Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter
In June, Farrar, Straus and Giroux will publish Rich Cohen’s latest book: The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King
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, 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 Bananaman lived one of the great untold stories of the last hundred years. Starting with nothing but a cart of freckled bananas and built a sprawling empire of banana cowboys, Mestizo Indians, soldiers of fortune, Mafia loan-sharks, Honduran peasants and American Presidents. From hustling on the docks to bankrolling private wars, Zemurray emerges as an unforgettable figure, connected to the birth of modern American diplomacy, public relations, business and war.
Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Naomi is the executive director of Jewish Book Council. She graduated from Emory University with degrees in English and Art History and, in addition, studied at University College London. Prior to her role as executive director, Naomi served as the founding editor of the JBC website and blog and managing editor of Jewish Book World. In addition, she has overseen JBC’s digital initiatives, and also developed the JBC’s Visiting Scribe series and Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation.