Banana Sam

The banana tycoon Samuel Zemurray is an attractive and difficult subject for biography. Attractive, because his life is a biographer’s playground: He ran the United Fruit Company for two decades, from 1933 to 1954, was an irrepressible meddler in world affairs, and came to be numbered among the American South’s most notable philanthropists. Difficult, because there are few clear accounts of Zemurray’s adventures, as he meticulously cultivated his privacy, as Rich Cohen writes in The Fish That Ate the Whale. And yet in this, the first full-length biography of Zemurray, Cohen builds a remarkable story from a life half lived in the shadows.

Schmuel Zmurri was born in 1877 in Bessarabia, modern-day Moldova, and emigrated to the United States at age 14. In 1893, he visited Mobile, Alabama, where the teenager spied his first opportunity in the banana trade. Continue reading “Banana Sam”

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As Rwanda Forgives

How does a country that loses up to 20 percent of its population to genocide heal the scars of hatred? Perhaps more concretely, how does a country like that deal with the challenge of criminal justice when 2 percent of its population is in prison for perpetrating genocide—killing their one-time friends and neighbors?

These very questions vexed leaders in Rwanda. Families and communities needed to heal and rebuild, and the criminal justice system would never be able to deal with the backlog of genocide trials.

Rwanda opted for the path of forgiveness. Continue reading “As Rwanda Forgives”

Stopping the Slaughter

“Hold on,” says John Montgomery as he answers the phone at his desk. “I’m going to go to a conference room where it’s a bit quieter. We have an open office concept here.”

The open office is a small part of Montgomery’s powerful sense of openness and equality. He’s the founding partner of Bridgeway, an investment management firm based in Houston. It’s not a typical financial firm. Among its 30 employees—Montgomery calls them all partners—there is a seven-to-one compensation cap: the highest-earning partner makes no more than seven times the salary of the lowest-earning partner. Continue reading “Stopping the Slaughter”