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VINE VOICEon January 27, 2002
This book was written in the 1980s about a college student who grows from a small-time pot peddler to a major cocaine dealer. I have one major complaint with this book. Mark Bowden writes in a very detailed style which makes the book slow to read at first. I had the same problem reading Black Hawk Down by Bowden but eventually came to realize that was one of the best stories I've ever read. This one is a very good story also and I eventually couldn't put it down as it read quickly in the last half.
Bowden does very detailed research and this book is no exception. Bowden chronicles all of the characters that help Larry in building his empire. And, more importantly, he tries very hard to get inside Larry's mind to show what made him tick. And that's what makes the story so interesting as Larry had many fine qualities. He clearly would have been sucessful in any field but watching him walk through the minefield of a dealer is really interesting. Through this journey he is ripped off at gunpoint with his wife, ripped off by his workers and ripped off by a financial advisor who sees Larry as the answer to his problems. Other highlights include the lives of his workers, some of who are very eccentric and develop very bad coke habits to the point of humor.
I strongly recommend this book if you like fully researched real-life dramas about life on the edge. While this book was written about 15 years ago, Bowden does a great update in 2001 to revisit Larry and see how his life is turning out in prison.
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on July 26, 2004
This was my first book by Mr. Bowden and I must say I was impressed. The book was very informative and the story never got slow. I was constantly wondering what was Larry going to do next? Larry Lavin was a college kid with nothing to lose and turned into a Kingpin with everything to lose. Book explains the trials and tribulations of Larry and his organization and the addicting effects of cocaine and money. A must read. If you liked the movie Blow, this book reads just like the movie plays out. A+
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on February 6, 2004
If you have never read a book my Mark Bowden, start right now. This guy is to current events what Ken Burns is to documentaries; he can take any subject, dig into it, and narrate in a compelling way that few people can.
I highly recommend reading "Dr Dealer" and then follow it up with "Killing Pablo." Originally written in 1987 (this edition has a 2001 epilogue), Bowden follows an unlikely cocaine dealer in Larry Lavin, a preppy dental student who loves the maverick thrill of coke dealing, yet also enjoys the high-scale suburban American lifestyle. This book emphasizes Lavin's naive rationale that while cocaine is illegal, it is a high society party drug that was accepted by a wide variety of socialites (remember when it was called the "Champagne of Drugs?"), and figured that he wasn't hurting anybody by supplying it to people who sought it out. And that seems to be the consensus of his fellow upscale dealers and clients, up until their arrests. "Who are we hurting" seems to be the dealers' key question.
Which is why "Killing Pablo" is a great companion piece to "Doctor Dealer." The story of the hunt for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar paints a polar opposite portrayal of the cocaine trade. There are no preppy dentists, no white-collar style arrests; you see a multitude of Colombian citizens, from police to politicians to everyday folks from every walk of life, murdered by Colombian drug cartels. It is a brutal answer to the "Who are we hurting?" question, and Bowden does that very well.
Larry Lavin is a fascinating character, but not to the point that you feel sympathy for him. The more he succeeds in the illegal drug trade, the more arrogant he becomes, and the more risks he takes. On the other hand, he is not a ruthless Pablo Escobar who executes every "John Q Citizen" that he thinks might dislike him. In fact, he never kills anyone, nor even roughs anybody up. There are segments where you see some very likable and sincerely charitable sides of Larry Lavin, but they are overshadowed by the con that he truly is.
Bowden very successfully illustrates all of Lavin's fellow dealers, family and underlings, and which ones had a hand in his undoing and why. You see eccentric socialite Mark Stewart con the cons, and you will shake your head in disbelief and frustration when reading about Lavin's wife Marcia, how she stands by her man.
If it weren't for a few of the key players' fumbles, one might wonder if Larry Lavin would have eventually walked away from the cocaine trade unscathed. And while covered only minutely, you will see what role Frankie Smith played in exposing Larry Lavin and Co. to the IRS (yes, the same Frankie Smith who recorded "The Double Dutch Bus!")Mark Bowden even talks about his own personal opportunity to deal marijuana in college (which is how Larry Lavin started) and the temptation to make that quick money, but wisely deciding against it, leaving him years later to wonder if he could have stumbled into the same dangerous trap Larry Lavin thrust himself into.
This is just one of Mark Bowden's great works, and a good place to start if you want to add them to your library.
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on September 23, 2006
Larry Lavin seemingly had it all in the 9-to-5 world; an Ivy League education that led to a growing dental practice, a wife and children living in a tony neighborhood of old money and a business savvy that couldn't be learned in graduate school.

But Lavin had a second career that powered his life. What started as dealing marijuana on his college campus ended up as one of the biggest cocaine rings on the East Coast that - at its pinnacle - was generating $60 million in annual sales.

Mark Bowden leads the reader through every stage of Lavin's life, which came crashing down when law-enforcement officials began to piece together his multi-layered cocaine business. As the dealing branched out, Lavin attempted to launder drug money through legitimate businesses. It leads to Lavin trusting an investor who is running his own set of illegal games, and ultimately helps destroy the drug empire.

Lavin is certainly not alone in the enterprise and Bowden does an excellent job in bringing each of the individuals to life. You get the feeling as if you are there, privy to insider's information while running fast and hard.

But there are questions that the reader is left to answer. Right and wrong may not necessarily be so obvious.

Law enforcement officials attempt to frighten suspects to quickly sign documents that give away certain rights before any formal charges are filed. People who have nothing to do with the case are harassed by law enforcement simply because they may have fleeting knowledge of a suspect.

During a court appearance, Lavin wonders about the lives of many in the audience who are in their 20's and 30's; he is sure that more than a few gawking at him are users and dealers.

And as a crucial component to the closing chapters, Lavin questions how he is hurting anyone since people are seeking him out to score the drug, not vice versa. Cocaine in the 1970s and early 1980s was the drug of choice for the "beautiful people."

Bowden does a masterful job in making this oftentimes difficult story a classic in crime reporting.
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on May 20, 2003
When we moved into Larry's Virginia Beach Neighborhood we wondered how could a man who piddles in his garage all day could afford to live in such a nice house. Well a couple months later the house was wrapped in crime scene tape and we found out how he could afford to handout full sized Snicker bars on Halloween!
Mark described him accurately during his Va Beach days. He was a good-guy and even helped my friend Kevin and I unhinge the jaws of a snapper turtle, which was trying to eat another turtle we had caught in the marshes.
Bowden scores again, with readable interesting non-fiction
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on November 5, 2001
Doctor Dealer is an excellent read and far superior to any other
book written on the subject (Larry Lavin), in part because of the
way Mark Bowden tells the story. Despite a lack of pictures (there are none), Bowden's storytelling literally makes you feel like you are there with the characters. Any Philadelphian who reads this story will feel as if he or she lived the tale because
of the specific geographical details that Bowden allows. Doctor Dealer is truly a Philadelphia story (albeit a transplanted Philadelphian) which leaves the reader shaking his or her head at the magnitude and incredible level of cocaine dealing which put this city at the center of many individuals worlds.
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on April 15, 2014
Mark Bowden is among my favorite authors, and I really enjoyed this book. Bowden tells the story of Larry Lavin, a student-turned-drug dealer-turned dentist-turned fugitive. Bowden portrays Lavin in a fairly unbiased light, showing him as charming to some, annoying to others, greedy, generous, ambitious, and arrogant. The reader sees all sides of Larry Lavin, and we are ultimately left with a complex impression of Lavin. I found myself alternately liking him and finding him annoying.

The story of Lavin's youth and his gradual rise to become a drug kingpin in Philadelphia is detailed and filled with any number of anecdotes about brushes with the law, hard-partying, dental school, and family life. The section on his flight to Virginia Beach, his capture, and his prosecution felt a little bit rushed compared with the level of detail we got before that point, which is one of the reasons I am giving this book four stars instead of five.

The other reason I am giving this book four stars instead of five is because I didn't like the way the author presented some of the anecdotes regarding Lavin's run-ins with the criminal underworld of Philadelphia in the late 70s. He routinely used the word "whores" for prostitutes, and while I think that this was Lavin's term, it seemed that the author picked it up as well. I also felt that he portrayed the few black dealers in the book as dangerous thugs, while the "thug" image was not as readily attributed to two of the white dealers who did use violence or intimidation. (Lavin himself was largely able to stay away from the use of intimidation in his dealings, and he regularly wrote off 'bad debts' rather than use force to collect them.) Part of this portrayal may be due to the fact that Lavin did have violent or aggressive run-ins with those dealers or their associates, whereas the violence committed by the white dealers did not involve Lavin. Nonetheless, I felt as though there was an opportunity to provide some context about race relations in Philadelphia during Lavin's tenure there, and in this area the author fell short. This would have given the reader a better sense of the climate in which Lavin was operating his relatively insulated enterprise.
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on July 18, 2013
Mark Bowden's Doctor Dealer is an amazing book that you will surely have a tough time putting down. The story is about a boy who grows up and heads to college. In college he is introduced to marijuana and being the entrepreneur he is starts selling it. He does fairly well at this, but soon finds himself selling cocaine. All the while he not only finishes college but also dental school. He begins his own dental practice and continues to operate his multi-million dollar operation. He marries his young wife and together they have a little boy. When his underlings start getting picked up by investigators they start talking, and Larry (the main character) is left to the wolves. Down to the end he refuses to five up anyone and in return receives a very long prison sentence. This book is highly entertaining, extremely interesting, and also very sad. I highly recommend it.
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on June 14, 2014
I have read most of Mark's books and been impressed at his research and fine details about his subjects. He has never failed to impress and inform me. Thought his afterword comments were quite revealing of himself and Larry.
I could finally understand how he had so many detailed and intimate details of Larry's dealings and thoughts!
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on January 20, 2013
How can a well educated, well qualified high earning dentist get away with such an enterprise? This story is amazing! Another rags to obscene wealth and inevitably back to rags via a long stretch in prison. Don't these guys get it? There is only one result in the end for all the subterfuge and corruption you have to exercise in the pursuit of a fortune in this manner!!! An excellent read!
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