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The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba's Last Tycoon

3.52  ·  Rating Details ·  297 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
"Fascinating...A richly detailed portrait." -Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times"
Known in his day as the King of Sugar, Julio Lobo was the wealthiest man in prerevolutionary Cuba. He had a life fit for Hollywood: he barely survived both a gangland shooting and a firing squad, and courted movie stars such as Joan Fontaine and Bette Davis. Only when he declined Che Gueva
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ebook, 320 pages
Published August 1st 2010 by Penguin Books
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Vladimir
May 07, 2017 Vladimir rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a pleasure to read for several reasons. First of all, Rathbone meticulously researched it and those who know Havana will immediately recognize various toponyms where the drama of Julio Lobo's strange life took place. I was reading this book in an apartment in Vedado, not far from where Lobo spent most of his mature years, so in a way this book had an extended effect, spilling over into my daily life. Lobo is still a rather controversial figure in Cuba and is well known especially a ...more
Sonny
Mercifully this one came to an end. This was written (in a very dry fashion) by a British economist and it showed. Story was bogged down by way too much exact economic stats about the sugar industry and took away from interesting subject matter (Julio Lobo). I give this a generous 2 stars, anyone interested in 1950's Havana should check out "Havana Nocturn" by T.J. English.
Craig
Aug 18, 2010 Craig rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
Kind of plodding. Never got into a good story groove. Too much first person. Too narrow a view of Cuba, while not enough detail about Lobo to really give a good sense of the man.
Alisa
Aug 16, 2010 Alisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, latam
Interesting story of Julio Lobo, dubbed 'The Sugar King of Havana' appropriately for his reign of the Cuban sugar industry in the post-WWII era until the takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro. Lobo was a colorful personal character and shrewd capitalist, and that alone made for some good reading. The politics of Cuban rule is certainly part of this story as well and one that interplayed with the story of Lobo's turbulant and storied business and personal life. You get a very strong sense of Lobo - as ...more
Tom Hamrick
Oct 27, 2010 Tom Hamrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Fascinating tale of pre Communist Cuba and how on the surface every thing seems equal and everyone makes the same but in reality its no different than any fat government the ones who have will always have. Also Che used to be a kind of mystical person to me and after this he was no different that the rest, he wasnt doing these things for the people he was doing these things for he and Castro. So my previous love affair with all things Che and Castro came to an abrubt halt when I real ...more
Bob Schmitz
Feb 15, 2017 Bob Schmitz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history

This is an interesting book written in the confusing matter. The author blends the history of Julio Lobo a Cuban sugar mill owner and sugar trader, who at one time controlled half the sugar in Cuba, with the history of wealthy Cuban sugar mill owners, with the revolutionary history of Cuba. He goes back-and-forth and skips around so that though it is filled with interesting history and interesting tidbits it is hard to follow.

Before Castro Cuba was known as the American Riviera. Havana hotels’ l
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Rosemary
Nov 04, 2010 Rosemary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
To be fair I didn't finish this book. Am sure there is interesting history, but a lot seemed to revolve around the author's family and I didn't think it got into the story enough. Part history and part memoir.
Monika
Aug 11, 2015 Monika rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
This book provided a lot of interesting history, particularly since I knew very little about Cuba. However, not the most enthralling prose, and some of the chapters went off on long tangents.
Noah
Aug 23, 2011 Noah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Pre- and post-revolution Cuba makes for an intriguing backdrop for any story, and this one is no exception, but that's about all this book has going for it. Not particularly recommended.
Blog on Books
Aug 18, 2010 Blog on Books rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The Sugar King of Havana – The Rise And Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon” is an atmospheric exploration of Cuban politics and society in the turbulent years from 1898, when the island gained independence from Spain, through the early days of the Castro revolution and on to the current twilight of that fading system. Author John Paul Rathbone, whose mother was a friend of Lobo’s daughters, interweaves family memories of a privileged life in Old Havana with the dramatic biography of his lar ...more
J.S.
Jul 10, 2014 J.S. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-other, vine
Before Castro and communism, Cuba was a hot-spot for celebrities and wealthy Americans who went to enjoy the tropical ambiance and the booze during prohibition. Political instability and official corruption might have been the norm, but Cuba also led the world in sugar production - and Julio Lobo was the King of Sugar. John Paul Rathbone weaves the stories of pre-revolutionary Cuba with that of Lobo and his own mother's family, whose bourgeois background put them in the same circles as Lobo. He ...more
Maryann MJS1228
I spent my teen years in South Florida. The 1959 Cuban Revolution was talked of as it it had happened only the day before. The Fanjul family's Lake Okeechobe sugar empire cast an almost feudal shadow over western Palm Beach County. For me, Cuba and sugar are more linked than Cuba and rum or cigars. So I was predisposed to be interested in The Sugar King of Havana and willing to stick with it when the opening chapters clunked along like a bicycle with a slowly deflating back tire.

Setting out to t
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Sarah
Jul 06, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well researched and elegantly written by journalist John Paul Rathbone, this biography of Julio Lobo illuminates not just the "Sugar King's" uber-capitalist life but also the political upheavals in Cuba leading up to and including Castro's revolution. Lobo was a brilliant sugar trader, sugar mill empire builder, devoted father (but not a devoted husband -- his list of leading ladies was long and often glamorous), and an optimist despite gaining and losing several fortunes and enduring a mob-styl ...more
Sue
Jun 25, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cuba, 2015
Fascinating! The author is a writer for London's "Financial Times." His mother is Cuban. She grew up in Havana's pre-revolutionary high society and was good friends with the daughter of his subject, Julio Lobo. Opposed to the corruption of the Batista regime, they all supported Castro's revolution. However neither they, nor Lobo's business expertise, fit the vision of a classless society or the revolutionary plan to nationalize all business, commercial, and private property.
This book is an excel
...more
Rogue Reader
Jul 03, 2011 Rogue Reader rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-cuba
Contemporary history of Cuba's economic and political transitions through the biographical treatment of Julio Lobo, 1898-1982 and his family. Lobo's life spanned Cuba's freedom from Spain, Batista's corruption and Castro's revolution.

Fascinating picture of Cuba at it's greatest wealth through the photos and memories of the author's mother, friends of Lobo's daughters: the resort of Hollywood's most famous, organized crime and the island's elite, eager to overthrow Batista. And later, the early h
...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Oct 11, 2010 Bookmarks Magazine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nov-dec-2010
No critics disputed that John Paul Rathbone has written an excellent biography of Julio Lobo. Their enthusiasm varied somewhat, however, in relating Lobo's life to the larger story of Cuba. Reviewers interested in business and trade had no trouble understanding Lobo's importance, but many who would have otherwise not shown much interest in sugar were similarly impressed by Rathbone's use of the tycoon's life to show how Cuba has changed. A few critics, however, found the fit unsatisfying and som ...more
Andie
Aug 22, 2013 Andie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author of this book is the son of a British father and a Cuban mother and, after listening to his mother's wistful stories about Cuba in the pre-Castro days, developed his own nostalgia for the island despite never having been there. His mother was friends with the youngest daughter of Julio Lobo, the "Sugar King of Havana" who at one time controlled the trade in sugar from Cuba and became one of the richest men in that country.

The book tells of Lobo's rise from his childhood at the time of
...more
Mara
Oct 01, 2013 Mara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing in this book hurt it some, it was clumsy and in some places riddled with grammatical errors that one would hope an editor might have dealt with. The story of Lobo's life was interesting once it got going, but the beginning of the book took some time to work through boring lead up and side information that I'm still not convinced was needed. I liked, in concept, that the biography meshed so personally with the author's own family, but the connections drawn didn't feel particularly ric ...more
Alex
Sep 27, 2011 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this because I was curious about what conditions were really like for a "sugar king" in pre-Castro Cuba. In this it was useful, but only selectively so. There are some good descriptions in here of Lobo's operations, his rise, his work conditions, his industry. And then there is the other 80% of stuff, which includes taking a page for every possible distraction (anytime something is tangentially referenced, it gets a whole page about what the reference is referring to), long digressions ab ...more
Adam Morel
Jul 18, 2013 Adam Morel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cuba
A larger than life story of a larger than life Cuban and of Cuba itself. This lily requires no gilding, a circumstance Rathbone smartly understands. Some histories pack their own romances, tragedies, and hopes. In the hands of an honest teller whose own family lived part of the tale, this account shines and then dims like tomorrow's dawn over the Bay of Havana. As Rathbone intones in the book's closing paragraphs, our challenge is to see Cuba and Julio Lobo, its iconic sugar baron, as something ...more
David
May 02, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another of the books I picked up for Cuba. I dropped it fairly quickly, found it too dense, too much fine grained history of the family. The core story is fascinating and I think perhaps I should have jumped ahead or been more patient. That said, if I was recommending one such non-fiction book like this, I would recommend Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba, a conceptually similar book that I found more readable (though also too dense at times.)
Briana
Jun 14, 2011 Briana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really fantastic, interesting, and thorough account of business/upper class life in pre-Castro Cuba. Rathbone obviously performed a ton of research but wrote it so it reads like a novel. I really liked the personal vignettes that are sprinkled throughout. Also, I appreciate that Rathbone didn't overtly pass judgement or place this on a soapbox, his reporting style allows the reader to come to their own conclusion.
Margaret Sankey
Rathbone, son of a Cuban exile, uses the life of Julian Lobo (from a family of converso Venezuelan Jews) to frame the history of Cuba in the first half of the 20th century--and, like the Bosch family of Bacardi, illustrate the complexity of the Cuban revolutions, backed by rich liberal industrialists (some corrupt, some ruthlessly successful, some combination of both), many of whom had assisted Castro to overthrow Batista.
alana Semuels
Definitely recommend for anyone interested in Cuba/Cuban history. It's the story of one of the last successful businessmen in Cuba, and wraps in a lot of interesting historical facts and color. Kind of skips around randomly, and Rathbone could have pushed harder in some of his reporting, but it's part biography, part reminiscing, part history, and if you view it as that rather than as a in depth journalistic piece, it's quite good.
Kristine Stevens
Dec 20, 2013 Kristine Stevens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cuba
This book is heavy on the political history of Cuba, yet engaging to follow the rise and fall of such a talented speculator. The book would have helped if a time line was included because the author often jumped forward and back in time, and there were places where it was confusing - hard to keep the cast of characters straight.
Abhilash
Dec 26, 2013 Abhilash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rathbone weaves together two convoluted accounts of the political upheavals in Cuba and how it interspersed with the life and work of Julio Lobo. The research is thorough, the storytelling is fantastic and the stories themselves deserve to be heard.
Frances
Fascinating biography of Julio Lobo, as the title says, the last of Cuba's sugar tycoons. Having recently read the John Lee Anderson biography of Che, this was an excellent time to read this book, as it provides a capitalist portrait from those years before the revolution.
Mcb
May 18, 2011 Mcb is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
So far, really interesting. It is a biography of a 20th century multi-millionaire Cuba sugar tycoon, Julio Lobos, but it also provides a social history of Cuba and also some of the author's personal/family history and relationship with Cuba, his mother's home country.
Sandra
Feb 20, 2012 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good history of the last century in Cuba against the life of the biggest pre-communism sugar trader ...
Daniel Porras
Jan 22, 2016 Daniel Porras rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great story

Excellent book, great story! Very interesting Cuban history and how the author explains every detail makes this a great book
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