Pirate's Alley Faulkner SocietyWords & Music


Rich Cohen

Author Of:

The Fish That Ate The Whale:

The Life & Times of America's Banana King


About the Author & His Work:

Rich Cohen (born July 30, 1968) is an American non-fiction writer, who has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 2006. There, he  has written a wide range of articles for the magazine, among them an investigative report about Israel’s secretive counterterrorism operation Sayeret Matkal, an analysis of Hitler’s Toothbrush mustache, and cover stories on George Clooney, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie. Cohen is the author of five books, including Tough Jews (Simon & Schuster, 1998) and Sweet and Low (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), and his articles have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times.  Born and raised in Lake Forest, IL, he grew up in Chicago's North Shore suburb of Glencoe and attended the same high school as Rock Hudson and Donald Rumsfeld. He received his BA from Tulane University in 1990. He now lives, with his “ridiculously large family,” in Ridgefield, CT.

An admirer of the works of journalists A.J. Liebling, Ian Frazier, and Joseph Mitchell, Cohen took a job as a messenger at the offices of The New Yorker magazine, where he published 12 stories in the "Talk of the Town" section in 18 months. After then working as a reporter for The New York Observer, Cohen joined the staff of Rolling Stone in 1994, later moving to Vanity Fair.

Cohen published his first book Tough Jews—a non-fiction account of the Jewish gangsters of 1930s Brooklyn—in 1998. In The New York Times, writer Vincent Patrick called the book "marvelous," with "writing good enough to cause one, at times, to reread a page in order to savor the description” His second work, The Avengers: A Jewish War Story (2000), follows a group of anti-Nazi partisans in the forests of Lithuania at the close of World War II. The book was excerpted in Newsweek. And Publishers Weeklycalled the non-fiction work "a terrific narrative of courage and tenacity” and The Washington Post called it "a tremendous story." His third work, the memoir Lake Effect (2002), received the 2002 Great Lakes Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book. Cohen's 2006 book Sweet and Low is a memoir about the creation of the artificial sweetener, a product invented by Benjamin Eisenstadt, the author's grandfather. Newsweek praised the book as "sad, true and hilarious";[ The Washington Post called it "superb” and "a wildly addictive, high-octane narrative". Writing in The New York Times, critic Michiko Kakutani called the book "a classic"—"a telling—and often hilarious—parable about the pursuit and costs of the American Dream." In 2009, Cohen published Israel is Real: An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and its History. In The New York Times Book Review, the writer Tony Horwitz said the book "accomplished the miraculous. It made a subject that has vexed me since childhood into a riveting story." In 2010, Cohen co-wrote the memoir When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead, the story of American film producer Jerry Weintraub; the book was a New York Times bestseller.
Cohen's story of United Fruit president and banana king Sam Zemurray, The Fish That Ate The Whale, was published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux June 5, 2012.  He also has published a book for children this year: Alex and The Amazing Time Machine  Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Movies and television
In 2007, Paramount Pictures announced it had closed a deal to produce The Long Play, a screenplay Cohen had written for Mick Jagger and director Martin Scorsese, with Scorsese directing.directing.  He has worked on the Starz show Magic City, and is currently developing a project for HBO.  
2008 The Best American Essays
2006 New York Times Hundred Best Books of the Year
2006 New York Times Notable Book
2006 Salon Book Award
2005 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award
2002 New York Times Notable Book
2002 Chicago Public Library Twentieth Century Award
2002 Great Lakes Book Award

About the Book:

“To me,” Rich Cohen has said of his book, “Sam Zemurray’s life is the true story of the American dream—not only of the success but of the prices paid for the ambition that led to success."

Writing for Bloomberg Business Week, Daniel Grushkin said:
In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup d’état in Guatemala that was more ruse than revolution. Agents transmitted fake newscasts of a right-wing uprising, dropped smoke bombs on Guatemala City, and sent a 39-year-old ex-colonel named Carlos Castillo Armas to invade the country with a band of 400 mercenaries. That the operation succeeded in ousting Guatemala’s democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz, was a surprise. That the CIA itself had been manipulated was a catastrophe. Behind the ruse-within-a-ruse was the most powerful man in Central America, banana salesman Samuel Zemurray, the subject of Rich Cohen’s The Fish That Ate the Whale. Zemurray epitomized the gumption it takes to rise from the depths of poverty to great heights. But his story is also a lesson in what it means for a business to have too much power.


Mobile was booming in the last years of the 19th century, a seedy industrial port filled with all the familiar types: the sharpie, the financier, the scoundrel, the chucklehead, the sport. Sam was a bit of everything. He could be shrewd, but he could also be naive. He was greedy for information. He took a room in a seamen’s hotel near the port. The waterfront was crossed by train tracks—dozens of lines converged here. Boxcars crammed with coal, fruit, cotton, and cane stood on the sidings. The railroad conductors were the aristocrats of the scene. They drank coffee in the station house, smug in their checkered caps. The docks were crowded with stevedores, most of them immigrants from Sicily. The train sheds were crowded with peddlers, mostly Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. They bought merchandise off the decks of ships and sold it from carts in the streets of Mobile. One evening, Sam stood on the wharf watching a Boston Fruit banana boat sail into the harbor. The Boston Fruit Company, which would become United Fruit, dominated the trade, with a fleet that carried bananas from Jamaica to Boston, Charleston, New Orleans, and Mobile. Zemurray would have seen one of the smaller ships that made the trip to the Gulf ports, a cutter with sails and engine. The funnel sent up black smoke. The pier strained under the weight of unloaders who appeared, as if out of nowhere, whenever a ship landed. As soon as the boat was anchored, these men swarmed across the deck, ants on a sugar pile, working in organized teams.

Faulkner Society events are made possible in part by support from The Arts Council of New Orleans, the City of New Orleans, and the Decentralized Arts Funding Program of The Louisiana Division of the Arts; the J. J. and Dr. Donald Dooley Fund and administrator, Samuel L. Steele, III; Bertie Deming Smith and the Deming Foundation; the Hearst Corporation and Debra Shriver, Vice President; the Law Firm of Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles; the English Speaking Union; Rosemary James, Joseph DeSalvo and Faulkner House, Inc; Randy Fertel and The Ruth U. Fertel Foundation; Arthur & Mary Davis, Quint Davis, and Pam Friedler; Alexa Georges; the Louisiana State Museum; Elizabeth McKinley; Hotel Monteleone; Mr. & Mrs. Hartwig Moss, III; Theodosia M. Nolan, Tia and James Roddy, and Peter Tattersall; Parkside Foundation; Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre; Anne and Ron Pincus; Other Press, a Division of Random House; E. Quinn Peeper and Michael Harold; Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture: Nancy Cater, Editor; the State Library of Louisiana; Judith "Jude" Swenson in memory of her late husband, James Swenson.

Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society
624 Pirate’s Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116
phone: (504) 586-1609 or (504) 525-5615
fax: (504) 522-9725
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