The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King

Rich Cohen

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The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King

The Fish That Ate the Whale The Life and Times of America s Banana King A legendary tale both true and astonishing from the author of Israel is Real and Sweet and Low When Samuel Zemurray arrived in America in he was tall gangly and penniless When he died in the

  • Title: The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King
  • Author: Rich Cohen
  • ISBN: 9780374299279
  • Page: 147
  • Format: Hardcover
  • A legendary tale, both true and astonishing, from the author of Israel is Real and Sweet and Low When Samuel Zemurray arrived in America in 1891, he was tall, gangly, and penniless When he died in the grandest house in New Orleans sixty nine years later, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world In between, he worked as a fruit peddler, a banana hauler, aA legendary tale, both true and astonishing, from the author of Israel is Real and Sweet and LowWhen Samuel Zemurray arrived in America in 1891, he was tall, gangly, and penniless When he died in the grandest house in New Orleans sixty nine years later, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world In between, he worked as a fruit peddler, a banana hauler, a dockside hustler, and a plantation owner He battled and conquered the United Fruit Company, becoming a symbol of the best and worst of the United States proof that America is the land of opportunity, but also a classic example of the corporate pirate who treats foreign nations as the backdrop for his adventures In Latin America, when people shouted Yankee, go home it was men like Zemurray they had in mind Rich Cohen s brilliant historical profile The Fish That Ate the Whale unveils Zemurray as a hidden kingmaker and capitalist revolutionary, driven by an indomitable will to succeed Known as El Amigo, the Gringo, or simply Z, the Banana Man lived one of the great untold stories of the last hundred years Starting with nothing but a cart of freckled bananas, he built a sprawling empire of banana cowboys, mercenary soldiers, Honduran peasants, CIA agents, and American statesmen From hustling on the docks of New Orleans to overthrowing Central American governments, from feuding with Huey Long to working with the Dulles brothers, Zemurray emerges as an unforgettable figure, connected to the birth of modern American diplomacy, public relations, business, and war a monumental life that reads like a parable of the American dream.

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    One thought on “The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King

    1. Kyrie on said:

      Reading this book felt like listening to a very elderly professor tell a story. It started out about Samuel Zemurray, the banana king. It wandered off and told long tales about various people associated with him, the history of the banana business, the history of Guatemala and Honduras, Che Guevara, WWII, the founding of the Israeli state, Tulane University, how the author wrote the book, and I'm just skimming the surface of the meanderings.I know more than I did before I read the book, but I di [...]

    2. Zahir on said:

      An interesting read about Sam Zemurray, the Russian immigrant who came to the United States penniless and died one of its wealthiest and most influential men. One of the greatest strengths of this book is that it's an honest portrayal as Zemurray as a complicated human being. It doesn't try to cover up his misdeeds or his involvement in some of the darkest and morally questionable acts in American foriegn policy during his era. Rather, it explains the rise of Cuyamel Fruit and Zemurray's eventua [...]

    3. Mal Warwick on said:

      Too Wild to Be Believed, but It's All True: The Outrageous Story of America's Banana KingChances are, you’ve never heard of this guy. But if you’re not aware of some of the things he’s done, you’ll never be a big winner on “Jeopardy” or pass an AP test in modern world history. Just for example, he was the guy who engineered the CIA-led coup that overthrew the government of Guatemala in 1954, ushering in an era of intensified hatred for the United States throughout Latin America. He w [...]

    4. Lauren on said:

      The story peaks early, and the remaining 3/4 of the book is a jumble of apologetic mishmash. Cohen would have served his reader better by not interjecting himself into the biography of someone else time and time again. Cohen has an agenda for this book, and he bent the story to fit it. I lost count of the time he states "He would have said this" or "He would have believed this way". These conjectures became so tiresome and annoying and I ended up skimming the last few chapters.2 stars because Ze [...]

    5. Owen on said:

      IMO there just was not enough of a story to support the length of this book. The rags to riches story and the entrepreneurship the allowed the Banana King to build a Central American empire was interesting but could have been 50 pages. Unless you have a strong interest in early 20th century Central American politics, I think you'll find most of the political plotting to be boring.Add to that the author's clear infatuation with the subject and the lack of solid information about much of his life [...]

    6. Nan Williams on said:

      The story of the time period from 1890 to 1960 (or so)was interesting. I remember the hoop-la surrounding the events in the mid-50s when Allen Dullas was head of the CIA so learning the background for the previous 50 years in Central America was enlightening.The book, however, was very poorly written. It would go around and around in a circle, covering the same material and then suddenly shoot off into the stratosphere to take on a different subject altogether. Many of these subjects (like the f [...]

    7. Amy on said:

      Fascinating man.Amazing impact on an entire region. But . . . I really don't like a story that interrupts itself to (for example) tell you what route he took to work and then say, Not that we know what route he took every day. We have to guess. Just throws me off the stride.

    8. Steven Kaminski on said:

      "I'm sorry sir I can't understand your accent." (Chairmen of the board laughing with his board)Sam Zemurray: "You are all FIRED. Understand that?"Man. Riveting story and figure in this book about Sam Zemurray a Russian immigrant who would become one of the most powerful CEO's in the 20th century and also someone who in some quarters would be reviled because he actually overthrew governments. That's how we got the term 'Banana Republics'. He also went on to be one of the major players behind the [...]

    9. Mike Siems on said:

      Despite being a History/Foreign Affairs major with a Latin America concentration, I had never learned about the 100+ year history of United Fruit, and the story of the American banana men, particularly the originally penniless, and relentless immigrant Sam Zemurray who started his own company to rival UF (also know as "el Pulpo"), then agreed to merge with the company, and eventually rose up to lead it when it was being mismanaged. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in how the US [...]

    10. Catherine on said:

      A really fascinating portrait of Samuel Zemurray, one of the original banana men. He was such a colorful character, and I never imagined a banana company could yield so much influence (at the beginnings of Cuyamel Fruit, Zemurray organized the overthrow of the Honduran government in order to gain tax benefits for his company). His business practices are not considered entirely ethical these days, but at the time he was a revolutionary and even came out of an early retirement to take over United [...]

    11. Ray on said:

      If you ever wondered about that strange yellow "fruit" that easy to eat; try this fascinating story which, among other things, will explain why it's not a fruit. And how it comes from an herb that grows as a rate rivaling the kudzu vine. And how in the history of Central American countries, shrewd entrepreneurs (in the correct sense of the word and not to be confused with business managers) saved piles of what were considered noxious waste into a product of immense proportions. Even how the almo [...]

    12. Margaret Sankey on said:

      Cohen, finding another Tough Jew, relates the outrageous life of Samuel Zemurra, who rose from emigrant poverty as a Mobile shopkeeper by selling ripe bananas along the southern railroads, then branching off into his own plantations, then operating under the wing of United Fruit, then overthrowing the Honduran government with New Orleans goons, then breaking from United Fruit, then taking over United Fruit. Along the way he toppled governments and installed banana republics of breath-taking inco [...]

    13. Andrew on said:

      Was not much of a fan of this book. Felt like a great deal of authorial speculation, and a relative paucity of primary evidence. Perhaps this is due to a lack of documentation of and about Zemurray's life, but that was not made clear by the text. Furthermore, took substantial issue with the author's decision to frame Zemurray's life as an intensely Jewish experience, despite no evidence that Zemurray himself perceived it as such and perhaps even repudiated such a notion. Particularly galling at [...]

    14. Sonny on said:

      I thought this was a superb book! A inside look on how the United Fruit Co. and capitalism ruled south and central America for generations. It got to the point that if Zemurray did not get his 'concessions' from the local governmentHE JUST REPLACED THE ENTIRE GOV'T. This had it all for me - CIA corruption, murder, tyranny, rebel factions etc. I enjoyed 'tough Jews' by the author Rich Cohen so I already liked the writing style.

    15. Betsy Wissinger on said:

      A wild ride. The latter half of the book is where Rich really warms to his subject, as it gets really bizarre (CIA cloak and dagger stuff). Love the one liners. As Rich said, he realized you can shoot to score from anywhere on the ice and he scores a lot!

    16. Julie on said:

      The story of Samuel Zemurray is truly one for the history books, yet is fairly unknown. He effected world politics in enormous ways, both for good and bad. Unfortunately this epic life is written by an amature who continually inserted himself into the story, thus dimishing the impact.

    17. Sashena H on said:

      Great read about Sam Zemurray and United Fruits. Started off slowly but once you get into it, very hard to put down. Rich Cohen did a great job narrating the story!!

    18. Lisa Filipczak on said:

      I read this for my public health book club and I don't think I would have picked it up otherwise. The story was interesting at times but too long. I can't say I'd recommend this to others.

    19. Peter Zink on said:

      Fascinating character and story, but like others have said the author gets in his own way by injecting himself into the story

    20. Lisa on said:

      What a sordid history of the banana as we know it. Some of it was too much, but I did learn a lot.

    21. Christopher on said:

      (This is my review which appeared in the October 18, 2012 issue of the Christian Science Monitor)THE FISH THAT ATE THE WHALE, by Rich CohenGeorges Doriot, the eminent Harvard Business School professor and widely acknowledged “father of venture capital,” had an annual ritual: He would have his students examine a Boston business directory from 100 years prior and then ask them how many of those businesses were still in operation. Invariably, the response ranged from few to none. It was a sober [...]

    22. Mark on said:

      What to say about this book? It's a biography, a history of unfettered capitalists and capitalism, one particular Russian Jewish immigrant as a reflection of the whole (sort of), New Orleans, manipulation of nations in the interest of profit alone, the rise of the CIA, the Monroe Doctrine and the perversion thereof . . . so many things.The subject, Sam Zemurray, ". . . arrived in America in 1891 at age fourteen . . . tall, gangly, and penniless." Over the next sixty years he rises to control the [...]

    23. Liam on said:

      "Some facts about the banana: It's not a tree. It's an herb, the world's tallest grass. Reaching, in perfect conditions, thirty feet, it's the largest plant in the world without a woody trunk. Its stem actually consists of banana leaves, big, thick, elephant ears, coiled like a roll of dollar bills. As the plant grows, the stem uncoils, revealing new leaves, tender at first, rough at last. The fruit appears at the end of a cycle, growing from a stem that bends toward the ground under its own eig [...]

    24. Calvin Campany on said:

      If you read this book, you will never look at a banana the same way again. I was inspired by a friend to learn more about United Fruit and life in Central America, so when I saw this book at Cellar Stories I snapped it up. I was treated to a history, in part, of New Orleans, Boston, and Central America. It also touched upon what it was like for a Jewish immigrant striving in business in 20th century America. It was also packed with the natural history and biology of the banana. Remember when car [...]

    25. Mallory McClenathen on said:

      Interesting biography about a man who had a greater impact on history than most people probably realize. I agree with other reviewers that the author is prone to go off on tangents, but I found them all fairly interesting so didn't mind them.Having read Bitter Fruit (which I highly recommend!), I knew the book would eventually get to United Fruit's involvement in the '54 Guatemalan coup. I was looking forward to learning more about Zemurray's role in the coup - did he help initiate the campaign? [...]

    26. Joe Collins on said:

      An excellent history of one the more successful business owners in US history, Samual “The Banana Man” Zemurray . From his immigration from Russia in the late 1880, to selling bananas from railroad cars, to create a strong multi national company, and eventual underdog story of his take over of the much larger United Fruit Company. It covers his unconventional 1911 overthrow of the Honduran government, his facing the wrath of Huey Long, his support of Roosevelt’s New Deal, his financial don [...]

    27. Mich on said:

      Fascinating story of Sam Zemurray who arrived penniless in 1891, a Polish Jew, and went on to control United Fruit and dominate the banana growing countries of Central America. He hired mercenaries to overthrow governments and was highly skilled in rescuing business. The history of the banana republics is well laid out and so the book not only tells of Sam's rise to power but also provides insights into the U.S.'s machinations and political maneuvering with these governments. Sam's role in the f [...]

    28. MelanieHilliard on said:

      A classic American rags to riches story. Samuel Zemurray arrives in the US a penniless immigrant and becomes a titan of industry. Zemurray's story is an amazing tale. However, I found Cohen's biographical writing style a bit peculiar and difficult. Cohen, despite acknowledging that he has no data or reference material to back up this fact, imagines that Zemurray's great regret in life is not raising his kids to be observant Jews. There are multiple instances when Cohen's ideas about Zemurray ent [...]

    29. Jenna on said:

      The author did an amazing job at stating the facts of "The Banana Cowboy's" life and all of his accomplishments and downfalls. The author remains impartial throughout the book, not letting his feelings change the facts. I couldn't believe that the events in the book actually occurred in real life! This is an amazing read that feels more like a work of fiction than fact, and this is why I loved the book so much. This novel led me to do more research on how we behave unethically without even knowi [...]

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