BooksNation of Nations for Readers

A Nation of Nations

In the half century after the 1965 Immigration Act, the United States underwent a profound demographic shift, with newcomers arriving from around the world in numbers not seen since the early years of the twentieth century.

When the law was passed, fewer than five percent of Americans were foreign born.  Fifty years later, immigrants made up nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population, and the composition of the foreign born population had changed dramatically. The 1965 Act abolished the national origin quotas that favored immigrants from Europe and discriminated against all others. The United States for the first time became a country that officially welcomed people of all nationalities.

Over the next decades, America’s founding myth of openness was put to the test. Prior to the 1965, three out of four immigrants came from Europe, and the country’s cultural character reflected its Anglo Saxon roots. Since then, nine of ten have come from other parts of the world. One of the last—and most important– acts of the civil-rights era, the 1965 immigration Act forced a new consideration of the U.S. national identity. By committing to a multicultural heritage, America took a thrilling gamble, betting heavily on its own resilience.


“The 21st century will be defined by seismic global immigration, remapping human interaction to the core, and the United States will remain the model for other nations to emulate. Tom Gjelten understands why, not only because he is a byproduct of immigration, but because he has been in the trenches—the inner cities, the rural landscapes, the contested borders‑‑where America is reborn on a daily basis. In this probing exploration, he explains, lucidly and with compassion, the extent to which the motto e pluribus unum is the engine of progress.”
— Ilan Stavans, editor of Becoming Americans: Immigrants Tell Their Stories from Jamestown to Today

“Tom Gjelten sings of a new America that bravely invites newcomers. A Nation of Nations would have pleased Whitman himself for its generosity, spirit and hope. This book is both smart and moving.”
— Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires


Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba

The Bacardis of Cuba, builders of a rum distillery and a worldwide brand, came of age with their nation and helped define what it meant to be Cuban. Across five generations, the Bacardi family has held fast to its Cuban identity, even in exile from the country for whose freedom they once fought. Now National Public Radio correspondent Tom Gjelten tells the dramatic story of one family, its business, and its nation, a 150-year tale with the sweep and power of an epic.

The original Barcardi Distillery
The original Bacardi Distillery

The Bacardi clan–patriots and partyers, entrepreneurs and intellectuals–provided an example of business and civic leadership in its homeland for nearly a century. From the fight for Cuban independence from Spain in the 1860s to the rise of Fidel Castro and beyond, there is no chapter in Cuban history in which the Bacardis have not played a role. In chronicling the saga of this remarkable family and the company that bears its name, Tom Gjelten describes the intersection of business and power, family and politics, community and exile.


“It’s hard to imagine that any (Cuban history) is as enjoyable as “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba” by Tom Gjelten, a correspondent for National Public Radio. His book is as smooth and refreshing as a well-made daiquiri.”

–Barry Gewen, New York Times (read the entire NY Times review)

“A gripping saga that tells us just as much about human nature and the struggle between power and freedom as it does about Bacardi’s transformation from a fledgling business into the world’s top family-owned distiller.”

–Alvaro Vargas Llosa, The Wall Street Journal (read the entire Wall Street Journal review)

More reviews here >


Sarajevo Daily

Through more than three years of siege, Sarajevo’s struggle to survive as a cosmopolitan city inspired people around the world. The whole Sarajevo saga is captured in the story of Oslobodjenje (Liberation), the city’s celebrated daily newspaper. The staff – Muslims, Serbs, and Croats working together – retreated to an underground shelter at the beginning of the war and continued to publish their newspaper, day after day. At work, the Oslobodjenje journalists exemplify the courage and resilience of Sarajevo’s population as a whole, while their personal crises, quarrels, and passions mirror the daily life of a multiethnic community under attack by radical nationalists. This intimate account of the Oslobodjenje  story from prewar times through Sarajevo’s darkest days explains the origins of the Bosnian conflict and the meaning of a free press in a wartime setting. 


“A chilling portrayal of a city’s slow murder. … A soft-spoken but deeply felt book.” 

New York Times

“Gjelten has done a masterly job. … A breathtaking story.”


“What this book does best is to examine all those sensitive matters which do not fit the simple good and evil mind-set of the western media.”

The Economist

“Gjelten’s chronicle of Oslobodjenje is all the more poignant because he is careful not to paint its reporters as heroes but as ordinary people who make ordinary journalistic compromises yet maintained their professional principles in the face of physical threats.”

Washington Post