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American Desperado: My Life--From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government Asset [Kindle Edition]

Jon Roberts , Evan Wright
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In 2008 veteran journalist Evan Wright, acclaimed for his New York Times bestselling book Generation Kill and co-writer of the Emmy-winning HBO series it spawned, began a series of conversations with super-criminal Jon Roberts, star of the fabulously successful documentary Cocaine Cowboys.  Those conversations would last three years, during which time Wright came to realize that Roberts was much more than the de-facto “transportation chief” of the Medellin Cartel during the 1980s, much more than a facilitator of a national drug epidemic.  As Wright’s tape recorder whirred and Roberts unburdened himself of hundreds of jaw-dropping tales, it became clear that perhaps no one in history had broken so many laws with such willful abandon.
Roberts, in fact, seemed to be a prodigy of criminality – but one with a remarkable self-awareness and a fierce desire to protect his son from following the same path.
American Desperado is Roberts’ no-holds-barred account of being born into Mafia royalty, witnessing his first murder at the age of seven, becoming a hunter-assassin in Vietnam, returning to New York to become -- at age 22 -- one of the city’s leading nightclub impresarios, then journeying to Miami where in a few short years he would rise to become the Medellin Cartel’s most effective smuggler.
But that’s just half the tale. 
The roster of Roberts’ friends and acquaintances reads like a Who’s Who of the latter half of the 20th century and includes everyone from Jimi Hendrix, Richard Pryor, and O.J. Simpson to Carlo Gambino, Meyer Lansky, and Manuel Noriega.
Nothing if not colorful, Roberts surrounded himself with beautiful women, drove his souped-up street car at a top speed of 180 miles per hour, shared his bed with a 200-pound cougar, and employed a 6”6” professional wrestler called “The Thing” as his bodyguard.  Ultimately, Roberts became so powerful that he attracted the attention of the Republican Party’s leadership, was wooed by them, and even was co-opted by the CIA for which he carried out its secret agenda.
Scrupulously documented and relentlessly propulsive, this collaboration between a bloodhound journalist and one of the most audacious criminals ever is like no other crime book you’ve ever read.  Jon Roberts may be the only criminal who changed the course of American history. 

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2011: From New York City gangster to running guns for the CIA and smuggling literally tons of cocaine and cash for the Medellín Cartel at the height of America's "war on drugs"--Jon Roberts has done it all. American Desperado is the uncensored, jaw-dropping account of Roberts's life of criminal enterprise, decadent excess, murder and mayhem, that has all the trappings of a best-selling crime novel. Yet, co-author Evan Wright's meticulously researched footnotes serve as an authentic reminder that this is no work of fiction. Roberts's adherence to his father's philosophy that evil is stronger than good, and his ease with violence, are coupled with an indelible charm, candor, and loyalty, that together paint a powerful portrait of a quintessential Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.--Seira Wilson

Featured Photographs of Jon Roberts

Before Jon was a Cocaine Cowboy, Jon's mother took this photo (1956) when he was a boy obsessed with cowboys. Jon later changed his name to Jon Pernell Roberts after Pernell Roberts, star of Bonanza.
Jon (third from left) at a 1973 wedding in New York. It was his last wiseguy party before he fled to Miami.
Jon's long-time girlfriend Toni Moon was the poster girl for the Ryan O’Neal movie So Fine. Here, Jon and Toni reenacted the poster's photo with Jon in place of O'Neil.
Jon's mugshot taken after his arrest in the 1986 cocaine bust that unravelled his empire. 


“A spellbinding narrative of drugs, death and debauchery as told by one of America's most notorious criminals….A savage, unrelenting tale.”
─Kirkus Reviews

“The Moby Dick of mob memoirs…here is everything you've wanted to know—and much better, here is the way everything felt.  Evan Wright puts you so deep inside a career in organized crime that midway through you'll begin expecting a knock on your door and a call from your lawyer.”  
─David Lipsky, author of the national bestseller ABSOLUTELY AMERICAN
Delivers all the guilty pleasures one expects from a gangster's memoir, but Wright's superb prose offers something more: a meditation on good and evil during the glittering decay of late 20th century civilization…One of the best books of the year.”
─James L. Swanson, Edgar Award winning author of the New York Times bestsellers MANHUNT and BLOODY CRIMES
“AMERICAN DESPERADO is not only stranger but so much better than fiction…Captivating, addictive, and head-spinning, this one-of-a-kind book earns its place on the top shelf of true crime accounts.”
─Chuck Hogan, New York Times bestselling author of PRINCE OF THIEVES (basis of the Academy Award-nominated “The Town”)
American Desperado is the first great crime book of the 21st Century. Dangerous, darkly hilarious, hair-raising, and terrifically written, Wright's prose spills over with the kind of insane, brilliantly rendered detail and dialogue that make you want to call people at four in the morning and read out loud.”
─Jerry Stahl, New York Times bestselling author of PERMANENT MIDNIGHT
“AMERICAN DESPERADO is one of the most disturbing memoirs I’ve ever read…Evan Wright does a brilliant job getting into Roberts’ scary head … I never want to be in the same room with Jon Roberts, but I couldn't stop reading his book.”
─Steven Gaines, New York Times bestselling author of PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW and FOOL’S PARADISE  
“Seldom have I read an account of criminal enterprise that took me so deeply into the blackness of a man’s soul—a scary read, pounding and relentless and irresistible.”
─Bruce Porter, author of BLOW
Imagine if Mister Kurtz from HEART OF DARKNESS sat down with Dick Cavett for a little chat about the nature of good and evil, empathy, fatherhood, violence, drugs, power, self-knowledge, women, family, the hero versus the anti-hero, freedom, imprisonment...Try as you might, you can't really put this book down.”
─Doug Stanton, New York Times bestselling author of HORSE SOLDIERS and IN HARM’S WAY
A tour de force. The best crime book since WISEGUY.  Puts you in the middle of a world where it's wonderful to be a tourist, terrible to be a resident. I am filled with nothing but admiration and envy for Evan Wright.”
─Rich Cohen, New York Times bestselling co-author of WHEN I STOP TALKING YOU’LL KNOW I’M DEAD, and author of TOUGH JEWS

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 6680 KB
  • Print Length: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (November 1, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004N636AS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,734 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How much do you love your job? November 9, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amazon's top editors chose American Desperado to be a pick of the month. It was daring choice, given that Jon Roberts shares that space - one of the top ten books -- with Steve Jobs. I thank the editors for taking such a risk. American Desperado is not for the squeamish. It is about bad seeds, not apples.

Jon Roberts is a classic, made-in-America, traveling salesman and raconteur. Why are the bad guys so good at telling stories? Is it because they spend so much time in cars, waiting for packages to drop or people to coerce or kill?

Jon Roberts is also a cold blooded killer who considers himself a businessman with a soft spot for animals. He prides himself on his thrift, common sense, and down to earth sensibilities. The excesses and delusions of the glamorous people who enter his life in search of a high horrify him. He can't wait to get O.J. out the door. The women come, but he'd rather they go. He is obsessed with work. He enjoys finding out how people solve problems. How systems run. How to take things apart, and put them together, this time tweaked by Mickey Munday just enough so his plane full of cocaine can land on Federal land.

Jon Roberts would have done really well on Wall Street. He might have cleaned it up a bit, too.

His rise and fall bears a lot in common with junk bond trader Michael Milken and Wall Street's Bernie Madoff. Some people are disturbed that anyone would write a book about Jon Roberts because of it glamorizes a criminal. As Roberts would say, "Please."

Madoff is doing time, but DeNiro is going to play him in the HBO movie.
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59 of 79 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Glamorizes a despicable life November 3, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book after hearing authors Wright and Riccobono interviewed on NPR. This is the autobiography of a mean spirited, cruel and angry individual, raised to be a criminal and well suited to that path. Jon Riccobono took satisfaction in causing suffering to numbers of people throughout a long criminal career, breaking arms and shooting kneecaps, armed robbery, destroying lives, businesses, families, cooperating with some of the worst criminal gangs in the world, and murdering in this country and Vietnam. He took a special interest in beating, robbing and shooting college kids whom he hated for their higher social status. His victims number in the hundreds. Even his wife says his influence is "based on evil." Riccobono has a long run as a successful criminal, seems not to pull punches in rendering his story, and Evan Wright's writing is precise. Is it a compelling read? Yes. But I had an increasing sense of discomfort as I went along. This is an 'authorized biography' which gives a sociopath a platform to present, and no doubt color, his own story. While he appears forthright and repentant in some ways, the overall effect is to make him out as something of a folk hero ("from mafia soldier to cocaine cowboy").

Riccobono was trained by his father, a crude mafia hoodlum, to understand that one can commit serious crimes and get away with it. The formative lesson of the boy's life at age 10 was his father showing him this by shooting an innocent man in the head over a parking incident. There were no consequences. Little Jon went on to learn you can control people by pain and fear. He describes the proper use of a baseball bat to inflict maximum damage in a beating.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended! February 9, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
Evan Wright does a phenomenal job of interviewing Jon Roberts, a man with many demons. Jon Roberts was a cocaine trafficker in the mid 80's who came from a NY mafia background and ultimately ended up as one of the top American contacts for the Medellin Cartel. The CIA also hired Jon and another pilot to fly arms into Nicaragua for the US government. Evan checks his sources for corroboration and lists where he was unable to verify Jon's claims. I like truthiness...and Evan works hard to show that he wasn't just copying down Jon's story verbatim without at least some validation.

The ending came way too fast as the action ramped up and his world imploded. I highly recommend this book. I wasn't really interested or knowledgeable in the subject matter before I picked it up but I couldn't put it down. Obviously the character wasn't meant to be sympathized with, and it is interesting in the level of sociopathic evil that is out there. I would recommend this book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A picture from life's other side December 3, 2011
Format:Audio CD
"American Desperado" is the journalistic equivalent of the product Jon Roberts used to import. There is a stunning rush on each page that demands to be followed by another one to keep the buzz going. Roberts' tale may seem fantastic in places, but "Generation Kill" and "Hella Nation" author Evan Wright has done his due diligence, utilizing footnotes that, by the way, are just as compelling and entertaining as Roberts' story and which give the story a degree of skepticism. Wright imbues Roberts' story with a wry humor that, while black, works extremely well to leaven Roberts' relentless catalog of violence, crime and cruelty. Anyone who's spent any time among dopers knows that they live in a world that operates by its own warped and skewed logic. Wright captures this and presents it concisely and entertainingly. John Roberts' coke-fueled world of the '70s and '80s doesn't exist in the same form anymore, but, thanks to Evan Wright, we are taken back there and given a guided tour through the dark, fun-house corridors that made it so grimly compelling. A fascinating book written by a first-rate author.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Original Cocaine Cowboy
Excellent. Detailed account of a wild, rich and dangerous man.
Published 19 days ago by Terry Mann
5.0 out of 5 stars I've watched cocaine cowboys and I loved it but this book is the...
I've watched cocaine cowboys and I loved it but this book is the deepest and most detailed history of how criminal life in the US is the dark side of the so called American Way of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Thomas Pincon
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read on the War on Drugs
Good detail, solid research. I liked the interview format and the chronological approach in presenting this detailed research. Good book
Published 1 month ago by chris rolfe
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Interesting story about a careet criminal and how he luckily escaped the law until the end of his careeer.
Published 2 months ago by JimP
4.0 out of 5 stars Shoulda, woulda done the same
Saw the documentary before and was intrigued. The book delves into some of the more glossed over escapades. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Sven E. Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT READ
Awesome book well written, and love how the author gives factual facts (dates from newspaper clippings, his sources etc. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Carlos Ortiz
5.0 out of 5 stars So many good stories from John
So many good stories from John. May he rest in peace. I hope they make a movie on his crazy life.
Published 3 months ago by Bolts #91
5.0 out of 5 stars I think he pulled his best con with this book
Wanted to read the book bc I knew John. Long story. I think he pulled his best con with this book.
Published 3 months ago by nycvm
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great read
Published 4 months ago by Bruce D.
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the time
I have always been fascinated with the cocaine cowboys and this book didn't disappoint. I think he fabricated some of the stories but who cares? Read more
Published 4 months ago by highyway 61
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