ISBN: 0679781803
ISBN 13: 9780679781806
By: Joan Didion

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About this book

It is where Fidel Castro raised money to overthrow Batista and where two generations of Castro's enemies have raised armies to overthrow him, so far without success. It is where the bitter opera of Cuban exile intersects with the cynicism of U.S. foreign policy. It is a city whose skyrocketing murder rate is fueled by the cocaine trade, racial discontent, and an undeclared war on the island ninety miles to the south. As Didion follows Miami's drift into a Third World capital, she also locates its position in the secret history of the Cold War, from the Bay of Pigs to the Reagan doctrine and from the Kennedy assassination to the Watergate break-in. Miami is not just a portrait of a city, but a masterly study of immigration and exile, passion, hypocrisy, and political violence.

Reader's Thoughts


This book should realy be called Cubans in Miami, because it doesn't talk much about anybody else. But it does give a pretty good overview of Miami Cuban politics in the 60s, 70s and 80s.


This book is probably more interesting being when it was written, but it has not aged that well.The parts about Miami are well done with the tie-in between the Cuban exiles and the Contras and the US government is well known by now so the book is not that much revelation so many years after the fact.


I really enjoyed this book, which was nothing if not well researched and structured. I appreciated how Didion started small, with the city itself, and grew the book outward, to encompass not just Cuba but other Central and South American countries, as well as other American cities, especially Washington. Her picture of interconnectedness was fabulous, and her diction also great. She used a great deal of repetition in both word and phrase, which I appreciated, as she I'd it when the emphasis was most dire - and it often was.There were a few things I wasn't crazy about. Mainly, her penchant for separating the main sentence with a million dependent clauses, especially in sentences that were often a paragraph, even a page, long. Several times in each chapter, these sentences were so convoluted that in lost her train of thought and had to reread sections. While her points were always valuable, they were muddled.I also wasn't crazy for the title, and I wondered if it was chosen more for marketing reasons than anything else - that a book with a one-word title would seem less academic, more NYT best seller. Because the book was about more, and less, than Miami. It was about very specifically Cuban emigre Miami. Other races, ethnicities, and cultures were referred to only insofar as they related to the Cuban experience. And while I think that is fine, as it created an extremely interesting book, I feel like the title is misleading of subject. It should have either had a subtitle, or been called something more like "Cuban Miami."

Patrick McCoy

Miami has been a place that has intrigued me since the days of Miami Vice. Recent shows set there include Burn Notice and Dexter. And it is also the setting of the Charles Willeford's Hoke Moseley novels. Joan Didion took a look at the city in the late 80s and then wrote Miami (1987). It is a fascinating look at the city, but mostly through the Cuban exile politics that have taken place there, where John F. Kennedy was the second most hated man after Fidel Castro. So it goes from the effects of the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy assassination, to Watergate breaks in, and establishment of Miami as a Third World capital. The book closes by showing how the policies against Cuba were collated and combined with the Reagan administration doctrine of intervention in Central America. As usual Didion's crystalline style permeates the story.

Jodi Farrell

One of the best books written about Miami. She nails The Miami Herald and the Cuban community.


A fascinating account of the Cuban exiles in Miami and their impact on American foreign policy.


I now believe in conspiracy theories. Has Joan Didion ever written a bad non-fiction book?

Bertha Leal

The amount of facts, names, and locations are somewhat cumbersome but what you get in return is a fascinating look behind the politics and history of Miami, all wrapped up in Didion's wonderful run-on-sentences style of writing. Having lived in Miami for nearly two decades I was surprised by how much I learned about this dynamic city in particular, and the Cuban exile in general.


The indispensable Didion turns her eagle-eyed gaze at the Cuban exile community in Miami in a story full of assimilation and assassination, neurotic nationalism and opportunistic anti-communism.


Sadly, it's too late for me to grow up to be Joan Didion. She does shit with commas that should be illegal all in fifty states, makes it work, and then stands in tropical humid heat, smoking calmly, without breaking a sweat.If I weren't already dreaming of a move to Miami, this book might have nudged me in that direction. It's not really so much about Miami, per se, but about Cubans there in the eighties. I recommend it, if you're into that sort of thing.


Didion is marvelous with using detail to tell a story. "Miami" is not exactly what I expected. Rather than a cultural study of Miami of the 80s similar to what she did for California with "The White Album," this well-researched book drills into the Cuban communities of Miami, and tells some of the intersected stories of private sector foreign policy in Central America and the Caribbean during the Reagan years.


I actually picked this book up before I recent trip to Miami and read it on the way back on the plane. It felt a little dated (it pubed in 1987) but Joan Didion's writing made for enjoyable reading, especially her descriptions of Miami's languid, underwater feel. The chronicling of particular Miami residents' lives, particularly of Cuban-Americans & African Americans, was eye-opening. Growing up in 80's these stories seemed somehow imbedded in my brain w/out me knowing it. The only thing keeping this from five would be towards the end of the the piece which, in my opinion, slips a bit too much into speculation and peters out in a Reagan diatribe (well deserved, just a bit boring).

Taylor Kate Brown

“begins: Havana vanities come to dust in Miami.” Joan Didion writes without a single wasted word and is the master of grammatically correct run-on sentences. She does justice to a city I barely know anything about, so much so that I feel the South Florida humidity on my forehead.I’m shocked that nearly 200 pages of political intrigue surround U.S. foreign policy in Latin America from 1960 to 1980 could be so… sexy?


This one took me a while to get into. The narrative, if you will, is non-linear, opaque, and often confusing and contradictory sounding. But that's the point. Didion stirs a tropical cauldron of politics, actions, laments, lies and reversals. The end result is a heat-dream snapshot of a Miami often closer culturally to Cuba than America.

David Bales

A rather disturbing book about the sinister history of Miami in the thirty or so years after the communist revolution in Cuba to the drug-filled '80s; a story of how the poison of the anti-Castro rebels infested South Florida and American politics, from the Bay of Pigs to the Contras in the '80s, and how the low-scheming and political intrigue involving the CIA, drug money and Cuban millionaires led on roads (perhaps) to Dallas in 1963 and the barely noticed Iran-Contra scandal. Gives insight onto how the Cuban diaspora to Florida has affected American presidential elections to this day and why the U.S. still has no diplomatic relations with Cuba as well as how drug money infiltrated Miami banks, aiding drug lords in money laundering. Gives a pretty good run down on how Miami went from a generally sleepy resort town run by Southern Crackers in the 1950s into a major Latin American city by the '80s, and the resulting racial tension between the haves and have-nots, (Cubans versus blacks, etc.) that has soured Miami's overall reputation. Next to "Salvador", one of Didion's best.

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