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Miami Beach Exposed

Gerald Posner strings together an exposé as entertaining as any Carl Hiaasen novel.

Book Cover Miami has certainly had a fair share of superlative chroniclers—Joan Didion’s Miami, David Rieff’s Going to Miami: Tourists, Exiles, and Refugees in the New America, among others—while Miami Beach has been celebrated mostly by crime story writers—Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard and Charles Wiliford, and TV cartoon shows such as Miami Vice and more recently the leaden CSI derivative, CSI Miami.

Now comes Miami resident Gerald Posner’s (Why America Slept and The Secrets of the Kingdom) tell-all examining this garish, funny city’s tawdry history, Miami Babylon: Crime, Wealth and Power—A Dispatch from the Beach (Simon and Schuster).

Though Miami has long been a nesting place for crackpots and criminals (like Al Capone), Posner takes up the story in earnest with the infamous 1980 Mariel boatlift bringing more than 100,000 Cubans to the area (reportedly Fidel said, “I will flush my toilet”), which perhaps coincided with a development resurgence fueled by drug money and criminal activity of which Brian De Palma’s Scarface was vividly emblematic.

Within the space of about 30 years, the renaissance of the Art Deco hotels as well a rarified level of ostentation has made Miami Beach a magnet for both fun-seekers and pleasure purveyors, some aboveboard, some criminal. And so this story is rife with compelling characters like “Staten Island wannabe gangster” Chris Paciello or Barbara Capitman, the activist behind the preservation the city’s deco buildings, but ultimately it’s the city that’s the main character. Posner concludes: “This schizophrenic town is a maddening combination of third world ethics and New World aesthetics and consumerism… Miami Beach is the last frontier, both utopia and dystopia.”
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