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Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause

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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 foug 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.


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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 foug 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.

30 review for Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    I bought 5 books for my trip to Cuba and ended up reading parts and skimming most. This was the best non-fiction history, but it dig bog down a bit on the deep details of the Bacardi family. The best part for me were the years up to the revolution, the revolution and the initial period after the revolution triumphed and the beginnings of the anti-Castro movement in exile. Our tour guide guide was superb for the week in Cuba, and while I had feared that she (as an employee of the state) would be e I bought 5 books for my trip to Cuba and ended up reading parts and skimming most. This was the best non-fiction history, but it dig bog down a bit on the deep details of the Bacardi family. The best part for me were the years up to the revolution, the revolution and the initial period after the revolution triumphed and the beginnings of the anti-Castro movement in exile. Our tour guide guide was superb for the week in Cuba, and while I had feared that she (as an employee of the state) would be essentially a propaganda agent, I did not get this impression at all. Very balanced and straightforward. Anyway, as it relates here, she had been given this book (it would be censored in Cuba) by another tourist, and vouched that she thought it was a good and fair history herself, as a Cuban educated entirely in Cuba, and working for the state. I thought that was a good recommendation.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Simen Karset

    If you are planning a trip to Cuba, this should be an interesting read. If you're a fan of cocktails, Cuban culture and Cuban history this book covers it all from around 1860 to 2007.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    This non fiction book was thoroughly researched and reads like fiction. As a first generation American born of Cuban parents and a long time lover of Bacardi rum, it was really cool to get a detailed glimpse into the historical events that led to Castro's revolution, and to get a ground level view of what drove my parents to flee their homeland. I never realized that the Bacardi family had such strong ties to multiple revolutions in Cuba--turning against the last one after it took a dark turn--a This non fiction book was thoroughly researched and reads like fiction. As a first generation American born of Cuban parents and a long time lover of Bacardi rum, it was really cool to get a detailed glimpse into the historical events that led to Castro's revolution, and to get a ground level view of what drove my parents to flee their homeland. I never realized that the Bacardi family had such strong ties to multiple revolutions in Cuba--turning against the last one after it took a dark turn--and I will forever have a greater appreciation for the spirit.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Zahreen

    well-written history of Cuba

  5. 5 out of 5

    Susan Jenna

    Acclaimed NPR reporter Tom Gjelten did not set out to write about the Bacardi rum company. Instead, he intended to write about Cuba's tumultuous history. But, after spending seven months on the island, he found that Cuba's history was inextricably intertwined with Bacardi's. Founded by Facundo Bacardi in the 1860s (a native Spaniard), Bacardi and his son, Facundo, Jr., refined the distilling process to create a smooth drink—unlike the fire water widely available. They were able to command a premi Acclaimed NPR reporter Tom Gjelten did not set out to write about the Bacardi rum company. Instead, he intended to write about Cuba's tumultuous history. But, after spending seven months on the island, he found that Cuba's history was inextricably intertwined with Bacardi's. Founded by Facundo Bacardi in the 1860s (a native Spaniard), Bacardi and his son, Facundo, Jr., refined the distilling process to create a smooth drink—unlike the fire water widely available. They were able to command a premium price and counted the Spanish court among their customers. But it was Facundo's son, Emilio, who ignited the family and company's political involvement. You see, at the time, Cuba was a Spanish colony—just as the United States had been 100 years earlier—under repressive government and church rule. Racism was rampant, natives were enslaved, the government was corrupt... Emilio was torn between serving the company (he was a gifted marketer) and toppling the monarchy, until he seized upon a brilliant scheme: use the company as a front for revolutionary activity! Hide rifles in rum crates, fund the rebel forces with company profits, send coded messages with deliveries. After several long, agonizing decades—during which Emilio was imprisoned several times—Cuba was finally free. But, ironically, only because the Americans liberated it during the Spanish-American War. Sadly, the liberators quickly became the occupying force. It gets crazier... from the Prohibition Era, during which mobsters held court in Havana... to the faux "populism" of Fidel Castro (whom Bacardi president Pepin Bosch tried to have assassinated from exile in Miami)... this book captures it all! It's an amazing untold story for history buffs and fans of political intrigue.

  6. 4 out of 5

    j.

    I would have to say a very high 4 1/2 for this one. If you are a fan of history, or business, or business history or love political intrigue, this is the book for you. But it's also a story of family and sacrifice and taking risks in order to better oneself against the odds. And then there's the rum, which conjures up any number of memories and could potentially zip you off to Santiago and the warm nights watching a Cuban sunset. This book hooked me almost instantly as a fan of family history an I would have to say a very high 4 1/2 for this one. If you are a fan of history, or business, or business history or love political intrigue, this is the book for you. But it's also a story of family and sacrifice and taking risks in order to better oneself against the odds. And then there's the rum, which conjures up any number of memories and could potentially zip you off to Santiago and the warm nights watching a Cuban sunset. This book hooked me almost instantly as a fan of family history and provided me a look into the lives of some fascinating individuals who founded one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Before diving in, I unfortunately did not know much about the history of Cuba, but the author weaved the story of the Bacardi family with the tumultuous times of Cuba up to and including our current era. There were many times while reading this where I said, "This would make an excellent movie - or mini-series" While dry in spots, like several passages about international trade law, this book is best when it is focused on the main players in the Bacardi family -- especially Emilio Bacardi - and takes us along with them on their journey.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I, a total nerd, find the trademark battle between the Bacardi family and the Cuban government to be fascinating. I saw a 60 Minutes on it a long time ago and had all but forgotten, but in my effort to read more books that are set in other countries, I found this one. I expected this to be strictly about the legal battles for the "BACARDI" and "HAVANA CLUB"marks, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's a comprehensive view of Cuban history through the lens of the Bacardi family. I thought I, a total nerd, find the trademark battle between the Bacardi family and the Cuban government to be fascinating. I saw a 60 Minutes on it a long time ago and had all but forgotten, but in my effort to read more books that are set in other countries, I found this one. I expected this to be strictly about the legal battles for the "BACARDI" and "HAVANA CLUB"marks, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's a comprehensive view of Cuban history through the lens of the Bacardi family. I thought it lent a different perspective to the country's history, and it was very informative about Cuba's revolutionary history and Castro's reign. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who's interested in Cuba. Side note, I was telling one of my Mormon coworkers about this when he asked what I was reading, and he interjected to ask "what's Bacardi?" Which I found entertaining.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Exhaustively reported. One-third detailed history of the Bacardi family in Cuba, one-third thrilling tale of revolution and exile, one-third excruciating minutiae about international patent law. What I learned: All dictators are evil. All politics are corrupt. Buy rum from an independent distillery.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarahmarsh85 .

    Fascinating but needed sharper editing,too long!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Awesome book, recommend it to anyone who likes drinking and hates commies.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Fantastic view into the tumultuous history of Cuba... juxtaposed against the success of its most famous company, Bacardi. It's also the story of a family that has, generation after generation, fought for a better Cuba - against foreign interests and dictatorship. Highly enjoyed this.

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Hood

    http://miamisunpost.com/091808bound.htm Bound September 18, 08 Rum Punch Tom Gjelten Chronicles La Familia Bacardi By John Hood Castro is nothing, compared to Bacardi. Okay, so the former had a little Revolution, and in some form or another has been holding on to dear power for nearly 50 years. But outside of Miami and Havana, Fidel’s surname is seldom spoken. Not so Bacardi, which gets said just about every time anyone, anywhere orders a Cuba Libre. And if it doesn’t get said, it still gets served, n http://miamisunpost.com/091808bound.htm Bound September 18, 08 Rum Punch Tom Gjelten Chronicles La Familia Bacardi By John Hood Castro is nothing, compared to Bacardi. Okay, so the former had a little Revolution, and in some form or another has been holding on to dear power for nearly 50 years. But outside of Miami and Havana, Fidel’s surname is seldom spoken. Not so Bacardi, which gets said just about every time anyone, anywhere orders a Cuba Libre. And if it doesn’t get said, it still gets served, nine times out of 10. Why? Because when you think rum, you think Bacardi. Of course, one doesn’t get to be the most famous maker of any kind of spirit without hard work, high anxiety, healthy appetites and subterfuge — and la famila Bacardi is no exception. Which makes Tom Gjelten’s recently released Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking Penguin $27.95) one helluva family saga. Gjelten, the long-time NPR correspondent whose work has earned him Polk, Kennedy and Overseas Press Club awards, here traces a dynasty as bold as it is unbound. It’s a colorful saga, to be sure, told with uncommon grace, and it gets bolstered by a wide selection of photographs previously unpublished outside of Cuba. Earlier this week, Gjelten was feted at both Bacardi headquarters and the Freedom Tower, in an event co-hosted by Friends of WLRN and the Florida Center for the Literary Arts. Before that, I had the pleasure of meeting the man by the Biltmore Hotel pool and throwing him a few Qs. Here are some of the As he threw back. Where did you get the idea for this book? Actually, the idea came from my editor. You know, when your publisher comes up with an idea, it’s always good to pay close attention. The way it started was, I had done a book on Bosnia before [Sarajevo Daily:], and after I moved back here [from Europe:] I got really interested in Cuba. Naturally, having covered the collapse of Communism, I came back thinking — like a lot of people — that Cuba was next. I started going down to Cuba in 1994 and became, really, sort of obsessed with it. It’s a very mysterious place, very hard to understand and complicated, and I told my editor [Wendy Wolf:] I wanted to write about it. But we spent a couple years trying to figure out how I could get at it in a fresh way. Then I did a story on the battle between Bacardi and Pernod Ricard over Havana Club rum and she said, “Bacardi. That’s it!” This was in 1999. It was another four years before I took time off and did any serious research. I was just kind of collecting string all that time. Actually in 2001 I did two, back-to-back 11-minute pieces for NPR on the battle over Cuban rum, and that’s when I made my initial contacts in Cuba, and my initial contacts with the Bacardi family. But it wasn’t until 2003 that I took time off to really get seriously involved. But you didn’t spend five straight years writing this book, did you? No, I would say all together I probably took two and a half. There’s a lot of research involved, and I underestimated how much work it was gonna be. My Bosnia book basically took about eight months, and I thought, how hard can my second book be? In Bosnia, though, once you’ve got your boots on the ground, the story writes itself, no? Right, and this is a history book, covering six generations. In the back of my mind, I sort of had One Hundred Years of Solitude, this family epic, and that’s how I had to approach it. In a book like this, it’s almost as if the generations themselves become characters; each one has its own personality, reflecting their own time and their own era. Do you think the Bacardis are poised to go back in, once Castro’s out? Yes. One of the reasons I like them — as a story — is you can talk about Cuba’s past by talking about Bacardi. You can talk about the rise of Castro, the counterrevolution, the exile community, and you can also talk about the future. My point is that one of the few industries in Cuba that has some kind of potential is the rum industry, and Bacardi is going to be a part of it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Karen!

    When one picks-up a 400+ page non-fiction book, it is an excellent sign when the final 40 or so pages are footnotes. When the author can actually write, one is in for a treat. Not only is the subject matter vastly interesting, spanning the history of Bacardi Rum from the 1860's to 2008, the tome is incredibly readable. The author took joy in this little project and the hard work, research, and editing truly paid off into a very readable micro-history. The Bacardi's--originally Spanish but quickly When one picks-up a 400+ page non-fiction book, it is an excellent sign when the final 40 or so pages are footnotes. When the author can actually write, one is in for a treat. Not only is the subject matter vastly interesting, spanning the history of Bacardi Rum from the 1860's to 2008, the tome is incredibly readable. The author took joy in this little project and the hard work, research, and editing truly paid off into a very readable micro-history. The Bacardi's--originally Spanish but quickly taking a liking to their Cuban roots--were very involved in the well-being of their country and its people. Many a member fought and died for various Cuban liberation and revolutionary causes, including the women, only to eventually be ousted by Castro after Che Guevara convinced him to seize (also pronounced "nationalize") the largest and most profitable businesses in Cuba. As Bacardi gained popularity in Cuba, some referred to it as "the rum of the bat." Gjelten explains the history of this symbol: "The bat was a symbol of good fortune, and it figured prominently in the heraldry of Don Facundo's native Catalonia. As creatures, bats exemplified brotherhood, because they lived and flew together; they symbolized self-confidence, because they could fly in the dark without hitting anything; they stood for discretion, because they kept silent; and they represented faithfulness, because they always returned home." (page 4) Gjelten also includes some great pictures, including ads from America's prohibition years. Bacardi was awfully close, drawing in visitors and engaging even the ladies with sweet island Cuba libres and daiquiris...not to mention supplying rum runners off the coast. They even expanded to beer, naming "Hatuey" after the Indian resistance hero. One of their best advertisements of the era: Of course, all this tomfoolery was not without its issues. Because Americans were not super familiar with rum in the first place and because it was being consumed in cocktails instead of straight, knockoffs became a large problem. whether refilling and reselling Bacardi bottles with not Bacardi rum, or simply making knockoff bottles, Bacardi had to firmly take charge of its name and product. In the 1930's and 1940's, American Mob bosses often held conventions in Havana, smoking cigars and closing down the finest hotel while listening to the crooning of the one and only Frank Sinatra. All while enjoying Bacardi rum, of course. Even Hemingway notoriously loved Bacardi rum, kicking back multiple double-rum daiquiris at his favorite Havana bar, el Floridita on Calle Montserrat...he even gave a shout-out to his favorite bar tender, Constante, in Islands in the Storm. Of course, all of the fun was destined to come to an end--at least in Cuba. When Castro moved to nationalize Bacardi Rum, however, he made a very communist mistake. He only took hold of the physical assets in Cuba; the expatriated family maintained the intangible copyright to the brand. After multiple legal battles in multiple countries, Cuba was not allowed to export Bacardi Rum from their commandeered plant, they would have to rename it. Bacardi marches on today under the same family tree.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

    From http://weeksnotice.blogspot.com/2011/... There are really two parts to Tom Gjelten's Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba (2008). The first is a history of Cuba from the 1860s to the 1960s, centered on Bacardi and the city of Santiago. The second is a narrative of how Bacardi became global and also obsessed with fighting Fidel Castro. The Bacardi company went from being an icon of Cuba to a conglomerate struggling to maintain a Cuban identity. The first part is excellent. Bacardi was in the mi From http://weeksnotice.blogspot.com/2011/... There are really two parts to Tom Gjelten's Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba (2008). The first is a history of Cuba from the 1860s to the 1960s, centered on Bacardi and the city of Santiago. The second is a narrative of how Bacardi became global and also obsessed with fighting Fidel Castro. The Bacardi company went from being an icon of Cuba to a conglomerate struggling to maintain a Cuban identity. The first part is excellent. Bacardi was in the middle of fighting against Spain and then later against Fulgencio Batista (who did everything he could to either entice or compel the company to support his government). Gjelten's describes a company that took tremendous pride in Cuba, and was even grudgingly admired by Marxist union leaders for its positive relations with labor (p. 125). Pepín Bosch, the president at the time of the revolution, even supported Fidel Castro until it became clear that there would be no autonomous political and economic space in the country. Bacardi was so enmeshed in Cuba that Raúl Castro married the daughter of a Bacardi executive (Velma Espín). Bacardi was a living example of how a homegrown Cuba industry could become global to the point that the word "Bacardi" immediately brings up the image of rum. Ironically, it took the revolution to really launch that global brand. Bacardi already had plants in Puerto Rico and Mexico, in large part as a result of concern about unstable political conditions before Fidel even became prominent, but it grew exponentially only after leaving Cuba entirely. The second part of the book is interesting, but not as convincing. Gjelten gives the company a pass when it comes to its association with terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles. Despite Bosch's support for the Bay of Pigs and other endeavors, and even helping to launch Jorge Mas Canosa's political career, Gjelten somehow comes to the conclusion that "Bacardi as a corporate entity had largely steered clear of Washington politics around the Cuba cause" (p. 331) until the 1990s. That is a stretch. At times Gjelten acknowledges a dilemma of focusing on the Bacardis as a way to understand Cuban political development: "The Bacardis were white, upper-class Cubans, and it is impossible to generalize from their lives to the experiences of the whole Cuban people, a great many of whom were poor (p. 350). But "they did love their country and were generous citizens." Yet over time Bacardi shifted from a nationalism independent of (and even skeptical of) the United States toward one that depends largely on U.S. legislation and legal decisions to defend its claims. Since 1959 both Cuba and Bacardi have changed a lot.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Soulful blend of genealogy, biography and history tells the story of the Bacardi family of Cuba and the rum that made them famous. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, the story covers an incredible span of history, from the fight against the Spanish colonial masters through the paternalistic and not entirely disinterested liberation by the United States and the brief interlude of self-government to the bitter end of independent Cuban freedom to the right-wing dictatorship of Batista and Soulful blend of genealogy, biography and history tells the story of the Bacardi family of Cuba and the rum that made them famous. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, the story covers an incredible span of history, from the fight against the Spanish colonial masters through the paternalistic and not entirely disinterested liberation by the United States and the brief interlude of self-government to the bitter end of independent Cuban freedom to the right-wing dictatorship of Batista and the left-wing dictatorship of Castro. Through it all, the Bacardi family balanced capitalism with Cubanism--the desire to see a free and democratically-governed Cuba that cherished and honored its own history, people, and economic successes. The Bacardi family would turn a small struggling rum company into a huge world-wide liquor empire through these unique strengths, becoming the defining image of Cuba for many (think "General Motors" for the United States, only more so, especially these days with GM tottering on the edge of bankruptcy). Family mattered most for the Bacardi's; throughout the entire period of the company history save for a few recent years, the company has been 100% family owned and family managed, and is so again today. Country mattered second--until Castro nationalized the firm's assets in Cuba, forcing the Bacardis into exile. But prescient diversification (and vigorous trademark protection) in the decade leading up to Castro's revolution enabled the family name and business to continue outside of Cuba, hence a great paradox: Bacardi, so closely identified with Cuba by name and heritage, has no physical, economic, or even trademark ties to its homeland. Will Bacardi ever go back to its roots? As the book concludes, and this review is written, Fidel has stepped down, but Cuban dictatorship and Castro socialism carries on under Raul (a Bacardi in-law, we learn in the book!). Bacardi stands poised to return to Cuba, but the path will be complicated by competitors, economic pitfalls, political perils, and trademark issues. Cuba is a place of wonder and mystery for me, as I said in reviewing Telex from Cuba: A Novel, a place that would need to be invented if it did not exist. But Cuba, and its strong people like the Bacardi family who left and those strong people who stayed and endured, do exist and gloriously so, as Gjelten shows us in this well-done history.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    This book was recommended by a good friend and, to be honest, my expectations were not all that high. Was I surprised! This is a very interesting account of the origins and evolution of one of the largest family-owned businesses in the world, from Facundo Bacardi’s origins in Catalonia to his migration and creation of a rum business in Santiago Cuba, which ultimately expanded to the rest of the world. Most fascinating, the story is told in the context of Cuban history and the frustrated desires This book was recommended by a good friend and, to be honest, my expectations were not all that high. Was I surprised! This is a very interesting account of the origins and evolution of one of the largest family-owned businesses in the world, from Facundo Bacardi’s origins in Catalonia to his migration and creation of a rum business in Santiago Cuba, which ultimately expanded to the rest of the world. Most fascinating, the story is told in the context of Cuban history and the frustrated desires of its people for self-determination. It is a very personal account of the Bacardi business as it relates to the evolution of Cuban society -- Spanish colonial dominance, multiple wars of independence, serial efforts at self-governance that turn into brutal authoritarian rule, and ultimately, to the rise of Fidel Castro and his “special” relationship with Russia and the U.S. The "magic" of this book is that this history is told through the people who stood at the helm of Bacardi operations, a perspective that makes the story very personal, to the point where I found myself riveted to each tenuous situation faced by Emilio Bacardi and his successors. Of special significance is the quandary faced by Pepín Bosch in supporting efforts at Cuban independence against the authoritarian and corrupt Batista regime, only to be betrayed by Fidel Castro in the end. The genius of the Bacardi leadership in their prescient decision to establish rum operations in Mexico and Puerto Rico sets them apart from others who saw their businesses collapse with the rise of Castro. (In fact, a very interesting part of the book explores the rise of “Havana Club” rum as a Castro government enterprise, having “appropriated” the business from the Arechabala family, the original owners.) The Bacardi history is an adventure, with twists and turns that read like a good novel; except it is all real and provides a relevant commentary on Cuban history. Also reflected in this account are the ambivalent and very chaotic policies in the U.S. toward Cuba in the 20th century through today. Finally, if you ever wondered why a company with such a strong connection to Cuba has “Puerto Rican Rum” on its bottles, you should check out this book!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Clare Kelly

    Cuba- always fascinating. Did enjoy the saga of the Bacardi family. Good to read history of Cuba from the business and wealthy perspective and the exiled Cubans.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David

    Though just history early on, this is truly a very interesting history by an NPR journalist, and published in 2008, a decade before my family spends a week in Cuba during March of 2017. The Bacardis of Cuba, a strong dynastic family 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 Though just history early on, this is truly a very interesting history by an NPR journalist, and published in 2008, a decade before my family spends a week in Cuba during March of 2017. The Bacardis of Cuba, a strong dynastic family 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 Cuban nation, a 150-year tale with the sweep and power of an epic. With ancestral origins in Catalan (around Barcelona) and France, the company began 1862 in the far eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, then continuing to thrive as military general Batista led the 1933 coup with Communist themes, and that brutal head in turn was overthrown in late 1958. The most recent Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro started out very well yet was taken over totally by Castro's shift into a socialistic government supported in major ways by Communist Russia. This forced the Bacardi extended family to move operations to Puerto Rico and Mexico, with the company then headquartered in Bermuda, with other initiatives in Brazil and superb legal actions. After three generations of Bacardi leaders and managers, the divisions and tensions make this international company no longer a family firm. Will it ever move back to Cuba as it said it wishes? 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, management style and economics, community and exile.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    This is a fantastic book. Not only does it cover the rise, fall and rise again of a great company of which I used to partake in their product regularly, but also the dictator of Fidel Castro and his hold on Cuba. Established by Facundo Bacardi on February of 1862 in Santiago De Cuba, Bacardi grew to epic proportion and today still enjoys the high quality name and reputation it worked to attain and keep. It is strange to read about how the "younger" Barcadi families were in support of the Dictator This is a fantastic book. Not only does it cover the rise, fall and rise again of a great company of which I used to partake in their product regularly, but also the dictator of Fidel Castro and his hold on Cuba. Established by Facundo Bacardi on February of 1862 in Santiago De Cuba, Bacardi grew to epic proportion and today still enjoys the high quality name and reputation it worked to attain and keep. It is strange to read about how the "younger" Barcadi families were in support of the Dictator and thug of Fidel Castro. They bought his story hook, line and sinker only to see later on what Socialism was actually about. The logical end to a Socialist country is Communism. Later on you see how those that supported and even helped fund Fidel's rise to power lamented it and went to great lengths to attempt to "take out the beard". I see these young people today enamored with the rhetoric around Socialism and none of them have apparently read anything about it. Nowhere at no time has socialism thrived. It is associated with poverty, assassinations, corruption, famine & lack of freedom. The one thing to remember is "Socialism is for the people not the Socialists". Fidel Castro never lived in squalor like the people of Cuba. He lived like a king. The saddest thing about Fidel Castro is that Fulgencio Batista overthrew the existing government. Fidel, an attorney at the time, railed against Batista saying he should be charged with war crimes and be ousted, yet he did the exact same thing Batista did, all the while criticizing Batista snd the Cubans bought into it hook, line and sinker. Equally interesting is the stance the Cubans had in support of Castro only to find their organizations nationalized and the quality of their respective products diminish. After the fact, it was too late to do anything. The battle for Havana Club rum was epic and a second blow to Fidel Castro and that disgusting regime. When I see these people in the US that have a myopic view on Socialism and want to bring it here, I really wish they would read this book and and do some reading. Socialism has not worked anywhere at anytime.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Have you ever picked up a bottle of Bacardi rum and, studying the label, wondered, Who is Ron Bacardi? Well then—at long last—here is your introduction to Ron and the entire Bacardi clan. In keeping with its weighty title, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba covers over 150 years of Cuban history as viewed through the amber-tinted lens of the Bacardi Rum Empire. Gjelten’s expansive account traces five successive generations of the Bacardi family, which has comprised—variously—Cuban patriots, meti Have you ever picked up a bottle of Bacardi rum and, studying the label, wondered, Who is Ron Bacardi? Well then—at long last—here is your introduction to Ron and the entire Bacardi clan. In keeping with its weighty title, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba covers over 150 years of Cuban history as viewed through the amber-tinted lens of the Bacardi Rum Empire. Gjelten’s expansive account traces five successive generations of the Bacardi family, which has comprised—variously—Cuban patriots, meticulous artisans, shrewd businessmen, drunken carousers, and spoiled trust fund kids. As a company, Bacardi has had a truly amazing history. It has survived and prospered through Spanish colonial rule, the Spanish-American War, Prohibition, the Great Depression, two World Wars, Batista, the Cuban Revolution, and finally exile from Cuba. As you might expect of a seasoned NPR reporter, Gjelten’s writing is flawless and deeply engrossing. Gjelten writes, in part, from the perspective of a Bacardi insider, still so consumed by anger over Castro’s betrayal of the company one half century ago. (Despite the Bacardi’s history and enthusiastic support of the Cuban Revolution, Castro eventually nationalized Bacardi’s distilleries along with all private enterprise on the island.) However, Gjelten doesn’t shy away from detailing the Bacardi’s faults, as with the insane and costly battle for the Havana Club trademark. (Many millions spent for the expressed purpose of taking a jab at Castro.) Rightly so, Gjelten’s account is a strong condemnation of Castro’s regime. He illustrates Cuba’s wholesale disintegration under Castro, and he shows that the situation today isn’t much brighter post-Fidel. Certainly, many of the events recounted here (the history of Cuba) will be familiar to readers, but with Bacardi, Gjelten has a unique and fascinating angle. Needless to say, I loved the book, and I’m tempted to pick up Gjelten’s earlier book Sarajevo Daily (1996) next.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tejas Sathian

    A history of modern Cuba through the lens of a family business whose story paralleled and then diverged from that of the nation of its birth. A look at the many leaders of the company, from its early generations of Cuban patriots in the fight for independence from Spain, to successors who navigated a course through Castro’s revolution and a globalized marketplace. Looks at the idea of civic duty of business leaders (labor relations, community engagement, later activism in the exile community) an A history of modern Cuba through the lens of a family business whose story paralleled and then diverged from that of the nation of its birth. A look at the many leaders of the company, from its early generations of Cuban patriots in the fight for independence from Spain, to successors who navigated a course through Castro’s revolution and a globalized marketplace. Looks at the idea of civic duty of business leaders (labor relations, community engagement, later activism in the exile community) and the extent to which that can be pursued in a modern company whose shareholders are not all of a family with common values. Engages frequently with the concept of Cuban patriotism - which first meant supporting liberty from Spain and then America (and the Platt Amendment granting the USA Guantanamo Bay and the right to intervene in Cuban affairs), and then from a series of despotic governments including the last tyrant Batista; patriotism took on a new turn shaded by class in the world of exile Cubans, who came from a mainly upper class background and opposed Castro on the grounds of his nationalization. Fascinating window into some of the eventual failures of the Castro regime, which the Bacardis originally supported (failure of central planning, perils of nationalization, flight of professional classes and lack of technical expertise in key industries, breakdown of trade following end of USSR). A rose colored look at some of Cuba’s golden days - Hemingway’s era in the 50s which saw tourism boom along with the rum business - and a hope for some return to this past from the twilight of communism.

  22. 4 out of 5

    River

    This book is about the history of the Bacardi Company, and its rich history alongside Cuba. The book shows the reader every choice the company has made, from its founder, to its revision in America. The history goes back to 1860s, then to the turn of the century. I personally love the rich details of Cuba’s past, and how the company has grown alongside it. I would say it tells all, without being unnecessarily long. The book starts with the first generation of the “true” Bacardi family. It tells This book is about the history of the Bacardi Company, and its rich history alongside Cuba. The book shows the reader every choice the company has made, from its founder, to its revision in America. The history goes back to 1860s, then to the turn of the century. I personally love the rich details of Cuba’s past, and how the company has grown alongside it. I would say it tells all, without being unnecessarily long. The book starts with the first generation of the “true” Bacardi family. It tells the story of how this one rum company rose above others. They changed the way rum was made, and how important marketing is. With the story of how the family ran its business, it also details the different places Cuba found itself in. From the Cuban War of Independence to Fidel Castro's takeover of Cuban businesses. You read about how the story shifts into each event of Cuba’s history and how the Bacardi’s adapted to the changes. Not only is this a history book, it makes learning about Cuba interesting. Seeing how the people reacted to these life changing events isn’t boring and the book doesn’t pause for too long on any point. In the end I think this book accomplished a lot for someone wanted a overview of Cuba and the Bacardi Company. I personally loved the way this book was written, and I think anyone who is planning a visit to Cuba should give this a read. I would say any student or adult wanting to learn would enjoy this book. Overall these kinds of books are a must read for students, and more should be available to the public.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    I am generally not a big reader of non-fiction, but I really enjoyed this book. It's a fascinating account of Cuba's recent history through the eyes of the Bacardi family -- which was at the heart of each of Cuba's revolutionary struggles, from its initial efforts to gain independence from Spain to Castro's ascent to power (eventually culminating in 1959) and then as the pre-eminent player in the various efforts by the Cuban exile community to undermine Castro's regime. The book also traces the I am generally not a big reader of non-fiction, but I really enjoyed this book. It's a fascinating account of Cuba's recent history through the eyes of the Bacardi family -- which was at the heart of each of Cuba's revolutionary struggles, from its initial efforts to gain independence from Spain to Castro's ascent to power (eventually culminating in 1959) and then as the pre-eminent player in the various efforts by the Cuban exile community to undermine Castro's regime. The book also traces the evolution of a global business -- in this case an authentically Cuban brand and family enterprise which, despite having its core assets expropriated by Castro, grew to become one of the three largest liquor companies in the world. The first 100 pages, which begin in the colonial era and describe how Bacardi rum came to be, were a tad slow but nonetheless insightful; the last 200 pages were enthralling, as Gjelten shows how the various Bacardi family members sought first to support Castro against Batista and then found themselves desperately seeking to protect a family business from being run into the ground by Castro and the revolution; it ends with a very interesting description of the international legal dispute (and the behind the scenes lobbying to influence the dispute) between Bacardi, the Cuban government and the French distributors of "Havana Club" rum, which although recently ended in the courts seems hardly to have been settled with Cuba's future still up in the air.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tammy Tanner

    Like many non-fiction historical books, this book was a bit dry in places, which is the only reason I didn't give it 5 stars. Being from central Florida, I was fasciated by the subject matter, so I plowed through the dry parts, and actually much of it was page-turning and very entertaining. I learned things I had never suspected about the US relationship with Cuba, dating back to well before Castro's time. And I learned about Cuba's dynamic with the Soviet Union and, more recently, with the Chin Like many non-fiction historical books, this book was a bit dry in places, which is the only reason I didn't give it 5 stars. Being from central Florida, I was fasciated by the subject matter, so I plowed through the dry parts, and actually much of it was page-turning and very entertaining. I learned things I had never suspected about the US relationship with Cuba, dating back to well before Castro's time. And I learned about Cuba's dynamic with the Soviet Union and, more recently, with the Chinese. I also understood more about the positions the Cuban Americans have taken on many issues and what a powerful lobby they are. The Bacardi history was even more fascinating. The Bacardi family are an honorable, fascinating group of people who are not afraid to do business with their values on their sleeve. Not only does the author write about the history of rum, but how prohibition effectively created our love affair with Cuba. The ending of prohibition led to our middle man system and taxes on alcohol, which made it very difficult for independent brands to be sold in America. The Bacardis' pursuit of their trademark against Castro's Cuba was an amazing tale of perseverance that every business owner could learn from. I definitely recommend this book, and I have developed a new loyalty to an old brand - my next bottle of rum will be Bacardi!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dru

    and a half. Shortly after Castro takes over, about 2/3rds of the way through (the guy ruins everything--including the narrative), the Bacardi family tree has grown so intricate and confusing (it doesn't help that they name half their offspring "Facundo") that the book stopped being fun for me. Not only are there too many Bacardis at this point, but they also start forming an endless number of organizations with interchangeable acronyms (FRD, CRC, RECE, CANF). That, combined with their somewhat t and a half. Shortly after Castro takes over, about 2/3rds of the way through (the guy ruins everything--including the narrative), the Bacardi family tree has grown so intricate and confusing (it doesn't help that they name half their offspring "Facundo") that the book stopped being fun for me. Not only are there too many Bacardis at this point, but they also start forming an endless number of organizations with interchangeable acronyms (FRD, CRC, RECE, CANF). That, combined with their somewhat tedious (and looooong) legal battle against Havana Club, bogs down the last quarter or so of the book. Still, the first 3/4s are uniformly great and quite involving, thanks to the author having at least three exceptional and fascinating individuals to serve as witnesses/participants in the history of Cuba. If you're interested in learning about Cuba, I would highly recommend this book. The Bacardi family proves to be an exciting lens for Cuban history. It also made me crave rum. Although by the end I was more interested in trying Havana Club over Bacardi, which may or may not have been the desired effect.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    I LOVED this book. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the history of Cuba, thru the lens of one family and their business. All elements of the story are interesting. Family: From Facundo Barcardi emigrating from Spain to Cuba up until the grandchildren of those in exile, there is a amazing and admirable cast of characters. one of my favorite anecdotes is Emilio Barcardi, the Founder's oldest son, once said that his favorite phrase in American English was "Go ahead" because in no other I LOVED this book. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the history of Cuba, thru the lens of one family and their business. All elements of the story are interesting. Family: From Facundo Barcardi emigrating from Spain to Cuba up until the grandchildren of those in exile, there is a amazing and admirable cast of characters. one of my favorite anecdotes is Emilio Barcardi, the Founder's oldest son, once said that his favorite phrase in American English was "Go ahead" because in no other language did it have the directness and imply the same meaning. However, Pepin Bosch is probably my favorite. Political: The Barcardi family was surprisingly progressive and pursued those policies early providing employees with wages and benefits that many American workers at the time would have envied. Always civic minded and passionate about lifting Cuba up, they nonetheless couldn't be progressive enough to satisfy murderous commies. Business: Shrewd, inventive, forward thinking, and so disciplined that unlike many wholly owned family businesses, has managed to go through 4 generations without falling apart. I strongly recommend this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    JoeM

    I liked this book. When I was younger, I knew members of the Bacardi family. I met them in Mexico City when I was in my early teens. Aside from the recognizable surname, I had no idea about their family history. This book presents the family's complex relationship with its homeland in as clear and seemingly unbiased way as possible given the history of the Cuban nation. Some of the family members I know were in the book. I am now interested in hearing their reviews of the book and what they perso I liked this book. When I was younger, I knew members of the Bacardi family. I met them in Mexico City when I was in my early teens. Aside from the recognizable surname, I had no idea about their family history. This book presents the family's complex relationship with its homeland in as clear and seemingly unbiased way as possible given the history of the Cuban nation. Some of the family members I know were in the book. I am now interested in hearing their reviews of the book and what they personally intend on doing when Cuba opens its doors to those who chose exile over remaining under Castro. I appreciated the treatment and explanation of the complex nature of the family run business. Hard to imagine a global business such as Bacardi still being considered a "family" business. My favorite parts of the book were the earlier portions of the book when discussing the founding of the family business around the time of Marti and Maceo (pre-Spanish American war). This family is Cuba, simple as that.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    The history of the Bacardi family in Cuba is really the history of modern Cuba, and anybody interested in that or in the history of America's on-again-mostly-off-again relationship with Cuba should read this book. Also this is a must-read for anybody interested in business, as its also the history of a highly successful global business. The CEO at the time of the Revolution, Pepin Bosch, was probably one of the most savvy business leaders in history. This book totally changed my view of the Cuba The history of the Bacardi family in Cuba is really the history of modern Cuba, and anybody interested in that or in the history of America's on-again-mostly-off-again relationship with Cuba should read this book. Also this is a must-read for anybody interested in business, as its also the history of a highly successful global business. The CEO at the time of the Revolution, Pepin Bosch, was probably one of the most savvy business leaders in history. This book totally changed my view of the Cuban revolution and of Castro. I now understand the rabid, unbending, hatred of Fidel Castro by the Florida political block. I still do not think that warrants America's fealty to them, however. One of the things I learned from the book is that Cuba held an election after the Spanish-American war about whether they wanted to become an American territory. The US thought it was a "slam-dunk." Ha ha. It was resoundingly defeated. All ordinary Cubans have ever wanted through all the revolutions, freedom-fighting, and the last 50 years is to govern themselves as a Democracy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Adam Steinberg

    This book was exceptionally well researched and gave a lot of information on this private company and its long history. Bacardi is one of the few family companies that has survived beyond a generation and the fact that this company achieved its great success while operating under the oppressive regime of Fulgencio Batista and after being forced into exile after Fidel Castro came into power. Bacardi, alone among the nationalized Cuban companies, beat Castro in the Courts and in the market. The ta This book was exceptionally well researched and gave a lot of information on this private company and its long history. Bacardi is one of the few family companies that has survived beyond a generation and the fact that this company achieved its great success while operating under the oppressive regime of Fulgencio Batista and after being forced into exile after Fidel Castro came into power. Bacardi, alone among the nationalized Cuban companies, beat Castro in the Courts and in the market. The tales is a wonderful study in long-term thinking and strategic preparation worthy of any business school case study. The book, however, fell flat in one area. The author kept jumping around chronologically At one point, a story was told of a former police officer who was in prison. Approximately 30 pages later we jumped back in time to learn the tale of why the officer was imprisoned. The same time jumping occurred in discussions of Bacardi employee Yasiel Puig and his brother. It was somewhat distracting, but did not detract from what was an interesting book to read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Selbst

    Tom Gjelten tells the intertwined story of Bacardi and Cuba. Part family business memoir, part Cuban history, this book will be welcomed by any student of Cuban history. The book weakens after Cuba seizes the Bacardi factory; the Bacardi family, burned by the what they perceived as their betrayal by Castro, becomes part of the irredentist anti-Castro exile community. That story has been told elsewhere, and this book adds little that is new. And the interfamily squabbles about the direction of a Tom Gjelten tells the intertwined story of Bacardi and Cuba. Part family business memoir, part Cuban history, this book will be welcomed by any student of Cuban history. The book weakens after Cuba seizes the Bacardi factory; the Bacardi family, burned by the what they perceived as their betrayal by Castro, becomes part of the irredentist anti-Castro exile community. That story has been told elsewhere, and this book adds little that is new. And the interfamily squabbles about the direction of a successful family firm as it expands in the post-Cuba era are simply less interesting than the story of how the Bacardi family originally built the company and grew in the early days of the Cuban Republic. A worthwhile read, but the last quarter of the book could have been pruned with little loss of impact.

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