ISBN: 0679781803
ISBN 13: 9780679781806
By: Joan Didion

Check Price Now


Currently Reading Essays Fiction Florida History Joan Didion Miami Non Fiction Nonfiction To Read

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


It seems like it's cheating to rate a book when I didn't actually finish it, but I read about 75% of it. I really enjoyed the first few chapters that were a bit more sociological about North America's only truly Latin American city (for instance, in 1987, only 23% of the population in Miami spoke English as a first language), but it soon began delving into so much of the history of American-Cuban relations that I just got lost. I tried very hard to keep up, but after 100 pages or so of what basically read as so much gibberish it might as well have been written in Spanish, I gave up. A great book for someone who already has a pretty good grasp on Cuban history, and is intimately familiar with the Bay of Pigs (and it might, actually, even help to know a bit more Spanish than I do). So maybe I'll go educate myself and return to this book at a later date and get a bit more out of it. I'll also add that I've just always struggled a little bit with Didion anyway, so it could be that I just don't care for her writing very much.


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


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."

Michael Shilling

Positing that Miami, in the 1980s, was less American than CIA-Cuban-interlocked-paranoia-land, where political reality was corrugated by the battering of complex social and emotional stresses.


Didion continues to be my favorite non-fiction author. The precision of her language matches the precision of her analysis, whether she's describing on the micro scale of how minute gestures of an interviewee reveal their worldview, or the macro scale of Washington politics in the Reagan era. Here (circa '87) she's plumbing the gulf between Miami's Cuban and Anglo populations, and the complicated relation of Cuban anti-Castro militants to Washington, "la lucha" (the struggle) and each other. Many fascinating characters, stories, counter-stories and observations.In her earlier book Salvador, I think Didion allowed the terrifying absurdities she witnessed to overcome her willingness to analyze. Here, though she is still dealing with complicated and murky subject matter, she emerges with some clear conclusions about how Washington's abstractions create its own monsters, and there's a chilling and prophetic underlining of this when, in a Washington conservative think-tank presentation about rolling back the Soviet empire ('87, remember), she notes the character of Jack Wheeler drumming up support for the Islamic mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan.


After finishing my history course, I would be a lot more interested in reading this again and seeing what I would gain from it. I was simply not in the know enough to understand the parallels she was drawing at the time.

Jessica Gartner

The first line of this book is one of my favorite sentences.


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.


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.

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.

Hank Stuever

Further intrigued by Joan Didion after we read a chunk from "Miami" in a journalism course I took junior year called Interpretive Writing. Going back, I consider it a somewhat uneven piece compared with the rest of her work, but it's worth studying. She's out of her elements (California; New York), but that's also what makes it interesting. If I had not discovered "The White Album" a year and a half later, I might not have paid much attention to Joan Didion after this, which seems unthinkable now, but there you go.


Some of the themes seem a little dated now, twenty-years later. Some things about the Cuban exile view both across the Florida Strait and back over their collective shoulder at the rest of North American haven't changed at all. And should it? After all, Fidel still lives.

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.


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.

Jodi Farrell

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

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *