There was no more wild place, high stakes gambling resort, loaded with sex, booze, and more sex, than Havana of the mid-20th century. Las Vegas barely deserves to stand in its shadow. None of it would’ve been possible without the Mafia. And the Cuban Revolution under the Castro brothers thrived because of that environment.
This is a stellar account by T.J. English. I closed this book with a fuller understanding of how Havana earned its reputation and also, why the Cuban Revolution succeeded. Movies like Godfather II give us a glimpse of that era but those accounts barely scratch the surface.
The city was awash in corruption and hundreds of millions in graft. The Mafia, under the brain trust of Meyer Lansky, who is the main character in this book, spent decades building up Havana into an adult playground where anything went. And the behind-the-scenes stories are astonishing.
Whether it is a group of girl scouts barging in on an orgy involving Frank Sinatra and Lucky Luciano, or ‘Superman’ (the guy with a 14 inch penis) doing private sex shows for mob bosses, or George Raft jumping up on a table to stop revolutionaries from trashing the casino, there isn’t a dull moment in this story. Mob hits, political assassinations, briefcases with millions of dollars, and rigged gambling games are all to be found in this book.
There is also a cautionary tale here. It comes with the have’s being so caught up in their own little world, they were clueless about the have-not’s. In Cuba’s case, it went a long way in giving the world Fidel Castro. I’m not sure that lesson has been learned in the current environment.
The history of the mob is well documented on these pages by T.J. English. There are interviews with people in on the dirty dealings. Books written by the mobsters. And English being on the ground where it all took place. The only question I had at the end is how many of the casino’s are still standing? I suspect not many.
This was actually a book of research for me but it is the kind of research I don’t mind because it was so informative and an excellent read. If you like gambling, the mafia, political history, or wild tales of hedonism, this is a story to pick up. Strong 5/5 on the rating scale. My goodness, what a place it must’ve been.