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American Desperado: My Life--From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government Asset Hardcover – November 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307450422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307450425
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Customer Reviews

Very well written and a great story.
Mike Cunning
This is one of those books you cant stop reading because you cant wait to see what happens next.
The Transporter
Here's a guy who really knows his stuff.
F. Mileti

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Leighton Moore on 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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58 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Doctor.Generosity TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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 By Gerry Marrs on 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 By Raisin' Cain on 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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