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More Terrible Than Death: Drugs, Violence, and America's War in Colombia Third Printing Edition

22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1586482077
ISBN-10: 1586482076
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mapping the destructive effects of Colombia's drug war from the ground up, Human Rights Watch researcher Kirk (The Monkey's Paw: New Chronicles from Peru) personalizes the devastation created by the violence among the paramilitary, the guerillas and the drug cartels. The result is a very readable and heart-wrenching narrative blending interviews, personal experiences and observations about the violence that has defined and destroyed Colombia for decades. Unfortunately, the book's insider perspective is both its greatest asset and its greatest failing, as the account centers more on an individual American's experience than on America's war in Colombia. Although Kirk is adept at explaining complicated internal problems within Colombia and detailing the general misery and bloodshed there, her personal anecdotes and tenuously related observations do little to advance the book and too often get in the way of the powerful accounts she is trying to present. The key to the drug war-the connection between the United States and Colombia- gets less than its due, as the majority of the narrative details internal problems in Colombia having little to do with the U.S or, at times, with drugs. Given Kirk's experience in the region and obvious investigative talent, it is disappointing that she doesn't provide an in-depth analysis of the role the U.S. has played in the region, why Colombia's plight should matter to Americans, and prospects for the country in the future.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Brisk and colorful." -- San Jose Mercury News

"Shed important light on the context in which Washington's battle is being fought [in Colombia]." -- St. Petersburg Times, February 22, 2004

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; Third Printing edition (April 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586482076
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586482077
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kirk is the author of three books, including More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs and America's War in Colombia (PublicAffairs) and The Monkey's Paw: New Chronicles from Peru (University of Massachusetts Press). She is the coeditor of The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Duke University) and helps edit Duke University Press's World Readers series. Her essay on Colombia and human rights appears in Human Rights and Conflict Resolution in Context: Colombia, Sierra Leone, and Northern Ireland (Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict Resolution, May 2009), edited by Eileen F. Babbitt and Ellen Lutz. An award-winning poet, Kirk also won the 2005 Glamour magazine non-fiction contest with her essay on the death penalty, available in the November 2005 issue. In the Fall of 2006, she was a Fulbright lecturer at the Human Rights Center at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey. In 2005-2006, she was a consultant to the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first-ever truth commission within the United States. Kirk authored, co-authored and edited over twelve reports for Human Rights Watch, all available on-line. In the 1980s, Kirk reported for U.S. media from Peru, where she covered the war between the government and the Shining Path. During that time, she also prepared reports for the U.S. Committee on Refugees, including the first report ever on the plight of Peru's internally displaced people. Kirk is a former Radcliffe Bunting Fellow and is a past winner of the Media Alliance Meritorious Achievement Award for Freelance Writing. Kirk directs DukeEngage's Duke in Belfast program. She is the associate director of Duke's International Comparative Studies program.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Bert Ruiz on January 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who is truly interested in understanding the dark complexities of the civil war in Colombia must read this book. To that end, "More terrible than death: Massacres, Drugs, and America's War in Colombia," is an absolute masterpiece.

Author Robin Kirk is brutally honest and quite frankly...very lucky to be alive to tell this story. Upon completing this book the reader will conclude that Kirk is a sincere and thoughtful student of the human condition in Colombia. Kirk is also a front line witness of a secret and savage dirty war. To this end, she is able to draft a brilliant synopsis of the violent actors in Colombia. Kirk is special. She refuses to lose her cool despite being surrounded by death. Her polished prose calms. Kirk's words do not jump off the pages and shout at you...instead they cling to you and then sink to the bottom of your soul. The end result is a deep disgust of the Colombian government for not protecting defenseless civilians outside the big cities.

Without a doubt, the leaders of Colombia...particularly in the military will consider this book a hard slap to the face. Kirk cleverly documents Colombia's long history of conducting a ruthless dirty war against the poor. The author uses a series of flashbacks and flashforwards to liven the pace of events. Moreover, Kirk displays an extraordinary talent for writing.

The bottom line of this book is that the political leaders of Colombia must sanitize its armed forces of paramilitary death squads. Kirk is not a doomsday author. She does her homework and uses her intimate knowledge of life in Colombia to unfold a stirring narrative.

This book is a surefire national bestseller that will redden the faces of Colombian leaders and boil the blood of American taxpayers. Because as Kirk brilliantly tells it...millions of dollars in American military aid...continues to flow to blatant human rights abusers in the Colombian armed forces.

Bert Ruiz
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bhavin Trivedi on March 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book attempts to contextualize and catalog Colombia�s violent society that has existed for many decades. Within the pages are incredible stories of commoners horrifyingly murdered, monstrous leaders fueled by drugs and futile U.S. policies. Kirk does an excellent job of giving ordinary priests, butchers and townsfolk a human face and when some of them are killed, you feel the pain and frustration.
The historical context that Kirk provides is extremely informative and her analysis of the Gaitan assassination and subsequent U.S. response sets the stage for the rest of the book.
Also powerful are Kirk�s descriptions of the guerilla and paramilitary leaders, especially Castano. While their actions are unspeakably monstrous, their arguments in support of their actions are terrifyingly cogent. While you will not condone their actions, you may find yourself nodding in agreement only to realize that he is talking about murdering innocent people.
There were some drawbacks to the book. While Ms. Kirk states at the end of the book that this was not meant to be comprehensive, her omission of significant facts does limit the effectiveness of her message. For example, from another book, I learned that Colombian drug lords feared extradition to the United States more than just about anything else. I do not recall anywhere in this book where this fact is clearly stated. Simply stating this would have been invaluable since one huge reason that Escobar and others intensified violence was as a response to the Colombian government�s reinstatement of extradition.
The book could have used some better transitions and tighter editing but the nightmarish stories of the common person is more than enough to overlook those minor points.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Normally, I don't have too much time for human rights workers like the author. I recognize that they perform a perhaps vital service for society. Yet when I hear one try to equate something horrific like a massacre in Colombia to the very limited number of legal executions in the United States, I mentally tune them out.
Thankfully, Ms. Kirk does not engage in this type of moral equivalency game. She focuses on the situation in Colombia and the horrific violence that has wracked that country for over fifty years. By doing so, she adds to the shamefully small amount of English-language literature about drug trafficking and its interlinkage with marxist guerrillas and right-wing death squads in Colombia. Given the fact that Colombia each year produces and exports hundreds of metric tons of cocaine and heroin to the United States and the fact that those drugs have caused thousands of murders here and elsewhere over the last twenty years, you'd think that Colombia would also be a charter member of the axis of evil. I don't mean the government in Bogota, but the people who are directly and indirectly involved in the drug trade there. Yet for some reason it is not.
Anyway, I think the book gives a very good run-down about the major players in the Colombian tragedy: the FARC, the ELN, the AUC, the army etc. Kirk writes well and at times even beautifully (however, one or two attempts at poetic description fall flat). I do think that she is a little too sympathetic to the leader of the FARC. In my opinion, he may have been a good guy once, but that was many a massacre and drug deal ago.
Finally, I think that Kirk states something very true about Colombia and the United States in the beginning of her book.
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