THE SUGAR KING OF HAVANA by John Paul Rathbone


The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon
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Wide-ranging life of a Cuban Croesus and a graceful history of the island during the last century.

Julio Lobo wasn’t the only man to have earned a fortune in Cuba, as Financial Times contributor Rathbone writes, but he was the only one to have earned an adage: “ser rico como un Julio Lobo—to be as rich as Julio Lobo.” Born in 1898, the year of Cuba’s independence from Spain, Lobo was the wealthiest man on the island until the Castro Revolution did away with wealthy men. He lived a Citizen Kane–like existence in a palace made of Carrara marble bedded on sand from the Nile River, wooed the most beautiful women and consumed the finest food and drink. Yet, by the author’s account, Lobo was quintessentially lonely. Moreover, he was psychologically bound up in a collection that, when it was in one place, was a trove for historians—“the largest holding of Napoleonica outside France, including one of the emperor’s back teeth and his death mask.” Lobo’s fascination with Napoleon spoke to talent in negotiating the intricacies of power on the island, and he flourished in a time of corrupt dictators without being overly corrupt himself. He also generously opened his purse to the then-struggling guerrillas who would come to power in the revolution of 1959. Lobo even acted as a more-or-less informal advisor to Che Guevara when the latter took over as head of Cuba’s central bank, a job for which the Argentinean doctor had no credentials. An odd couple, to be sure—but, writes Rathbone, “[b]oth were lucid and deeply rational men,” and both took their work very seriously. Things did not end well for either—but that is a story that Rathbone relates with skill as he traces Lobo’s far-reaching involvement in almost every aspect of the island’s 20th-century history.

Lively, well-written and especially useful to Cuba scholars as they chart the progress of a country in what many are betting to be the last days of Castroism.

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59420-258-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2010


NonfictionLOST KINGDOM by Julia Flynn Siler
by Julia Flynn Siler