Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: Havana Nocturne

I came across the audio book of Havana Nocturne while searching the local library for something else. I was intrigued by the synopsis on the back and ended up very happy I picked it up.

The book covers the rise and fall of the Havana mob; the group of American organized crime bosses that conceived of, established and grew a mecca of vice in Havana Cuba; then amassing a fortune from it only to watch it all collapse overnight during the Cuban revolution. The book is filled with a lot of interesting stories and some great characters, ranging from a variety of stereotypical mafioso, to Castro, to Batista whom he overthrew, to stripper Bubbles Darlene, who made a name for herself walking the havana streets in only a transparent raincoat.

Its hard to wrap one's head around the sheer chutzpah of the mob at it's peak. Feeling increasing heat under the eye of the US government, they took it upon themselves to take over a country and create an offshort mecha of vice - and succeeded in doing so.

The book is an entertaining read. A few interesting observations:
- Myer Lansky, "Financier of the Mob" and basically the book's main character, shows some excellent leadership qualities. (1) He's unflappable in front of of his partners and underlings. Even in the middle of the Cubans rioting post-revolution, he remains cool as a cucumber. (2) Despite being in the mob, he knew that peaceful reconciliation, even if more costly, was preferred to violence. (For a lesson applicable to today's business world, replaces 'violence' with 'litigation')
- The whole book is a example of what can happen if you underestimate the possibility of serious disruption to your business. Nothing is 'too big to fail'.
- Fidel Castro was a bad-ass. Say what you will about him once he got into power, but prior to that, doing things like throwing himself off of a boat in police custody and doing a 7 mile ocean swim to shore, well, pretty bad-ass.

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

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