"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 Guevara's personal offer to become Minister of Sugar in the Communist regime did Lobo's decades-long reign in Cuba come to a dramatic end. Drawing on stories from the author's own family history and other tales of the island's lost haute bourgeoisie, The Sugar King of Havana is a rare portrait of Cuba's glittering past—and a hopeful window into its future.
The rise and fall of sugar trader Julio Lobo becomes a window into prerevolutionary Cuba, the mechanics of building an economic empire and the author's own personal history in this atmospheric biography by Rathbone, deputy head of the Financial Times's Lex column and former World Bank economist. Lobo, "Cuba's richest man and one of the world's greatest speculators," is an intriguing subject ("friends nicknamed him El Veneno, the poisonous one, for his charm and sibylline tongue"), and Rathbone handles his volte face, from hobnobbing with Bette Davis to the loss of his fortune and death in exile in Spain, with finesse. Ample drama multiple divorces, audacious hostile takeovers, assassination attempts is given gravity by Rathbone's parallels with and personal connections to his subject: his family traveled in Lobo's social circle in Cuba during the first half of the 20th century. An exceptionally rich portrait not only of an empire and its progenitor but Cuba itself, and the economic legacy of Castro's revolution, the loss of capital, and the end of Cuba's "great age of sugar."