Havana Nocturne

49. Havana Nocturne: How The Mob Owned Cuba – And Then Lost It to the Revolution by T.J. English. 396 p. Published June 2008.

In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew General Batista to take control of Cuba. But for almost 30 years prior, Cuba’s political strife and corruption served as the perfect atmosphere for organised crime to make a profit.

After the end of prohibition, mobsters knew they needed to diversify and find other sources of income. Gambling soon became one of the most profitable ventures for most gangsters, but increasing regulation and government pressure loomed in their future. Two mobsters, Meyer Lansky and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, foresaw the need for a base of operations outside of the U.S. – setting organised crime and North American politics on a collision path.

What most people know of the mob’s involvment in Cuba comes from the second Godfather film. And all of it comes down to myth and suposition. In Havana Nocturne, English composes dozens of accounts and testimonials to formulate the facts and reality of the Havana Mob’s rise to power. In doing so, English reveals Lansky’s vision for Cuba – an island of pleasure, gambling, and graft – and the steps he took to stear others toward that goal.

I found this book to be an amazing and in-depth look into the mob’s heyday and a great read for anyone who enjoys true-crime or politics.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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Never Have Your Dog Stuffed

48. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned by Alan Alda. 240 p. Published September 2005.

This is the autobiography of Alan Alda, an actor famous for a number of roles, including M.A.S.H.’s Hawkeye and host of Scientific American Frontiers. Mr. Alda has always been a favorite of mine, so reading this book presented me with the opportunity to learn about the man behind the mask.

Alan Alda was born Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo. His father, an outstanding actor in his own right, collaborated with Alphonso to use the stage name ‘Alan Alda.’

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed begins with Alda’s childhood, where he watched his father’s performances with growing interest. Gathering inspiration from them, Alan vowed to one day become an actor himself. However, as he groes older and more aware of reality, both Alan and his father must come to terms with his mother’s increasingly obvious case of schizophrenia.

Following Alda through college, his acting career, and his personal life, this book provides a glimpse of the man behind the actor. From the start, Alda is remarkably straight forward, criticizing his own actions and perceptions. This slow progression toward an understanding of himself begins to reflect in his status and skills as an actor.

The name of the book illustrates Alda’s message. As a boy, his dog died, and instead of burying it, he entreated upon his parents to have it taxidermied. The dog becomes a twisted and macabre reflection of itself, haunting Alda with its glassy gaze. So to, Alda strives to show how the things in life must come and go, and to hold on them past their time twists them into something they aren’t. Rather, it is better to enjoy the moment and use it to grow.

With the wit of a practiced writer and the candor of a philosopher, Alda provides a glimpse of the human condition. At times I marveled how well Alda visualized what were obviously trying periods in his life, conveying his pains and pleasures with equal clarity and emotion. As the biography comes to a close, it’s remarkable how humble Alda is despite his fame and popularity.

Rating: 4 out of 5

If Chins Could Kill

46. If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell. 302 p. Published 2001.

I’ve been meaning to read this memoir for a long time, but the moment just never seemed right. Until last week after an extended Evil-Dead/Army of Darkness marathon. Or course, you may recognise him from his other works: Congo, The Adventures of Brisco County, appearances on Hercules and Xena, as a spokesman for Old Spice, or from his current roll on USA’s Burn Notice (great show).

This autobiography begins with Bruce’s childhood, detailing his days as a Michigan youth. Growing up in a world without camcoders or YouTube, Campbell and his peers (like visionary directors Raimi and Coen) develop an attraction to film. Starting with home movies and low budget 8mm, the small group of enterprising moviemakers soon begins to collect experience and funding for larger projects. Taking us through each production, this book not only follows Campbell’s development as an actor/director, but documents his personal struggle with his chosen profession.

With a candid behind-the-scenes approach, Campbell tells it like it is. Whether acting or directing, the film/TV industry is hard, demanding work. As Bruce takes us through his life, he shares the wealth of experience gleaned over the years, refrencing each nugget with a cherished moment. Campbell’s love for film runs richly through If Chins Could Kill, invigorating the reader and providing insight into the golden age of independant cinema.

Rating: 3 out of 5