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Amexica: War Along the Borderline Hardcover – October 26, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374104417
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374104412
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #505,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This engrossing travelogue traces the fraught Mexican-American border, where the collision of affluence and poverty is mediated by an ultraviolent narco-traficante culture. Vulliamy (Seasons in Hell) journeys from Tijuana, where the ruthless Arellano Félix Organization cartel battles rivals, to the Atlantic coast, where the even more ruthless Zetas cartel, armed with grenades and rocket launchers, battles the Mexican army and besieges whole cities. In the middle is Juárez, the world's most violent town, an anarchy of contending cartels, street gangs, and their police and military allies, where massacres, beheadings, and grisly sex murders are routine. Vulliamy's border isn't all drugs and killings; it's also narco-corrida songs that celebrate drugs and killings, the American gun industry that feeds off drug money and enables the killings, and a presiding quasi-Catholic cult of Santíssima Muerte (holiest death). The author's take isn't entirely coherent. Sometimes the border is the problem, an artificial rupture that provokes turf battles over prime smuggling sites; sometimes, presented less persuasively, the lawless border is just a symptom of global capitalism, like the desperate illegal immigrants and exploited maquiladora workers (in foreign-owned low-wage factories along the border) he profiles. Although not especially deep, Vulliamy's is a vivid, disturbing dispatch from a very wild frontier.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Journalist Vulliamy has long reported on life along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, writing about international trucking, sweatshop factories, and illegal immigration. In this compelling book, he brings together the economic and cultural factors that have led to escalating violence along the border in territory that seems not to be under the control of either government. Traveling the frontier from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico, he interviewed drug dealers, law enforcers, and ordinary citizens caught in the gory violence and material excess surrounding narco-trafficking. Glorified in narcocorrido music and American film, drug traffickers are now involved in smuggling illegal immigrants, charging taxes to coyotes and ransom to families of immigrants kidnapped once they cross the border. He chronicles startling violence from a “soupmaker” who dissolves dead bodies in lye and acid to young traffickers who worship a culture of death that combines Catholicism and pre-Columbian faiths. Vulliamy examines the tough Arizona anti-immigration law and other immigration policies that are only now beginning to recognize that narco-trafficking can no longer be seen as the problem and responsibility of Mexico alone. --Vanessa Bush

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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Sylvia Longmire on January 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm a professional consultant, freelance writer, and author on Mexico's drug war, so I've read a LOT of books about this subject. These range from more scholarly works by academics like Dr George Grayson, to journalistic tomes by Charles Bowden and Malcolm Beith. I have to say, this has been my favorite book so far, if only because it makes the drug war seem so real and personal.

To give you an idea of how the book is set up, Vulliamy starts at the western end of the border in the Tijuana/San Diego area, and works his way east. During his journey, he meets and interviews people on both sides of the border to get their perspectives on the impact the drug war has had on their lives, and what the region known as "Amexica" means to them. He talks to American law enforcement, Mexican drug addicts and priests, businessmen and the unemployed...you name it. His chapter on Ciudad Juárez does an amazing job of capturing the chaos and hopelessness of the city - how no one knows anymore who's doing the killing, the rise in local drug addiction, the shockingly severe shortage of schools, the daily abandonment of children by parents who work in the maquiladoras, and the few souls who still hold out some hope.

The author's journey doesn't have a formal structure, but that's one of the things I liked about it. He does arrange his stories as he travels from west to east, but the stories themselves are so incredibly engrossing that you just can't wait to see who he meets next, and what his or her story is going to be. It's at times eye-opening, funny, sad, shocking, and heart-wrenching. If you're looking for a source for an academic research piece, this isn't it. However, if you want to learn more about the drug war from the personal perspectives of people on the ground on both sides of the border and from all walks of life, this book is for you.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By T Campbell on March 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Picking up Amexica: War Along the Borderline by journalist Ed Vulliamy, I was initially excited, thinking here might be an accessible book by a veteran journalist capable of explaining to the English-speaking public just what is going on in Mexico and why. Naïve, I know. My suspicions were raised as early as the second paragraph when the author mistranslated the extremely common Spanish-language sign-off Atte: as Look out. Atte: is actually an abbreviation of Atentamente, simply meaning Sincerely. Get something that basic that wrong that early in the book, and I knew I was in for a ride - downhill.

In short, Amexica is part travelogue, part sympathetic recounting of the devastation of the militarization of the war on drugs, and part "look at what daring stuff this white guy did." Vulliamy gets some things right - pointing out the fact that the drug trade is just another form of transnational capitalism; examining the U.S. role in arming the cartels and laundering their money; describing the toll neoliberalism has taken on Mexico in terms of migration and maquiladoras; and putting names and faces on some the 35,000+ dead in Felipe Calderón's disastrous so-called fight against organized crime. The main problem is that all of this is carried out superficially and with a lack of historical context and political analysis, along with omissions and errors. As such, if you want to know how things are right now in the borderlands, reading this book might be somewhat useful. If you want to know why things are they way they are right now, this book will not help you.

In glossing over the past to get to the juicy, bloody present, Vulliamy does his readers a disservice.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By conjunction on August 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I found this a very difficult book to read, although I am accustomed to reading difficult academic texts. That's not what it is, however, although Vulliamy has read all the books on his subject and clearly also spent a lot of time in the border country.

He has chosen to write a very long magazine article which interweaves historical knowledge and analysis with a series of highly detailed from-the-gutter-up vignettes, for example an account of a rehab centre near Ciudad Juarez, run by recovered gangster/addicts, in an area where according to Vulliamy there is evidence that addicts are being systematically wiped out in a series of massacres conducted by the Mexican army.

This stream of consciousness style takes some getting used to, and I had to browse through the book until I found a chapter which grabbed me, an account of an interview with an old-time lawman, accused by his `superiors' of having a John Wayne attitude. From then I gradually got into Vulliamy's approach and returned to the beginning.

However, so far I have not made it to the end, the stories are just too harrowing.

Along with the incredible stories Vulliamy puts in some historical analysis, which suggests that Mexico has taken over Colombia's role as the principle courier of Latin American cocaine to the USA. This happened because when Reagan started feeding arms to the Contras in the early Eighties, he bought the arms from American gangsters who wanted to be paid in drugs. The drugs therefore had to be bought from Colombia and the Mexicans acted as couriers. A Mexican cartel got established with fulsome help from all levels of the Mexican authorities. All this was relatively controlled until the mid Nineties when the Cartel splintered into rival cartels.
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