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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece
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...
Published on January 28, 2003 by Bert Ruiz

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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good info but poor editing
As already stated this book provides some good info on the people and actions that have troubled Colombia. Kirk prefaces her work by stating her biases and her position so when these biases show, especially with a slight lean towards the leftist cause (or more accurately seeming to oppose the right-wing paramilitaries moreso than the equally lost and violent leftists),...
Published on December 28, 2003


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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, January 28, 2003
By 
Bert Ruiz "Author" (Pleasantville, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerfully frightening at times, March 13, 2003
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
4.0 out of 5 stars An impressive book, January 23, 2003
By A Customer
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. Yes, Colombia's wars would probably still rage at some level without drug money flowing into the coffers of the combatants. Yet the billions of dollars some of the United States' population insist on spending on illegal drugs has supercharged the civil strife in Colombia. To paraphrase Kirk, our pleasures pull Colombia under.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Book Overall, July 29, 2003
By A Customer
This is a valuable work, primarily because it puts faces and names to those being harmed in the Colombian conflict, and explores the many reasons for the strife the citizenry experiences currently. The sociological, economic, ideological, political, and personal reasons for the murder and terror are all shown.
If you're interested in further reading on Colombia, US drug policy, and guerilla warfare in Colombia, "The Sixth Division" and "The Ties That Bind" are both published by Human Rights Watch (it looks as though Kirk probably worked on the HRW publications as well, some of the writing is nearly identical). They deal more with hard facts and are a more academic source of info.
(The only reason I gave it only 4 stars was that I thought it was a bit long-winded at times)
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good info but poor editing, December 28, 2003
By A Customer
As already stated this book provides some good info on the people and actions that have troubled Colombia. Kirk prefaces her work by stating her biases and her position so when these biases show, especially with a slight lean towards the leftist cause (or more accurately seeming to oppose the right-wing paramilitaries moreso than the equally lost and violent leftists), the reader easily excuses this. I was more dismayed by the editing. Kirk frequently begins a story with a character that leads into another character without seeming to wrap up what she began to write about. I often felt a lost train of thought; either from the author or from my having to bounce from subject to subject. Additionally some of the writing was unclear. There were at least a few sentences that were grammatically incorrect, lacking clarity, or run-ons. I felt the material was very good but the delivery was average. There should have been better editing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well recommended, January 6, 2006
By 
Peter J. Orne (Cambridge, MA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Robin Kirk seems doubly gifted with the ability of a fine prose stylist and the courage of a fearless human-rights documenter. She handles the complexities of Colombia's postwar historical period admirably well. I wish there had been just a touch more of the suspense narrative, at which she is most adept. Given the succinct and artful chapter titles, I wonder whether she did battle with the publisher about the book title, which is somewhat overwrought.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Narco Terrorism in the Republic of Colombia., January 13, 2006
By 
Kevin M Quigg (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: More Terrible Than Death: Drugs, Violence, and America's War in Colombia (Paperback)
Even though the author is a liberal human rights activist, she makes plenty of strong points in this book. The civil war in Colombia in which the U.S. is supporting the Colombian Army in profoundly complicating the civil society in Colombia. The West's drug habits are also altering Colombian society. Both the right wing paramilitaries and the left wing guerrillas are perverting Colombia into a violent society. This society has more deaths per 1,000 than any inner city in America. This violent society also makes its way onto the news reports, where massacres and killings are reported as if it was the weather. Colombia is a violent society and America is not making it easier to calm this troubled state.

That said, there are few suggestions the author has for calming this troubled society, other than that human rights should be respected. Since neither side respects these human rights, violence increases every year. The rebels/Army/paramilitaries/narcs are all portrayed as bad guys in this book. Children become killers. Nonviolent people are disappeared. There are no good suggestions on how to end the violence. The guerrillas disperse gas cyclinder bombs onto civilian targets. The AUC uses chain saws to cut people up. Everybody profits by selling cocaine and heroin to the West. I don't know if there is any cure. I am not sure a FARC-UP win would change anything in this society.

This is a good book to read about Colombia. I visited the country once and thought the people were beautiful and charming. However the hotel personnel wore bullet proof vests, and garage attendants were scanning parked cars for bombs. Fortunaley I never left Sante Fe de Bogota, and so did not see the countryside. I think the author correctly portrays the country as a troubled society.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Death and destruction in Columbia., January 13, 2006
By 
Kevin M Quigg (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
A very good book about Columbia and the ongoing civil war in that country between the government, FARC-UP, and AUC. Kirk describes the history of violence in Columbia from the assassination of Gatain in 1948 until the present time. Not only do you have right wing paramilitaries (AUC) and left wing radicals (FARC) along with others, but you have a people that mostly just want to stay out of the way of either. They are prevented from doing this by the combatants who insist on getting all involved. They say "Either you are with us or against us". The poplulation pays the price. Throw in illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin, with lots of cash to purchase arms with and you have the making of a very violent society.

Kirk's focus is that the consumption habits of American society for drugs, and the U.S. government's commitment to prevent a FARC victory result in the Columbian people being subjected to these forces who are loaded with weapons. Death rates are worse than any inner city in America. All combatants, along with those involved in the Narco trade increase the violence in this society.

I would have loved to hear what Kirk wants the U.S. to do. Americans still consume illegal drugs and a FARC victory would not lead to a peaceful society. Even if the drugs were not present, this society has degenerated ever more so to violence.

Columbia is a beautiful country and Columbians are very engaging. When I was there, I saw more military and police than any country in Latin America. This book is a good read for those interested in this very interesting and troubled country.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Perspective of Actual Conditions, February 7, 2003
By A Customer
This is the best book that I have ever read regarding the atmosphere that pervades much of Colombia.
It shows both the best and the worst of the populace of that beautiful nation. The heroism of people dealing with potential death in everyday life is difficult to believe. It truly represents the character of the Colombian people.
When I was in Colombia I was amazed at the expression used in everyday life of "si le toca, le toca", literally " if it touches you, it touches you". You could translate this phrase better in English as "when your time comes, it comes". The book reflects this rationalization of living under such conditions.
The title may be somewhat misleading for commercial purposes. As the author explains within the book, the meaning for the courageous people of Colombia is more akin to "To Not Try to Improve the Current Condition Would be More Terrible than Death".
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, April 23, 2006
By 
This review is from: More Terrible Than Death: Drugs, Violence, and America's War in Colombia (Paperback)
The title and cover may fool potential readers into assuming Kirk's work to be just another account of vomitous atrocities and bloodshed committed by paramilitaries, while the Colombian military either colludes or does nothing. Diverging from the throng of reading material that has emerged over the past decade or so, on Colombia's conflict, the U.S.-funded "war on drugs" and "war on terrorism", Robin Kirk offers a fresh angle full of unexpected life with "More Terrible Than Death" (Public Affairs, 2003).

The beauty of this book lies in the hope it embodies. There are countless contradictions Kirk uses aiming to slap American consumers awake to see our role in this quagmire. Truths, such as: where there is demand, there will be supply (no matter what); where there is no hope, there will be despair, or, as Kirk's friend Josu? Giraldo said, losing the hope that Colombians believe a fair life is possible would be more terrible than death.

Exhuming inspiration from gruesomeness is something Kirk found in Colombians willing to cling to that hope. She is able do the same. Through myriad protagonists (some of whom should someday be canonized), extraordinary imagery, tireless interviewing and research Kirk surprisingly stands out as having successfully left the reader with a sense of a middle ground. Not taking sides is nearly impossible for any Colombian. The with-us-or-against-us mentality is omnipresent, not excluding the Nari?o House, where President Uribe resides. Kirk is successful in denouncing all those deserving, and expressing grave concern about the dire needs of those innocent who should be receiving protection.

Using chapter titles very creatively, Kirk draws readers in immersing us in each section, engaging and engrossing us with fascinating lesser-known details for those familiar with Colombia; Kirk holds on to any reader with her alluring tone, never dryly presenting acronym after acronym, massacre after massacre.

This is a book worth reading, as it is more than a fine intellectual and academic product; Kirk reaches into her being examining what she has observed, learned, and understood, sharing with readers not only another perspective different from that which Mario Murillo demonstrates dominates U.S. news sources, but she also offers a solid point of view worthy of an audience because of such a hard-to-attain neutrality.

Kirk tells us how she was able to leave behind conventional human rights arguments, and she presents a resource that shows in equality the ills of the actions and inactions of not only the Colombian government and paramilitaries, but also guerrillas, the U.S. government, and U.S. consumers.

While Kirk does not shy away from sharing her fair share of stories of atrocities, which abound in resources about Colombia, she gives readers more than how many were massacred, how and by whom; Kirk strives to find and communicate the meaning behind the "apparent" senselessness, contradictions, avarice.

Without adding an in-your-face "What YOU can do" piece, readers will finish "More Terrible Than Death" not only sensing hope from the such a dreary phrase, but perhaps readers will also feel empowered with Kirk's subtle, yet crisp call to action.

Without a doubt, after reading "More Terrible Than Death" Kirk's other works will make it onto readers' lists of books to read. They are on mine.
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