The Fish That Ate the Whale - Rich Cohen

The Fish That Ate the Whale

By Rich Cohen

  • Release Date: 2012-06-05
  • Genre: Americas
Score: 4
From 97 Ratings


A legendary tale, both true and astonishing, from the author of Israel is Real and Sweet and Low

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 Banana Man lived one of the great untold stories of the last hundred years. Starting with nothing but a cart of freckled bananas, he built a sprawling empire of banana cowboys, mercenary soldiers, Honduran peasants, CIA agents, and American statesmen. From hustling on the docks of New Orleans to overthrowing Central American governments, from feuding with Huey Long to working with the Dulles brothers, Zemurray emerges as an unforgettable figure, connected to the birth of modern American diplomacy, public relations, business, and war—a monumental life that reads like a parable of the American dream.


  • Amazed

    By Class 80
    This is the most interesting history I have read. As a former student from the Escuela Agricola Panamericana, I totally identify myself with Zemurray's working philosophy as it was part of Zamorano's daily tuition program. Excellent book.
  • Interesting read

    By joemont
    Good one
  • Good yarn!

    By Rajarrific
    Great story on a fascinating character! Reads more like a novel at times and not always sure how much is true, but a entertaining and informative nonetheless.
  • Great Book

    By MarkFerd
    The story that Mr. Cohen tells of Sam The Banana Man is of a complicated and consequential life. It is fascinating how much influence Sam Zemurray had on the geopolitics of the 20th century. The way that Mr.Cohen is able to tie the events of Sam's life to the broader context of the last century is incredibly compelling. I strongly recommend this book.