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Publisher's Summary

When Samuel Zemurray arrived in America in 1891, he was tall, gangly, and penniless. When he died in the grandest house in New Orleans 69 years later, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world. In between, he worked as a fruit peddler, banana hauler, dockside hustler, and plantation owner. He battled and conquered the United Fruit Company, becoming a symbol of the best and worst of the United States: proof 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. 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.

©2012 Rich Cohen (P)2012 Dreamscape Media, LLC

What the critics say

"This is popular history and biography at its best, making for an easy verdict: This book will appeal strongly to lay readers and scholars alike. Highly recommended to all." ( Library Journal)
"...it is nearly impossible to put the book down, and that's something you don't say about a lot of biographies - and especially biographies of businessmen. For anyone who enjoys a good life story, this one is an absolute must-read." ( Booklist)

What listeners say about The Fish That Ate the Whale

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Really interesting short biography

I've never been that interested in the fruit trade, but I picked this one up on Ryan Holiday's recommendation and got sucked in from the first page. It's a true story but reads like a novel. Pick up this book.

1 person found this helpful

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  • SD
  • 2021-11-03

Interesting history

I quite enjoyed this book. There was a lot of interesting history. The book covered Sam Zemurray, and many of the interesting people he dealt with. I have listened to this book three times now, and continue to be fascinated by the lives these people had.

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So many historical events

It's amazing to hear how many major historical events were touched by the Banana King

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  • Alison Willette
  • 2017-07-10

a whale of a story

one of the best agricultural history books I have listened to. I'm glad that the author didn't try to make Zamarie out to be a hero. he did a great job of being able to show both sides of the coin. the narrator was clear and took good pauses. I was surprised buy how interesting the narrator was able to make this book. I probably could have sat all the way through it in one sitting if I'd had the time. It was that good.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Jose
  • 2021-05-04

Rich Cohen, Chest thump for the Hitler of Bananas

Every Honduran should read this book and take in the nationalist pride and joy that Rich Cohen has in Sam Zammuray's story. It's a cool adventure story, it shows how a person can find a niche and opportunity and go for it. If you are willing to do anything for money, you can make a lot of money. If you worship money and wealth, then there is not a boundary you won't cross and there is no other consideration. I mean Worship (Capital "W") and adore the Golden Calf. This guy is so cool! He machined gunned Hondurans for money! He poisoned workers to control costs! A model business person!

In Honduras, the particulars of this story are not told! Suppressed! Not shared to kids in school. It is too shameful, embarrassing, and potentially politically explosive. Some Honduran political experts like to describe what happened as a complex Wall Street, CIA plot with Langley, Virginia architects. Nope, it was just a greedy, ignorant, soulless discount grocer from Bessarabia, with New Orleans greaseball gangsters, and a Honduran Politician that ruined our Mocondo. No Jack Ryan involved.

But the story should be important to all Americans too. Is everybody cool with foreign policy gangsterism that leads to Chavez in Venezuela, Castro in Cuba, Noriega in Nicaragua, Genocide war in Guatemala, Migration waves to the USA border and a near WW3 in the 80’s. The banana racket even convinced American governments to provide security and military assistance to sustain profits and coerce obligations from small nations. What a clever guy, he made the US tax payers foot the bill keep his empire. But at least Sam the Banana man could make a fortune for himself is the message. What did regular Americans folks get? Bananas for their breakfast cereal. This story belongs in the "See you in hell" hall of fame.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Sean
  • 2016-06-13

Fun business and history.

Fun mix of business and history. The author treats the history with truth and humor. He presents all the information well and explains any biases he may have. Who knew a banana company could have such a torrid background?

7 people found this helpful

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  • Jonathan Gheller
  • 2019-10-08

An amazing life story superbly written

An amazing life story superbly written. A biography that is also a commentary on America, Capitalism and Judaism

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  • mikemccann3
  • 2017-08-11

Incredible story about the banana man

The story of Sam Zemurray was fascinating. I had no idea who he was until I heard about this book when it was recommended to me. Amazing tale of how he got started, his hustle, his demise, and the entire build up of the banana industry.

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  • Pete Popovich
  • 2020-07-07

Incredible story and excellent writing

Mr Cohen tells the amazing story of “The Banana Man”, but he also deftly weaves important American and world history into the story. Outstanding writing!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Justin & Lindsay
  • 2016-06-09

Great lessons in this book

What a great book with so many hidden lessons I recommend it for sure thanks

4 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-10-31

An All-Time Favorite

I read this book on my own years ago and absolutely loved it. The audio version does not disappoint. I've listened several times. Excellent author, excellent narrator, excellent story.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Baghen
  • 2020-10-21

The Author Must Have Been There

Seriously this book is so packed full of details, no stone left unturned. You’re presented the full story with all its blemishes and coffee stains and I swear the author must have been there because he knows every angle of every thing that happened. I can only imagine how much work went into writing and researching this and it is a fantastic read.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Deanna Arrigo
  • 2020-02-15

Interesting Story

The story is interesting. It follows a man from being a penniless jew to being a multi-government-controlling big wig. Themes are stubbornness, ingenuity, and perseverance. Unfortunately, the narrator was hard to listen to. I can't quite pin-point why (his voice had inflection and he was not monotone), but at times I found myself drifting away from the book. His voice is almost too perfect that it lulls you to sleep. Anyway, if you're interested in how small businesses become big and how they change over time, then you'll enjoy this story.

1 person found this helpful