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New: “The Sugar King of Havana” by John Paul Rathbone

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The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon [Hardcover]
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; 1st ed edition (August 5, 2010)
Language: English, ISBN-13: 978-1594202582
Call No. at Lantana Public Library:  B Lobo

Julio Lobo was one of pre-Revolutionary Cuba’s wealthiest sugar magnates, speculators, and collectors of Napoleonica outside of France, among other things.  To this rich biography of the rise and fall of one of Cuba’s most famous figures, Financial Times journalist and author John Paul Rathbone interweaves some of his own family’s history (his mother was a Cuban exile and social acquaintance of the Lobo family) and the complex history of Cuba. 

Born in 1898 in Caracas to Venezuelan parents who were shortly exiled thereafter and emigrated to Cuba (Lobo’s father was a Sephardic Jew and banker and his mother of Basque descent), educated in the U.S. as an adult, Julio Lobo became one of Cuba’s most successful investors and brokers of sugar in Cuba and in the world, while still fairly young.  Controversial and yet also progressive, patriotic and also cosmopolitan, Lobo sought sheer profit while overseeing progressive worker changes in a sector that had long been dependent on slave labor.  A survivor of an assassination attempt and business shortfalls, Lobo still remained in Cuba, even while traveling abroad and socializing with the influential and famous (at one point, Lobo romanced famous Hollywood stars Joan Fontaine and Bette Davis and entertained Ester Williams at his famous Tinguaro sugar plantation).  

In all, this is fascinating reading for those interested not only in commercial but also social and political history of Cuba and sugar.  Rathbone aptly demonstrates how interests and allegiances of the powerful intersected with great drama in the immediate pre-revolutionary years of Cuba, as it was a  “small country marked by a dense and complex web of relationships that made it hard for anyone to claim to have never dealt with Batista, the Mob, the rebels, or often all three.” 

Rathbone was interviewed about this book on NPR on “All Things Considered” in August, 2010, and also more recently on Joseph Cooper’s WLRN radio program, “Topical Currents.”  To listen to the NPR interview, click on the following link:

There are also several book reviews to be found on the world wide web, including Anne Louise Bardach’s in The Washington Post on August 15, 2010.


Written by lantanalister1

May 25, 2011 at 7:08 am

Posted in Biography, Book Corner

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