338: Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten

by Gerard

338.766359097291: Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause. New York: Penguin, 2008. 365 pp. ISBN 978-0-14-311632-5.

Books in DDC section 338 are notorious for having long Dewey numbers. The 330s are economics, and 338 is specifically “Production.” Any company that makes something falls under here, and that’s just about half of them (the other half are service companies). 338.7 is “business enterprises,” or what everyone else calls companies. 338.76 starts the “business enterprises by industry”. Then things get interesting—you have to go find the Dewey number for the product that the company makes and attach it. In this case, rum is 663.59, so the number now becomes 338.766359. Since this book is about a rum company specific to the island of Cuba, you can tack on the geographical marker, which is -097291. And voila, a book about a rum-producing business enterprise in Cuba.

Tom Gjelten’s Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba is a beautiful and somewhat heart-breaking history of the Bacardi rum company in Cuba. Founded by Facundo Bacardi Masso in the 1843 as “Facundo Bacardi y Compania”, he sought to create a general store that would service the entire population of Cuba, from the plantation worker to the fair-skinned elite. This small store was eventually restructured into a burgeoning rum distillery on February 4, 1862 and has been in continuous operation since.

From the beginning, Bacardi was embroiled in one fight or another, starting with the wars for Cuban Independence from the 1870s to the 1890s, to the U.S. occupation in the early 1900s, to the republic era, and finally the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Each new political struggle brought new challenges for the extensive family and the ever-expanding global business. And early on, the Bacardi did not shy away from entangling themselves into the fights. Facundo’s son Emilio helped to finance and communicate with Cuban independence fighters.

Gjelten’s narrative is sprawling and sometimes gets away from the main subject, but manages to transport the reader (however remote) into the hearts and minds of the Bacardi family and the Cuban people. If at times it seems like you’re reading a long transcript from some NPR broadcast, it’s because Gjelten is a correspondent for them. His scholarship into the Bacardi family is magnificent and praiseworthy. While it’s mainly through the lens of the family, this book gives a good look into the history and struggles of the Cuban people over the last 150 years.