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
…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
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.
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.
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
"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