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El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency Hardcover – October 25, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 317 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Grillo's book is terrific--full of vivid front-line reporting; diverse interviews; a sense of history; a touch of social science; clarifying statistics; and realistic reviews of what might be done to improve things, none of it easy. It is essential reading.” ―Steve Coll, NewYorker.com

“Grillo takes advantage of his sources to provide insight on the drug war from nearly every angle, from the American government's longstanding attempts to stifle trafficking there to the national history that underpins much of the current narco culture… The book is a useful corrective to the common American idea that Mexico is just one big homogenous bloodbath south of Texas. … filled with the sort of unforgettable details to which only a reporter who has been on this beat for years would be privy.” ―Boston Globe

“Graphic and fast-paced history” ―Mother Jones

El Narco achieves something unattempted in the English-language reporting on the Mexican drug war: it lays out in clear terms the contours of a world that has existed for years and only grown more barbaric as it's graduated to "war" status. Since that world is right next door, it's high time that English-language readers are able to learn just what makes it tick.” ―Bookforum

“The strength of El Narco lies in its shoe-leather reporting; Grillo interviews everyone from a former cartel assassin to DEA agents to grieving families, snitches, pot and poppy farmers, illegal immigrants and gangbangers. He's the sort of journalist who'll pop into a plastic surgery clinic or taqueria if it turns up on a list of cartel-linked businesses, just to see what he can see. Writers this knowledgeable about the subject and with no particular ax to grind are rare.” ―Salon

“Ioan Grillo delivers the first authoritative and comprehensive examination of the unprecedented mafia violence that has taken so many lives, shaken the Mexican state and spooked the Americans…this is the book to read to understand the homicidal madness just across the river…The considerable strengths of El Narco are the depth of Grillo's reporting, the clarity of his writing and the fact that he is a thinking reporter who, while wandering through the bloody wilderness, is looking for a way out.” ―San Antonio Express

“Essential reading … not a book for the faint-hearted. Grillo's spellbinding account of the violence fuelled by drug cartels which threatens to engulf Mexico brings you uncomfortably close to the bloody crimes in which its citizens are the victims.” ―Canberra Times (Australia)

“A very carefully researched book written in an engaging style.” ―Rooftop Reviews

El Narco is a book that has long needed writing. It is tough, straightforward … reportage” ―BlogCritics.org

“Excellent” ―Konstantin Kakaes, Zócalo Public Square

“Effectively [analyzes how] Mexico came to control drug trafficking, how it spreads, and what can be done about it…This excellent work packs the punch of Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah, an exploration of the Italian Mafia, which also displays the fruits of direct reporting bolstered by intensive interviewing.” ―Booklist (starred review)

El Narco is riveting, authoritative reporting from the front lines of the Mexican drug wars. What's happening there has explosive potential consequences for every American, and Ioan Grillo's book shows you why.” ―Dan Rather, Founder and Anchor, HDNet's Dan Rather Reports.

“It is hard enough to report the facts of Mexico's crazy death spiral of drug violence. Ioan Grillo goes much, much deeper. He explains why El Narco threatens the soul of this beautiful country. He tells us how we got here.” ―William Booth, bureau chief for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, Washington Post

“Not since Elaine Shannon's Desperados has a book shown us the lawless horrors of the drug war with the kind of gripping human detail that confronts us in El Narco. Ioan Grillo explores that world as deeply as few journalists have dared, but he also examines it artfully and broadly: he puts the tragedy in a rich historical context that indicts not only Mexican and Latin American politicos but U.S. policymakers as well.” ―Tim Padgett, Miami and Latin America Bureau Chief, Time

“Mexico's drug trafficking mafias have become too large and dangerous for Americans to ignore. In limpid prose and penetrating analysis Ioan Grillo puts a human face on the violent tragedy caused by U.S. drug demand and Mexican cartel criminality. The author argues that a narco-insurgency threatens the very future of the Mexican state and society. I strongly recommend this timely and troubling book.” ―Howard Campbell, Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas-El Paso, author of Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez

“The monster of violence rampaging in Mexico was a long time coming. Ioan Grillo traces the beast's footprints with meticulous research--including courageous reporting on some of the country's meanest streets--and engaging writing. Remarkable.” ―Dudley Althaus, Mexico City Bureau Chief, Houston Chronicle

“Ioan Grillo, the most intrepid and knowledgeable foreign journalist covering the drug war in Mexico today, provides us with more than just a glimpse into this sordid underworld and its history--he gives us access to the soul and mind of El Narco, as well as deftly explaining and providing new insight into this hemispheric war on drugs.” ―Malcolm Beith, author of The Last Narco: Inside the Hunt for El Chapo, the World's Most Wanted Drug Lord

“Ioan Grillo really gets Mexico's Drug War. His gripping and informative El Narco masterfully intersperses personal accounts from the front lines with fascinating and crucial historical details to help the reader understand why this violence is happening, and how it is impacting people on both sides of the border. El Narco is a must-read for anyone who wants the bottom line on the situation in Mexico.” ―Sylvia Longmire, Consultant, Drug War analyst, and author of Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars.

“Accomplished, chilling account of the murderous growth of Mexican drug cartels …Grillo has reported from the region since 2001; his experience is evident in his easy, wry familiarity with the political and social currents of Latin America … A valuable contribution to the literature of the Drug War.” ―Kirkus

“A propulsive account of the blood-soaked machinery of ‘El Narco' … Examining the trade's gunslinging culture, the motivations behind the continual ramping-up of violence, and some potential solutions to the problem, Grillo argues that America's hard-line rhetoric has failed--and that if a game-changing alternative is not implemented, the Mexican state could also fail. Given the savage chaos Grillo shows us in the country's streets and barrios, his arguments are as perceptive as his high-octane reportage.” ―Publishers Weekly

About the Author

A native of England, Ioan Grillo has covered Mexico since 2001 for top newspapers, magazines and TV stations in the US and UK. He reports for Time Magazine as well as producing presentations for stations including PBS, ABC and Channel 4 of the UK. He regularly appears on radio and TV, commenting on Mexican crime and other issues. He has witnessed police and military operations, mafia killings and major seizures; he's also discussed the drug war with two Mexican presidents, three attorney generals and the U.S. ambassador, among others.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 56187th edition (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608192113
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608192113
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (317 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Driving up dirt trails into the Sierra Madre to visit poppy farmers. Scoping out cartel henchmen in Nuevo Laredo's red-light district with a heroin addict as a guide. Hanging out for an afternoon with a hitman in Medellin. That's about as close to Mexico's brutal drug trade as a journalist can go without getting whacked.

Ioan Grillo's El Narco is a frighteningly up-close look at the drug conflict in Mexico that reminds us that reality sometimes is more outlandish than fiction.

Grillo has spent a decade working as a journalist in Mexico and following the Sinaloa, Gulf and Zeta cartels as well as government officials struggling unsuccessfully to rein them in. That experience shows up in this book, which he wrote in a colorful narrative that gives you the feeling you're out there reporting with him.

Grillo takes you through a detailed and well documented history of drug trade in Mexico, from opium dens run by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century and up to the cartel turf wars and government crackdown that all together have led to tens of thousands of violent deaths. Through anecdotes and interviews with police, thugs and presidents Grillo provides a blow-by-blow explanation of what led to the explosion of decapitations, massacres and gun battles that in recent years have made Juarez -- a stone's throw from Texas -- the most dangerous city in the world.

Grillo is rightly critical of the often bumbling and contradictory Mexican and U.S. government policies that have failed to stop the drug cartels. He has seen more of the conflict perhaps than any other reporter and probably more than most DEA agents, who would do well to interview him when they get the chance - or at least read his book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the last five years or so, the horrific violence across the Rio Grange has made headlines in the USA. There are articles about seemingly random gun battles in major cities, executions of drug "players," police, and even journalists covering the story. The book "El Narco" provides historical context and gripping reporting about this terrible situation.

The reader learns that the "Mexican drug trade" for the US started with the smuggling of opium across the border to fuel the needs of Chinese workers in the 19th century. In the 1960s, the rise in marijuana consumption led to importation of this drug. The sucessful Federal (US) efforts to shut down Florida as a route for Cocaine smuggling in the 1980s led to use of Mexico, with its large border, as the alternative pathway.

The book also explains how and why the violence has escalated so dramatically in the last few years, stemming in part from the end of one party political rule, and perhaps more importantly, the morphing of police/soldiers in Mexico from passive players (taking bribes) to active players, culminating in the rise of the Zetas, an almost unbelievably brutal drug organization.

Like any good reporter, the author provides telling details. A graphic example involves the take down of a major drug kingpin in an operation which resulted in fatalities amongst the soldiers/police who did the job. Gunmen from the kingpin's organization infiltrated the funeral of one of the soldiers, and murdered several family members. That is the way the game is played South of the Border.

My one (minor) criticism concerns the final chapter, in which the author provides suggested approaches which might help stem the violent tide. These ideas ( e.g.
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There is no doubt that Grillo has done his homework and knows a fair amount about the Mexican drug trade. His writing seems supported by an expertise and detailed research. Unfortunately, the book came up a little short of my expectations.

The Good Points:

* A very detailed look at the Mexican drug cartels, with sufficient detail to make it seem believable and well researched.

* Unusual for the "true crime" genre, Grillo looks at Mexican society and how it has both affected and been affected by the drug trade. Close-knit families, geography, and even religion all have had an affect on how the cartels grow and prosper. Very nice to see these topics included.

* With its discounted price, the book is a great deal. I am a big fan of discounted titles as a way to read books on topics that normally wouldn't catch my interest. For the price, an excellent valuc.

The Not-So-Good Points

* The book is more like a collection of essays than a history book. I didn't find any underlying thesis to the work, just a series of chapters on different topics. Given Grillo's background, the comparison to a series of (detailed) magazine articles seems obvious. (Think Atlantic Monthly).

* Grill can't seem to decide if he is writing a history text of a series of editorials. His opinions come through very strongly, and he is prone to inserting snarky and rather informal personal commentary in the work. It takes away from the quality of the book, and quite honestly breaks my concentration.

* I found his writing style to be somewhat stiff and unyielding. Not the long, complicated prose of a scholarly history text, but not the easy-read language of a mass-market volume.
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