

(14)

3 Star

(6)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 48 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    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

    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

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Good Old Days

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2008

    Compelling read, even if you're not a Mafia buff

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2008

    Great book for anyone interested the Italian Mafia and its involvement in both Cubas nightlife and in its government

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2008

    Sheer Brilliance

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 16, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Havana Nocturne is a history book that wants to be made into a f

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2012

    Sucked!

    This book read like a research paper and was very dry. Unless you are really into gangsters, don't bother buying it.

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  • Posted July 28, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    T.J. English does not disappoint!

    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!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2012

    Extremely interesting

    If you are a fan of Cuban music, as I am, you'll find this book very interesting. Very detailed.

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    A great guided tour of a singular time and place

    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.

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  • Posted February 9, 2010

    Havana Nocturne

    "HAVANA NOCTURNE" BY T.J. ENGLISH: THE BOOK REVEALS A GREAT DEAL OF CUBAN HISTORY AND CAUSES ONE TO WONDER A LOT OF WHAT "IF'S".
    THE REVOLUTION WAS SUCCESSFUL, BUT WHAT IF THE BATISTA REGIME HAD PREVAILED?? THE MAFIA WERE VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS MINDED INDIVIDUALS AND THEY HAD SERIOUS GOALS ON THEIR MINDS. CUBA WAS THEIR POTENTIAL UNLIMITEDED MECCA. HISTORY IS PRESENTED BY A GREAT AUTHOR, WHO DID HIS RESEARCH TO CAPTURE THE PAST BEFORE IT BECAME TOO ANCIENT. THIS REVEALED HOW ONE MAN, WITH A DIFFERENT IDEA AND CONCEPT ABOUT HIS BELOVED COUNTRY DRAMATICALLY CHANGED THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE UNITED STATES TO PRESENT. CASTRO MAY NOT HAVE BEEN AS BAD OF A PERSON AS SOME PEOPLE GREW UP BELIEVING HE WAS, OR AS THE HISTORY BOOKS REPORT WITH OUT THE REPRESENTATION OF WHAT ORGANIZED CRIME HAD ACCOMPLISHED ON CUBAN SOIL.

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    HAVANA NOCTURNE

    THIS WAS AN EXCELLENT BOOK. I WOULD RECOMMEND IT TO ANYONE. IT GAVE THE HISTORY OF THE INNER WORKINGS OF THE MOB AND THE THEN GOVERNMENT OF CUBA.

    HAD IT BEEN DONE PROPERLY..AND THE "WEALTH" FROM THE DEALINGS OF THE MOB AND GOVERNMENT BEEN SPREAD AROUND TO THE CUBAN PEOPLE.... IT MAY HAVE WORKED!

    I FOUND IT KIND OF SIMILIAR TO ATLANTIC CITY, NJ...WHERE THE CASINOS WERE GOING TO PROVIDE JOBS TO THE PEOPLE OF ATLANTIC CITY; BUT INSTEAD ONLY THE PRIVILEGED GOT THE JOBS, AND THE AVERAGE PERSON STILL REMAINED IN THE SAME CONDITIONS OF POVERTY.

    IT'S THE SAME EVERYWHERE; THE FAT CATS REAP THE REWARDS, GOVERNMENTS ARE CROOKED; AND THE POOR EVERYDAY PERSON SUFFERS.

    I WILL READ A FOLLOW UP BOOK ON CUBA TO SEE HOW IT WAS WHEN FIDEL CASTRO TOOK OVER.

    THIS BOOK HAVANA NOCTURNE, SPARKED AN INTEREST TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CUBA AND THE CUBAN PEOPLE.

    A FRIEND OF MINE (CUBAN) INSPIRED ME ALSO.
    PRIOR TO THIS BOOK; I KNEW VERY LITTLE ABOUT CUBA

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  • Posted August 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting History

    Intereting history of the people and events that led to the Cuban Revolution. Reads like a novel but it is factual.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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