'The Fish That Ate the Whale,' by Rich Cohen Zemurray, then the teenage son of Russian Jewish immigrants living in the Deep South, saw opportunity in what was, until then, a relatively unknown oddity in the fruit world. Though not particularly religious, he was a key financial banker of the exodus of Jews out of Europe after World War II and the founding of the sovereign state of Israel. Part banana cowboy, part corporate raider, by any measure he lived a successful life in a colorful period of American history, the tail end of Manifest Destiny. In Honduras, he voraciously acquired thousands of acres and turned jungles into banana farms, taking advantage of cheap labor from the local residents. When Washington threatened to impose a treaty that would squeeze his profit margins, Zemurray simply put together an army of hired guns and overtook the American-supported sitting president, installing a puppet regime in his place. The whale in Cohen's tale is United Fruit, which in the early part of the 1900s dominated agriculture the way Henry Ford dominated the auto industry. By 1933, Zemurray had had enough of the absentee management of a United Fruit board of directors that seemed unfazed by a precipitous drop in stock value. Zemurray could be a powerful adversary and dangerous board opponent, but it says something about his character - and his sense of historic responsibility - that he reflexively supported the likes of Ze'ev Schind, a Zionist operative looking for ships to break the British blockade of Palestine after World War II.

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  • The Fish That Ate the Whale
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    09/13/2012 - 1:00 pm | View Link
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    August 13, 2012, 2:58 PM |Jeff Glor talks to Rich Cohen about his new book, "The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King." The book chronicles the life of Samuel Zemurray, who made his fortune in the banana trade and became a ...
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    The deal appears only halfway through Rich Cohen's colorful quasi-biography "The Fish That Ate the Whale," so it's clear there's more to be heard from the Banana Man, the hungry fish of the title. Zemurray came to America from Russia in 1891 at age 14 and ...
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    This, in a nutshell, is the premise that governs Rich Cohen’s new account of Zemurray’s life, “The Fish That Ate the Whale.” For Cohen, Zemurray’s career “is the history of the nation, the promise and the betrayal of that promise, experienced ...
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