'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.

  • The Fish That Ate the Whale
    Cain, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, and James Hadley Chase, and instead pick up Rich Cohen's vigorous and gripping The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King. This history-embedded, anecdote-rich biography of Sam Zemurray ...
    10/21/2016 - 1:16 pm | View Link
  • The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King, by Rich Cohen (2012)
    The best stories teach us without our knowing. The best way to illustrate this, of course, is with a story. When I was in elementary school, I had to memorize the prefixes of the metric system: kilo-, hecto-, deca-, base, deci-, centi-, milli-.
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  • ‘The Fish That Ate the Whale,’ by Rich Cohen
    Amid the vast outpouring of literature about America’s banana empire in the Caribbean, no one seems to have written a full-fledged biography of the remarkable Samuel Zemurray, who guided the United Fruit Company through perilous times. Rich Cohen has ...
    09/13/2012 - 1:00 pm | View Link
  • "The Fish That Ate the Whale" by Rich Cohen
    Jeff Glor talks to Rich Cohen about "The Fish That Ate the Whale." Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book? Rich Cohen: I was a student at Tulane University in New Orleans, where the President lives in the grand mansion that had once been the ...
    08/13/2012 - 4:04 am | View Link
  • “The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King” by Rich Cohen
    Samuel Zemurray — known as “Sam the Bananaman” — was a Russian-Jewish immigrant turned New Orleans banana tycoon, the archetypal self-made man. This, in a nutshell, is the premise that governs Rich Cohen’s new account of Zemurray’s life, “The ...
    07/21/2012 - 6:26 am | View Link
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