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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How much do you love your job?
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...
Published on November 9, 2011 by Leighton Moore

versus
58 of 77 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Glamorizes a despicable life
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,...
Published on November 3, 2011 by Doctor.Generosity


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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How much do you love your job?, November 9, 2011
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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. Milken survived prison and cancer, but he came out clean, and used the millions our government let him keep to set himself up in Beverly Hills where he has become a much admired philanthropist.

Jon Robert's education is very different from Milken and Madoff's, but there is a shared pathology. For these men, it was the deal itself -- putting it together and pulling it off -- that mattered more than any profit or personal gain. They loved their jobs.

Roberts is what he is: a dying man who lived an outrageous life, and has nothing to lose, except he want his son to know what he's done. This is a surprise because Roberts does not believe himself to be redeemable or forgivable in any way. And he's not. Jon Roberts is not motivated to tell his story so he can start running a charity and get his cheeks kissed at dinner parties. He is a criminal mastermind, and cold-blooded killer, who is also great at logistics and throwing orgies.

Journalist Evan Wright provides ample footnotes investigating Jon's claims. He does not censor the bad out of Jon. This is an interview. Wright lets Jon tell his story. It is far from glamorous. It is criminal. Thus, Wright's footnotes are important. Read them. They will likely open some very strange government criminal cases. I have to believe and hope some of the people Jon mentions, later interviewed by Wright, will be put into witness protection programs. Others will be prosecuted or should be. If no one is charged with crime, if none of the victims and witnesses are protected, then maybe the world works more like Jon Roberts says it does. That is the unwritten ending of this fascinating book.
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58 of 77 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Glamorizes a despicable life, November 3, 2011
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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. He admits to atrocities against noncombatant civilians in Vietnam, including the torture of VC prisoners by skinning them alive. He makes it clear that he 'enjoyed every minute' of the killing, including women and children. Disgusting. Then on to his 'career' and strong arm tactics used to control the nightclub business in New York. This includes admissions of cold blooded executions. Next phase, a major drug trafficker. Bonded with a Columbian drug supplier by encouraging him to throw an American college girl off a building. Preyed even on his fellow criminals by systematically ratting them out to the cops; once again his own wife was amazed at his coldness. Pleasant fellow. Riccobono is street smart obviously. But his theory that 'evil is stronger than good' - nonsense. He was just lucky. He belongs in a cage; why he served only a moderate prison term is not completely explained in this book, because he downplays his cooperation with law enforcement for a reduced sentence. Right up there with the Whitey Bulger story and just as nauseating.

The life of a violent predator makes for disturbing reading. Almost as distasteful was to realize why this book was written and what it is trying to do - market an upcoming movie. Author Wright, a reporter for Hustler Magazine with a special interest in the dark side of humankind, is smart enough to know that the public won't go to see a movie whose protagonist has no redeeming appeal. There has aleady been one doc film 'starring' Riccobono, Cocaine Cowboys. So, although the story is presented as a straightforward "in his own words" interview in which Wright tries to position himself as non-judgemental, there is an unmistakeable subtext shaping Riccobono as a dashing Robin Hood or James Bond figure, a champion of the black arts, a cool guy and 'secret government asset.' The only person who puts a doubt in this narrative is Riccobono himself, who in spite of his unrepentent braggadocio does not seem proud of his demonic life. Otherwise he would not be working so hard to turn his own son to a different path. Wright makes some feeble gestures - footnotes, comments - towards displaying journalistic distance but it is not convincing. Rather he seems to give Riccobono a pass, in return for exploiting the entertainment value.

Riccobono is allowed to draw his own portrait. Not surprisingly, he comes across as a colorful rogue, and will no doubt be portrayed that way in the upcoming film. I find this repellent. The same thing is happening with Whitey Bulger, who was more intelligent and strategic than Riccobono, having managed to corrupt the FBI who then assisted him in his murders. Now it seems Bulger is going to be played by leading man Matt Damon in the movie version - tell me that does not imply admiration. And guess who is going to play Riccobono in his movie? Right, Mark Wahlberg, who else? Studio is Paramount, director Peter Berg. I found an article by Evan Wright which reports that, after the Cocaine Cowboys movie came out, Riccobono was introduced to the crowd at a basketball game - he received a big round of applause. How sick. The new movie will be heavily advertised. Should we expect promotional items? A signature Jon Riccobono baseball bat? Will he appear on Ophra? Maybe evil isn't so bad after all if we can all make a few bucks from it?

What it comes down to is this. In order to enjoy Riccobono's adventures, one must not think too much about his victims, so the book downplays them. But the Riccobono's of the world do have victims, real people who suffered real and permanent harm, and it wasn't so long ago. I wonder how his living victims - the innocent college girl he shot in the leg during a drug ripoff, crippling her for life, the families in Vietnam whose children were murdered for sport, the ex-girlfriend he tied up and severely abused after she left him, the thousands of Americans whose lives were destroyed by cocaine in the 1980's - will enjoy the movie.

Postscript: Riccobono died of cancer in Miami on Dec. 28, 2011.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended!, February 9, 2012
By 
This review is from: American Desperado: My Life--From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government Asset (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
"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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good one, December 7, 2011
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This review is from: American Desperado: My Life--From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government Asset (Kindle Edition)
If you are interested in crime books this is a good one. I don't know if everything Jon says is true or not (can anyone) but the way he describes his life story is absolutely mystifying. This is one of those books you cant stop reading because you cant wait to see what happens next.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN ABSOLUTE 10, August 31, 2012
The only problem with this book is you need to read it last if you read fictional true crime and love mob and smuggler reads. The reason why is because this is absolutely the best mafia slash gangster slash cocaine smuggler book of all time. If you grew up or lived in the 70's or 80's this will absolutely appeal to you. I thought the movie was good but it can't get close to the book. Jon Roberts is great and just simply tells it like it is which is what I like. I learned more about the real smuggling operations than I ever could have imagined. Many real life celebrities come full stage in the book which I completely found amazing. I read this book while I was on vacation and started again before I got home just to make sure I did not miss anything. From Snoop Ddogg to Meyer Lansky to Pablo Escobar this book is absolutely fantastic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting reading., June 15, 2014
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Cant put it down, a great read. Glad to have purchased the book. Look forward to more books like this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grime In The Stardust, May 16, 2014
By 
Albert Doyle (Sanibel, Florida USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Riccobono's tale is a modern Roaring Twenties movie with all the accompanying brutality, sociopathic evil, and murder. Jon Riccobono was conceived into the perfect black hole of the mafia idol's eye with an illiterate father raised on a Sicilian mafia ethic who never had any normal fatherly interaction with his son except to train him for mafia business. Bred with contempt for society his childhood is a downward path of seeking all the worst of that society including crime and drugs. First without a father, then without a mother, Riccobono was raised by the devil himself as a purebred mafia son. Even when he was taken away from the city hell that formed him Riccobono knew normal society was not for him and he was destined for lower things. His mafia family peer group had damned him and permanently formed him as a dangerous criminal whose main strength was brutal intimidation and murder overseen by Gambino mafia role-model uncles.

Some have questioned Riccobono's Viet Nam accounts. I think, as sick as they are, they are true. Evan Wright shows that further investigation proves they are corroborated by the records of others who were involved. This book is interesting because a good researcher will see evidence of more serious things in its contents. For instance, the fact Wright could find no Army service record for Riccobono is a serious red flag that the covert activities he speaks of later in the book are real. So much so that the government removed his service record to lower his profile like it does with such persons. Less savvy persons say this sheds doubt on Riccobono's stories. More insightful analyzers recognize the opposite.

While this book translates its message in an unashamedly anti-social street medium it does have a deeper message that Riccobono consciously impresses. He tries to say that although he is damned and practices an evil ideology that the rest of society is hypocritical because it is directly linked to it and interacts with it. Riccobono goes out of his way to show how connected some famous Americans names are to the mob and how dependent they are on the gambling, drug underground the mob represents. Riccobono is a case study in his moral schizophrenia. On the one hand he's repentant of the things he's done, but at the same time he scoffs with contempt at his victims and almost relishes the superiority of his methods. There's a visible conflict or rift between his sadistic tutoring on the right way to break bones with your boot, or how to bash somebody's brains out with a pistol grip, shoot kneecaps the right way in order to inflict maximum damage, or even set-up drug buyers for robbery, while at the same time regretting who he is and what he's done. An therein lies the open theme of the book that never quite gets resolved or expiated by the telling. The book almost drags you in to root for Riccobono up until you realize the evil ethic Riccobono harbors leads to his betraying or murdering people who he was just pal-ing around with as friends in the previous paragraph. The bottom line is no matter what message he is giving it is underlain by a godless, inhuman law of the jungle that is the basis of the mafia mindset he practices. You feel guilty reading the book because, as with Riccobono, the glorification comes at the expense of the terribly victimized people the accounts are based on. Even Riccobono himself admits his religion and doings are Satanism. In the end, while entertaining, both you and Riccobono are struck with the awareness that the book should be sealed and used as a stone around his neck to sink him in hell.

The book is a psychological study because while having contempt for those who betray and "rat out" Riccobono turns around and does that very thing himself on the next page. His use of his mob ethic to hide and justify that to himself is the unstated theme of the book and is that which always comes back to consume and destroy everything Riccobono builds to try and counter it. Riccobono's simple brutal mob ethic is so evil it manages to illustrate a very complex existential human condition at the heart of darkness commonly seen throughout the ages. He's a good example of why they put the "ill" in illegal. He represents a sick morality that those who flirt with criminality are fair game on the anything goes playing field he pulls them into.

Those with a more researched understanding of what Riccobono talks about view the book in terms of its greater surroundings. Riccobono was so connected that he crossed paths with many famous events and characters. This is always interesting because you can triangulate and verify the stories of other famous people versus Riccobono's accounting like sort of a truth sonar. A good litmus test is Riccobono's description of Albert San Pedro's crooked eye. Riccobono speaks of how San Pedro's crooked eye was a poor replacement eye implanted after a gun battle in Miami. Friends of San Pedro said the gun battle story was something he made up in order to avoid admitting a cross eye birth defect. While not being something you would expect Riccobono know, his relaying the false story makes you question his relaying of other important accounts in the book. He does this again when he says Griselda Blanco was assassinated immediately upon arrival in Colombia. Griselda was deported to Colombia in 2004 and was assassinated in 2012 after Riccobono's death.

On the other hand those employing that greater truth sonar see Riccobono detailing a nest of corruption of some very high official figures in Miami and the government. If Riccobono's book is unredeemable this coverage of the extent of corruption makes up for it. There's no doubt he's trying to impugn society in general by showing how money and cocaine is a common denominator. He's like Michael Corleone telling the Nevada senator that we're both in the same business. When you see the extent of corruption Riccobono details and how many authorities were on his payroll there's little argument against it. Evan Wright reinforces this in the footnotes. Riccobono has no idea that the state attorney he parties with, Dick Gerstein, is tied to the major CIA/mafia BCCI Bank. Another touchstone is the Meyer Lansky mob infrastructure Riccobono adopts to cocaine smuggling. The footnotes are almost better than the book. One of the best examples is the serious crossroads Ricky Prado represents. It leads directly to CIA recruitment of Riccobono in the Contra campaign. Prado was a Cuban enforcer for San Pedro who went on to head Bush's illegal CIA death squads in the War On Terror. Cubans learning how to smuggle from their Bay of Pigs training and Barry Seal also expose a notorious interface between CIA and organized crime. He is so deep into the underworld that he crosses paths with and touches some of the most powerful covert organizations of the time connected to things far beyond cocaine smuggling. This book is valuable for those who understand the bigger picture and how even Riccobono isn't aware of the depth of what he experiences.

It's important to note that when describing the clandestine airports Barry Seal used neither Riccobono or Wright mention Mena, Arkansas by name. Instead they say an airport in Arkansas. This is important because it serves as a barometer of how much Riccobono is telling. Wright doesn't have any trouble giving out such informing detail elsewhere in his footnotes. Mena is a place where CIA directly smuggled cocaine for Contra funding. Wright and Riccobono are also silent on Lt Sabow and his death related to similar smuggling.

While most others did 10 year sentences or more Riccobono's 300 year sentence was reduced to 3 years. Probably not because he turned-in Noriega and Prado but because he had the goods on CIA. CIA exposed their concern for this when they set-up Barry Seal for assassination with the Medellin cartel in order to shut him up about their gun running to the Contras.

One of the most important parts of the book is when Riccobono is figuring what he can disclose to the feds and what he can't. This is very important because it serves as a good gauge on the information Riccobono provides about other important events like the Jimi Hendrix kidnapping. Judging from information Riccobono avoids in other parts of the book I'd say he held back on the Hendrix kidnapping and knew a lot more than he told.

There's an obvious question that begs to be answered at the end of the book. Since Riccobono claims he was wiped-out of all the millions he saved, where did the money come from for Riccobono's beach side house in Hollywood? That lifestyle wasn't cheap at that address. So where did Riccobono get the money to afford it?

Finally, I share the sentiment of another reviewer who complained that the book just drops off at the end with no summation or concluding thoughts. Evan Wright should know his writing loses quality for doing that. Though with the information and characters he's dealing with I might not blame him for not wanting to upset anyone with any possibly provocative judgments. He lost a star because of it, along with my refusal to give 5 stars to evil.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read if you're interested in the subject, April 14, 2014
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Being born and raised in South Florida, and having a grandfather who worked at Metro-Dade PD back in the 1980's, I have always been a fan of most anything relating to this time in South Florida history. Having seen the documentary, "Cocaine Cowboys", I wanted to see what else Mr. Roberts had to say.

PROS:
-I couldn't get enough of the South Florida parts, and was sad when it abruptly ended.

-His take on the disorganization with the US government's, "War on Drugs" was an eye opener and completely contrary to how the media spun it.

-His views and stories on Mickey Munday and Griselda Blanco were so interesting, that I'd want to read any literature on them.

-The extra info included at the bottom of each page helped the reader become familiar with the laundry list of people Jon encounters throughout his dealings.

CONS:
-The early New York story kind of dragged. Then again, knowing what he was famous for, I was dying to get to when he came to Miami.

-I'm sure that most of what he says has roots in truth, but some of the stories seem to be a bit unreal. It doesn't help that most of his claims in the book feature a disclaimer at the bottom of the page, questioning the validity of Jon's claims.

-Key parts of the Dadeland Mall massacre were kind of glossed over.

-The end of the book, just ends. I can't explain it. It just lacks any sort of closing or something cool to leave the reader with.

If you like this subject, you should enjoy the book. Jon Roberts was a very tortured soul, but this book would make a fantastic movie adaption.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holy Cow! Strap Yourself In, December 12, 2012
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This review is from: American Desperado: My Life--From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government Asset (Kindle Edition)
It's been a while since I haven't been able to put a book down, but this one had me riveted from the first page.

If you came here after seeing any of the Cocaine Cowboy films, you will surely not be disappointed!

For me, having grown up in the area during this time frame, I was amazed and fascinated by the goings-on in my neighborhood. I especially liked reading this book on my Kindle app, where I could do additional research on names and locations as I came across them on the book.

Holy cow, there are too many incredible and yes -- despicable stories, an overwhelming number in fact -- yet I found myself completely absorbed and glued to what was going to happen next.

Kudos to Evan Wright, who did not take anything at face value and put in the time and research to get things right and into perspective.

I can't wait for the movie!
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