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Friday, November 21, 2008

Recommended: "Havana Nocturne" by T.J. English

Al Capone. "Lucky" Luciano. Meyer Lansky. Thanks to television and movies, these 20th century American crime figures seem familiar to us. We've watched The Godfather, The Untouchables, and in Bugsy, Warren Beatty played Ben "Bugsy" Siegel and dramatized mob activity in the origins of gambling in Las Vegas. Before these films there were older movies staring James Cagney or George Raft, a purported friend of gangsters.

A picture of Raft, in fact, appears in Havana Nocturne, How the Mob Owned Cuba . . . And Then Lost It to the Revolution by T.J. English. And it turns out that there is much more to know about the mob.

This lively and well-researched book is a fascinating look at organized crime in the 1940s and 1950s, its activity in Havana, Cuba, and at Cuba itself. English weaves together the gangsters' story of gambling and greed with an examination of life and politics in Cuba and the rise Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.

The book is an excellent description of the ferment that was then happening in Cuba. As the saying goes, 'if you don't know the past, you can't know the future'; and with the aging of Fidel Castro and his brother, the President of the Cuban Council of State Raul Castro, it is a good time to read Havana Nocturne.

(Turn up the volume on your speaker for the music accompanying this video!)

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