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God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre Paperback – March 4, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 185 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As he travels through Mexico's Sierra Madre, one of the largest drug-producing regions in the world, British journalist Grant (American Nomads) encounters a rugged landscape where the mythical old Mexico meets the challenges of the new. The birthplace of Pancho Villa and the Apaches' last refuge, the Sierra Madre has long been home to outlaws and eccentric characters that inspired a variety of American westerns. Into this legendary danger zone, with its exceptionally high murder rate, rides Grant—on horseback, though he has never ridden previously. Grant is the finest kind of travel narrator; though fully cognizant of the dangers and foolhardiness of his obsession with this land, he throws himself into crazy situations, such as a quest for buried gold treasure, a sampling of Mexican folk remedies, a terrifying Tarahumara Indian ritual when God gets into his annual drinking bout with the Devil, a little cocaine or blasting parakeet with local drug dealers, and lots and lots of drinking. He narrates these adventures with unflappable charm and humor, risking his life to the reader's benefit, shared fear and delight of discovery. Though eventually worn out by his physically and emotionally challenging journey, Grant still manages to produce a clear-eyed, empathetic account of this complex, fascinating place. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Twenty miles south of the Arizona-Mexico border, the Sierra Madre Mountains begin their ascent. Nine hundred miles long, the range climbs to nearly 11,000 feet and contains several canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. Grant points out that the land is home to Indians, drug smugglers, bandits, Mormons, and opium farmers. Fifteen years ago, he explored this land, where he was chased by cocaine-fueled Mexican hillbillies seeking to kill him. He visited a folk healer hoping to cure his insomnia and was told to take rattlesnake pills, and he attended strange religious rituals. Grant also consorted with cocaine-snorting cops, taught English to Guarijio Indians, and hunted for an outlaw’s buried treasure. “I never want to set foot in the Sierra Madre again,” he writes. “I was out of courage, out of patience, out of compassion.” It was an arduous trip for Grant, but readers will be glad that he took it. --George Cohen
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 47532nd edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416534407
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416534402
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When I first came across this book, I sort of pictured the story of a foolish quest by a white man way over his head in some of the most dangerous parts of Mexico. I imagined that the title of the book reflected his hardships while doing hands-on research for God's Middle Finger, leaving the author wondering why exactly he decided to travel one of the most violent places in North America - alone - to begin with, with comical results for the reader. While the story does certainly touch on some dangerous encounters, I was instead surprised to see that the title is more of a reflection of life in rural Mexico; it's as if God himself turned a blind eye to this land and the poverty and violence is reflected in the people there.

God's Middle Finger certainly has its comical elements to it but what I most got out of reading this was the amazing contrast between the lives of Mexicans and those of us Americans right across the border. Life in rural Mexico is difficult, brutal, unforgiving, and spontaneously violent. To balance out the many hardships faced, Mexicans overindulge in alcohol, cocaine, and religious festivities involving a laughably large amount of the two.

The book is almost a perfect length, with a lot of ground covered in the story and never is there a point where it feels as though the author is dwelling too much on a certain point. Despite describing quite successfully the brutal and difficult lives Mexicans face, Grant never comes across as preachy, or that the rest of us are spoiled for enjoying much less violent lives. In fact, on a few occasions he reacts with scorn towards the absurd level of machoism that Meixcan men display, and their often callous disregard for human life.
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Format: Paperback
Although I enjoyed reading this book I am left feeling a little bit annoyed. I have travelled many times into the areas Richard Grant writes about and have had very different experiences.
We have had picnics at the side of streams high in the Sierras, have sat in the square in San Bernardo drinking beer scores of times, drank whisky on the river bank in Chinipas, drove hundreds of miles on dirt roads and camped in a tent. We even went down into Batopilas on our 1969 Lambretta with our dog in a basket on the back and spent the night down there.
Although I don't dispute what he is saying, I think that there is also another aspect to this beautiful area. If you go to seek out the danger in any part of the world you will find it, whether it's a city or wilderness. This area is definitely worth a visit and I would hate anyone to miss out because they have read this book.
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No doubt is a well written book by a gifted story teller. But just came a month ago back from Chihuahua's Sierra Madre, (I live in central Mexico) spent two weeks birding and doing nature photgraphy there with my wife in areas far away from the Copper Canyon, Creel and all the normal tourist spots and not a single problem. We were riding our own jeep in order to be able to visit one of the few remaining nesting sites of the thick-billed parrots 6 hours north-west of Basaseachi Waterfall (Tutuaca) in the worst-middle-of-nothing road you can imagine. But ALL of the people we encountered in our trip was the most helpful and nicest country-people. We never felt threatened or endangered, encountered trucks with loggers, miners, cattle-ranchers (for sure some narcos also) and no problem!! Made stops in Cuahtemoc, Cebadillas, Vallecillos,Creel, Yahuirachic and other small communities, an army checkpoint...... and did not found any risk situation. No doubt there is trouble in that area of my country, and a lot of violence thanks to the narcos up there and their drug smuggling, but if you have common sense, know how to move and you are not looking for trouble is a wonderful place to visit. I think Mr. Grant embellished quite a bit his story and was looking by purpose for trouble. Who in the world would have cocaine and beers with local folks and police men if you dont whant trouble???
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Format: Paperback
"The old gringo came to Mexico to die" is how the second chapter of Fuentes' fine novel The Old Gringo begins. That novel (made into a movie) is about Ambrose Bierce, who disappeared in Mexico during the revolution. In that novel Bierce says that being shot in front of a Mexican stone wall is much preferable to falling down the cellar stairs or dying in a hospital. You get the feeling with God's Middle Finger that Grant must have a similar deathwish: Grant pushes fate to the limit and, still alive by some strange quirk of chance, comes back and gives fate an even stronger jab. It this were live TV rather than a book Grant wrote you might be yelling "Go back!" at the TV or covering your eyes. This is a harrowing book, with an appallingly close sense of imminent death.

The book begins with Grant being hunted by half-drunken drug gang members: one of them told him that killing Grant would "please his trigger finger", and Grant is on their home turf--they know the area and he does not. They are having fun--sport--and Grant at this point is terrified. The episode resumes in the last chapter, and in between you see how Grant got into that predicament. This area of Mexico is bad, very bad indeed, but you find that there's really bad and really really bad, and then worse yet. There is no effective difference between the drug gangs and what passes for law enforcement. In one town the police chief and some of his men make Grant join them in snorting lines of cocaine, and as touchy as the situation becomes, it's a walk in the park compared to much of what Grant encounters. But Grant keeps returning, pushing deeper into the worst parts of the area, pushing the envelope.
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God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre
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