Customer Reviews: Amexica: War Along the Borderline
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on January 31, 2011
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 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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on February 27, 2011
I learned a lot from this discussion of recent violent events along the border from Calif. to Tx. The author presents drug running, the murders of women in Juarez, and illegal entry in the context of globalization, provokes thoughts. Massive immigration to the border was spurred by the Maquiladoras there. Globalization based on cheap labor.

My wife gave me the book for Christmas. I read it on our odyssey along and south of I-10 from Houston to Ajo, Az. during the school break. We talked with a border agent in El Paso at the rr tracks, with people in se Az. where a rancher was recently killed, with a park ranger at Apache Pass, and with a Tonho O'odham Indian in sw Az. on the Devil's Highway. All the while reading the book. Certainly, from the Indian standpoint the border makes no sense. We'd slept in van Horn before El Paso del Norte. The border agent (who removed his name badge for a photo) told us that Tommy Lee Jones ha a ranch near van Horn and doesn't like the border patrol. He recommended Jones' film 'The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada', and 'Bordertown', and said that the border is far worse than is depicted in (book, movie) 'No Country for Old Men'. I recommend all of those, plus a good, slow drive along and south of I-10 from Texas through Azizona. The wild, untamed landscape will grow on you, and you will begin to glimpse the vastly diverse viewpoints of the different people who populate that wild, sparse, mountainous and desert region.

Don't avoid the drive through the O'odham reservation from Ajo to Sells, where the signs in the modern, well-stocked supermarket in Sells are in the Indian language. At Apache Pass there was sympathy on the part of the park rangers for the Apache. They told us that Cochise used to come down and play cards with the U.S. Cavalry before he was framed. In the O'odham nation, the Apache are not heroes. The region is complex and dangerous on the American side of 'the border'.
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on August 1, 2011
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. Now the cartels themselves are splintering owing to the massive scale of the trade, and in certain places the street gangs no longer know for which cartel they are working.

This only works at all because of the most widespread systematic corruption. If I wrote down here on this score what I have gleaned from the book, you probably wouldn't believe it. But Vulliamy suggests that the Border is substantially if not completely bought and paid for.

This is a very witty book, it is really a very long conversation. Being an ignorant Brit, I had not known that Ciudad Juarez, the most chaotic city on the border, is the Juarez of `Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues'. `Lost in the rain in Juarez, and it's Eastertime too'. Learning this I put Highway 61 on the CD player one more time and got some insights into the darkness of that whole record.
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on November 12, 2010
Written by an accalimed British journalist living in Arizona and London, Amexica is a comprehensive, historical, current and honest tale which was informed by a physical and scholarly journey along the entire Mexican-American border which, in many ways, is a culture unto itself: part of two countries but not fully belonging to either.

It is part social traveloque, part keen observation, part critical attempt to understand complex issues, part interviews and reflection, part documentation of systemic corruption and public executions, mutilations, barbarism, decline and hope. It is mostly superior jopurnmalism: crisply written and extremely informative. Current drug policies have created atrocity and this erodes what we used to call "civilization", replacing it with fear and silence. War is more than a metaphor and like all work that attempts to address this, it deserves the attention and serious reflection that is sadly mission from the nightly news. There are compelling issues and findings on all of the border cities and a damning critique of the simplifications that define conventional wisdom.

A fine bibliography guides the reader to serious work being done on the borderlands. If you can only read one book on these issues, this should be the one. Perhaps, someday a Mexican journalist or scholar will actually be free enough to write the sequal and those north of the border will awaken from the illusion that military technology and hardware, fences, and ideology can ever solve more problems than they create and magnify. We owe that to the children who live on the border who, after all, ought to shock us into being more responsible than we currently are. People who live there already know that. It is the rest of us who need to do our homework as it is our fantasies and priorities that govern their realities, and thus reveal our supreme ignorance of what lies behind the famed "invisible hand" of classical economics gone global: a black sun. This secular version of the Antichrist emerges when a society looses its moorings and the social fabric unravels. Shadow is confused for substance, and crude materialism for something of value. Fear trumps reason. Silence trumps inquiry and myths are reified, compounding ignorance. Not many journalists, hoever, are often mistaken for philosophers and scholars--additions reasons to read this vital book.
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Amexica is a sobering look at what is going on along the U.S.-Mexico border that is, according to the author, "a country in its own right that belongs to both the United States and Mexico, yet neither."

Vulliamy is a journalist who has reported from the border for many years but in 2009 traveled it from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico. Amexica is the result of what he discovered, telling in detail how the drug cartels work and what effect that has on both the Mexican people and Americans who live on the border or travel into Mexico. As the author writes, "this is not a history with a beginning, middle, and end; it is a slice of very recent, unfinished history."

Parts of this book are sometimes hard to read as Vulliamy writes in graphic detail of the horrors of life along the strip of land that is now a very real war zone from Tijuana to Juarez, but the details are important to understanding the whole story. Mixed in with the these facts that most of us would rather be in denial about are also heroic stories of those who are fighting the evil. Whether heroes or villans, the book puts real names and faces to the drama that unfolds every day that most of us who don't live in the region would never know about.

I decided to read this book because I wanted to know what was behind the headlines over the immigration debate, the steps states like Arizona are taking to protect their borders, and why the territory has become such a dangerous place. Amexica answered a lot of those questions for me. I was glad to discover that it wasn't written from a specific political leaning, nor did it preach to the reader about the morality or immorality of immigration reform. The author did a good job presenting the facts in a way that held my interest.

I was given a copy of this book by the publishers but the opinion of it is mine alone and wasn't solicited. If I didn't like it I would say so.
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on May 31, 2012
As a perusal of the symptoms of the disease which infects the U.S./Mexican border, this book is great. The author is a talented writer who truly captures the flavor of the borderlands and reveals the systemic suffering caused by the various players in the drug-gun-money trade. He also covers the maquiladoras (foreign owned factories lining the Mexican side of the border) and their sweatshop-like operations. By hiring mainly female workers who are more compliant and manually dextrous than men, these massive factories have greatly increased the female/male ratio in the population and upset traditional gender roles, causing horrific violence against women by reactionary men.
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on June 17, 2013
I learned far more from Vulliamy's timely, captivating Amexica: War Along the Borderline than I ever did in a grad school geography class I took on the U.S.-Mexico border region. Vulliamy courageously travels everywhere from a church in a Juárez neighborhood of maquiladora workers to a departure point for the undocumented passage through the Sonoran desert to a bi-national family gathering on a Tijuana beach to a hotel lobby in Douglas to a porch on the Tohono O'odham reservation. Weaving history and economics throughout nine chapters, he converses with people from all walks of life - ordinary people who, no doubt, had never before been and will never again be approached by a journalist. Similarly, I give him credit for interviewing many women. (Roughly one third of his interviewees were female, as opposed to far fewer in most works of journalism without the word "women" in the title). This book was so thought-provoking and horrifying that I had to stop reading it before going to sleep. Alongside detailed depictions of violence and corruption, he portrays the resilience, brilliance and humanity of the Mexican people in the face of our (the USA's) supply of assault weapons and demand for drugs and cheap labor.

For those defensive readers from the USA who want to whine about people wrongly blaming the USA for the world's ills, you'll have to look elsewhere to continue your polarizing accusations. Vulliamy depicts the dysfunction as well as the heroic attempts to end injustice on both sides of the border.
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on October 2, 2013
I really enjoy these types of books. Describe in much detail what happens along the border, as most tend to be oblivious.
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on December 20, 2011
I was surprised I received the book very fast, no problems. Book is in good shape. I would order from them again.
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on January 7, 2011
I was not impressed with this book. It lacks any kind of systematic structure, does not really discuss the causes of the conflict, is unfocused on the war, and is riddled with errors in the Spanish. I was very disappointed with the book
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