Synopses & Reviews
A unique history of Cuba, captured in the life and times of the famous rum dynasty
The Bacardis of Cuba, builders of a rum distillery and a worldwide brand, came of age with their nation and helped define what it meant to be Cuban. Across five generations, the Bacardi family has held fast to its Cuban identity, even in exile from the country for whose freedom they once fought. Now National Public Radio correspondent Tom Gjelten tells the dramatic story of one family, its business, and its nation, a 150-year tale with the sweep and power of an epic.
The Bacardi clan--patriots and bon vivants, entrepreneurs and intellectuals--provided an example of business and civic leadership in its homeland for nearly a century. From the fight for Cuban independence from Spain in the 1860s to the rise of Fidel Castro and beyond, there is no chapter in Cuban history in which the Bacardis have not played a role. In chronicling the saga of this remarkable family and the company that bears its name, Tom Gjelten describes the intersection of business and power, family and politics, community and exile.
"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 Jos 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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
a fair, balanced, and yet extremely evocative portrait of the rum dynasty and its love-hate affairs with the Spanish Crown, Fidel Castro and the United States government
.Mr. Gjelten masterfully illuminates the biography of a cause personified by a proud family that pioneered a major business and shaped the recent past of Cuba
New York Times
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
Absorbing familial and political history
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
thorough reporting and an eye for rich, often quirky detail
an appealingly smooth and colorful historythorough and open-minded... of a company that rose in step with Cuban nationalism.
San Francisco Chronicle
an engaging portrait of a family squabble and a corrupt country.
Gjelten's narrative is detailed and compelling, delivering a vivid portrait of the family business and the family itself
A refreshing history .
solid, journalistic treatment of commercial and political history
Gjelten has concocted an interesting combination of corporate and political history.
Gjeltens account of a liberal, progressive Cuban business clan complicates and enriches the conventional picture of a society torn between right and left dictatorships.
Anyone interested in post-Castro Cuba will be better informed by Gjeltens rich history of the Bacardi family.
Tom Gjelten traces the history of the Bacardi family, their business, and their involvement in Cuban history with consummate skill. This is a first-rate distillation, at once illuminating and entrancing; a sweeping narrative that rivals the best of historical novels. This book will definitely enhance the buzz in every Daiquiri and Mojito, and give added meaning to every Cuba Libre served anywhere in the world
Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana, winner of the National Book Award
"With a novelist's sense of drama and a historian's understanding of the social forces that shape our lives, Tom Gjelten has captured vividly -- through the chronicle of a powerful family's fortunes -- one of the great political dramas of our time."
--Ronald Steel, author of Walter Lippmann and the American Century
Contained within family genealogy are often found profound insights into the history of an entire people. The Bacardís represent one such family. Gjelten has fashioned a splendid prism through which to cast new light on the human dimensions of the Cuban past. The epochal transitions of Cuban national formation are experienced through successive generations of Bacardís, revealing the complex ways that a people are overtaken by the forces of their own creation. Anyone with an interest in Cuban historyand a fondness for Cuban rumwill find the Bacardí family history irresistible.
--Louis A. Perez, Jr., J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba explores and illuminates the story of our nearest and largest Caribbean island neighbor in an utterly unique and fundamentally revealing way. Tom Gjelten has written a book that is a must read for scholars, policy makers, and indeed anyone interested in the long, hard journey of Cuba -- and for what will happen there next. A brilliant job!"
--Admiral Jim Stavridis, U.S. Navy, Commander, U.S. Southern Command
"A marvelous blend of biography and vivid history. This book will surely become essential reading to understanding both Cubas tragic past and the islands post-Castro future. A stunning achievement from a versatile journalist."
--Kai Bird, co-author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
"Its hard to imagine that any [Cuban history] is as enjoyable. [Gjeltens] book is as smooth and refreshing as a well-made daiquiri."
-- Barry Gewen, The New York Times
"A pistol-packing salsa dance of modern history
On one level, this book is the story of a great merchant family and its deeply intertwined relationship with a mysterious Cuban island nation. But it is also a story of the still resonating conflicts between capitalism and communism, nationalism and imperialism, and freedom and tyranny.
-- Harry Hurt III, New York Times Business Section
"Exhaustively researched, succeeds in painting a vivid portrait of the company's early, scrappy years and its prominent role in the fight against Spanish rule. Gjelten provides a fascinating look at how the company built itself into the multinational giant it has become."
-- Randy Kennedy, New York Times Sunday Book Review
"With its fabulous triumphs and poignant defeats, this stirring tale of rum, money, and revolutions has all the markings of a great epic movie."
-- Richard Feinberg, Foreign Affairs
"A gem .. Gjelten has managed to capture in a single book almost all that one needs to know of Cuban history. -- Mirta Ojito, Columbia Journalism Review
BR> "With thorough reporting and an eye for rich, often quirky detail, Tom Gjelten traces the story of the Bacardi family, whose product helped shape Cuba's soul until Fidel Castro nationalized its company's facilities in 1960." -- Will Weissert, Associated Press
"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
This unique history of Cuba is captured in the life and times of the famous rum dynasty. In chronicling the saga of the remarkable Bacardi family, Gjelten describes the intersection of business and power, family and politics, community and exile. b&w photo inserts.
En 1862, Facundo Bacardí apostó por crear en Cuba una pequeña destilería de ron, una bebida que hasta entonces solo consumían marineros y obreros. Pronto el ron Bacardí se convertiría en la bebida favorita de la isla y quedaría ligado a la identidad cubana.
Recorriendo la historia de la familia Bacardí, que siempre ha estado en primer plano en todos los grandes acontecimientos de la historia de Cuba ––desde la Independencia hasta el actual embargo pasando por la Revolución y Bahía de Cochinos–– Tom Gjelten ha escrito una épica narrativa que explica la Cuba moderna, sus tormentosas relaciones con Estados Unidos, la ascensión de Fidel Castro —de la que se ofrece una perspective hasta ahora desconocida— y la violenta división que sufre la nación cubana desde entonces.
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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A tale of innovation, success, downfall, and resurrection, Bourbon Empire is an exploration of the spirit in all its unique forms, creating an indelible portrait of both bourbon and the people who make it.
About 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.