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Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb Hardcover – April 17, 2007

3.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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From the world's first car bomb in 1920 (actually a horse-drawn wagon, exploded by anarchist Mario Buda in downtown Manhattan), to those incessantly exploding in Iraq, Davis shows how these "quotidian workhorses of urban terrorism" are responsible for "producing the most significant mutations in city form and urban lifestyle." Whether the product of fringe militancy or "clandestine state terrorism," Davis shows, the car bomb has a limitless capacity to create and sustain fear (largely because of low cost and technological accessibility). Given the weapon's ubiquity in modern times, a "brief history" scarcely allows room for the numerous theaters of conflict within which the car bomb has evolved, including Northern Ireland, Beirut, Israel, the U.S. and Colombia, let alone much political background on, say, the Tamil Tigers' bombing campaign in Sri Lanka. At its best, this is a gripping supplementary history, full of surprising, often contrarian facts and voices behind some of the most spectacular acts of violence on record. Despite clearly populist sympathies, Davis steers away from romanticism, keeping tight focus on the indiscriminate violence inflicted upon innocents. Packed with horrific and heartrending details, the book goes beyond the statistics to portray the human and moral costs of this gruesome political lever. Photos. (Apr.)
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“Typical of Mike Davis, this extraordinary book is a brilliant antidote to official history, allowing us to understand how the weak have fought back, ingloriously, against the onslaught of the strong.”—John Pilger

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (April 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844671321
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844671328
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mike Davis is the author of several books including City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear, Late Victorian Holocausts, Planet of Slums, and Magical Urbanism. He was recently awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. He lives in Papa'aloa, Hawaii.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Any history of technology risks self absorption and exaggeration," writes Mike Davis. It is a good reminder, as books about the history of gunpowder or computers or telegraphy roll out. Davis's new book avoids those risks; _Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb_ (Verso) is a frightening book about a threat that needs no exaggeration to inspire fear. Davis has written scary books before, about slums and about Victorian holocausts, books with irony and grim humor that are not present in his new work. Car bombs, the "poor man's air force", are too loud and sad for such treatment. From their first use by anarchists, they have spread like viruses to all the battlefields of the world, and to the domestic areas where battles are not to be waged. In Davis's history, links are made between such disparate forces using car bombs as the CIA, the IRA, Tamil Tigers, and a host of "liberation" forces with Arabic names, and some of the chapters are mind-numbing with accounts of violence, attack and counterattack, or explanations of increases in technological sophistication while even the basic bicycle bomb is still being deployed with dismaying effectiveness.

You probably never heard of the bomber who gives his name to the book. Mario Buda was an anarchist who "with some stolen dynamite, a pile of scrap metal, and an old horse," and a wagon managed to bring terror to Wall Street in 1920. That he was not caught is due to one of the characteristics of car bombs that make them such a successful weapon: they are anonymous and leave little forensic evidence. Davis lists other advantages of car bombs. They can be of huge destructive force, and bombmakers are improving their power all the time. Their consequences cannot be denied or covered up by the governments who are their victims.
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Format: Hardcover
The feature of Mike Davis' books that I have always liked the most is the way in which he digests and synthesizes scholarly works into his commentary to make his points without bogging the reader down in endless detail. This book however lacks this feature, unfortunately. What Davis has done here instead is survey the principle literature of the many asymmetrical warfare scenarios that have played out during the past hundred years and explain how each generation of freedom-fighters/revolutionaries/terrorists have used explosives to wear down their opponents and promote a condition of uncertainty, discontent and terror thereby.

Davis begins with the story of Mario Buda an Italian anarchist who set off a horse wagon filled with dynamite on Wall Street in NYC in 1920, killing 40 and wounding many more, in retaliation for the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti for a robbery and murder in Boston.

And here is where his scholarly manner fails him. Davis says that some time later in the 1930's after Buda has escaped America undetected and returned to his native Italy, that "Buda basked unmolested in the sunshine of his native Romagna (where he supposedly switched camps and became a spy for Mussolini).." [Page 11] Davis amazingly gives no citation for this claim, leaving the reader to wonder if Buda was merely a bloodyminded hothead or a sociopathic terrorist for hire. As the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and in this case Davis neglects his usual scholarly habit.

So what exactly is it about car bombs that make them such an attractive weapon for terrorists? "Car bombs are loud," says Davis, "in every sense.
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Format: Hardcover
Mike Davis writes books that are difficult to read: he takes on subjects nobody else will touch and analyzes them with an unrelenting, scientific eye (see his recent Planet of Slums). The history of car bombing--like the startling rise of urban slums--is not a pleasant thesis. One reviewer on this site stated that car bombing is a "good topic for a `microhistory' (like the ones that are about wood, coal, salt, etc.)". But I can hardly recommend BUDA'S WAGON to a reader merely because they enjoyed Kurlansky's SALT or McPhee's ORANGES. Rather this is the sort of work you give to a dear friend with the caveat "It will make you sick to your stomach, furious, and terrified for your children's future." Professor Davis' political affiliations have nothing to do with this work. He is more misanthrope than "lefty." There are no heroes in the despicable annals of car bombing. Davis points out over and over again how bombers (from the Stern Gang in pre-Israel Palestine to Casey's operatives in Lebanon to Iraqi "insurgents") almost ALWAYS go after civilian targets--usually women and children. The purpose of the car bomb is to rip out the souls of one's enemy. They are absurdly cheap to make (the blast power of a $5,000 car bomb is often superior to a million dollar ballistic missile). They are incredibly effective (Ronald Reagan pulling us out of Beirut after the Marine barrack bombing; UN forces leaving Iraq). And a few well-placed bombs can create economic catastrophe (e.g. the IRA bombings of London's financial center in the early nineties causing billions of dollars in damage). I pray this book is not a prescient glimpse into a grim future for America.Read more ›
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