An affectionate, richly detailed, brief biography of a unique city.



Journeying through the streets, and history, of Cuba’s famed capital.

An award-winning writer on travel, food, and culture, Kurlansky (Paper: Paging Through History, 2016, etc.) was for 10 years the Chicago Tribune’s Caribbean correspondent. He draws on many visits to the island for a spirited portrait of Havana, “like no other city on earth,” a place of color, contradictions, and, for the author, enticing allure. “Havana, to be truthful, is a mess,” he writes. “The sidewalks are cracked and broken, as are most of the streets.” Walls are sun-bleached, some covered in “various molds, mildews,” and other tropical blights; wood is destroyed by termites. The city “looks like the remnants of an ancient civilization.” But despite troubled infrastructure, it throbs with life: music, dance, art, and food. Kurlansky chronicles the city’s roiling past, beginning in 1492 with Columbus’ landing, followed by Spanish conquest and the incursion of French pirates. Soon, Havana became “a huge slave-trading center” that generated enormous wealth. In fact, “slavery lasted longer in Cuba than anywhere in the Americas.” By 1869, the author reports, there were more than 763,000 whites, 363,000 slaves, and 239,000 “free coloreds” on the island. Slaves could buy their freedom, which led many enslaved women to prostitution. That legacy persisted: until the revolution in 1959, Havana was reputed for its “huge prostitute market.” “For many men,” writes Kurlansky, “a visit to a prostitute was one of the celebrated features of a trip to Havana, along with music, rum, and cigars.” American sugar interests developed the island to facilitate their own profits, bringing railroads and steamship service and selling off cheap land for the construction of villas for the rich minority. Besides focusing on economics and politics, Kurlansky evokes the African-inflected music that dominates the city and provides recipes for some quintessential Cuban dishes, such as the succulent stew known as ajiaco and for the Cuban version of the mojito.

An affectionate, richly detailed, brief biography of a unique city.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63286-391-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?


Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet