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American Desperado: My Life--From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government Asset

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4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  808 ratings  ·  93 reviews
In 2008 veteran journalist Evan Wright, acclaimed for his New York Times bestselling book Generation Kill and co-writer of the Emmy-winning HBO series it spawned, began a series of conversations with super-criminal Jon Roberts, star of the fabulously successful documentary Cocaine Cowboys. Those conversations would last three years, during which time Wright came to realize ...more
Paperback, 549 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,914)
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Priscilla
I don't know where Evan Wright finds these people. This is the most fascinating, heart-breaking and frightening book I have read this year.

I became interested in Mr. Wright's work through Generation Kill. This is totally different. American Desperado is the life of gangster, cocaine smuggler and all around dangerous dude Jon Roberts in his own words, but with Mr. Wright in the book, too, leading us through this man's life.

I received an advance copy of American Desperado three days ago from a fr
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Patrick O'Neil
Jon Roberts is not a nice person. But to describe him as pure evil? Hitler was definitely pure evil. Pol Pot was evil. Even a small time serial killer like Jeffrey Dahmer was evil. Jon Roberts? He was an egotistical sociopath. Not a nice guy. Not someone you want to hang with. Not anyone you could trust to not stab you in the back. But the pure evil moniker is just sensationalism. It sells books. Roberts hasn't done more evil then half the other mafia hit men of renown. And really, the "evil" of ...more
Socraticgadfly
A very dirty book. Not in the sense of pornography, though Playboy Bunnies, as well as prostitutes, are on a few pages. But, rather, very "dirty" in the sense of the dirtiness of the Mafia's violence, the dirtiness of its involvement in drug trafficking, and the dirtiness of the government's "War on Drugs": corrupt cops, corrupt politicians, corrupt judges (at the state level, at least, due to most states electing them) and more. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is in Congress today because her hubby, a Flor ...more
Michael Flanagan
There is so much I like about this book and much that did not sit well with me. Evan Wright tells us the story of the rise of the Cocaine Cowboys and the rise of Miami as the drug capitol of the USA. He tells this story mainly through the eyes of one of the original cowboys. The story is in two parts that run parallel with each other. We get an insight into the life of the cowboy post prison as the author spends a lot of time with Jon Roberts as he is told his tale. The second part is the life o ...more
Sherri Bergman
Wow. I read to discover worlds that don't touch mine. This was some eye opener.

Jon Roberts is a fascinating man. The action (and Wright's ability to facilitate but not get in the way of the story) makes this an easy, I'm embarrassed to say, entertaining, read, but it inspired increasingly difficult questions in my time away from the book. Despite what would be his protestations to the contrary, Roberts seems to have a moral code. The kneecapping, the trunk, the I knew he was a good guy. There's
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Jennifer
Wow. It actually disturbs me that people like this exist in the same world as I do. It made me feel a little bit better to find out Jon is now dead, but let's be honest. There are plenty of people just like him or worse floating around this world. Some of the things Jon recounted made me laugh out loud out of sheer disbelief. Teeing cherries off out of Playboy bunnies' ass cracks, snorting coke with well known celebrities (including members of the Steelers right before their Superbowl appearance ...more
Tomasz
Greatly written book about life of a man who started as a soldier in Italian mafia and ended as a most influential American member of Colombian drug cartel.

Book contains everything a good action title need: murders (plenty), sex, bribes, smuggling, CIA, top secret government operations. It describes many anecdotes from live's of people who became very rich too quickly: putting gold teeth for beloved dog, sending favourite dish to friend using Air Forces aircraft or sailing a motorboat to anothe
...more
Kevin
This was a great book, but to truly enjoy it I think you first have to watch the documentary "Cocaine Cowboys". The documentary focuses on the cocaine trade in Miami in the early 80's and Jon Roberts is one of the central characters. The book is an autobiography that goes into more detail on his crime life before and after those events. Some of it is a bit over the top, but you can tell most of it is true and he pulls no punches. He really lays it out there in terms of a living a life of crime.
Matt Peters
Awesome biography (about a horrible person) and portrait of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s underworld.
Stephen
Very interesting book - reads like a Don Winslow drug/mafia novel, except that this one is all true ! Very scary stuff and quite revealing about the dodgy activities of famous people like James Caan,OJ Simpson and George Bush... Not for the faint hearted though - extreme violence throughout and description of his time in Vietnam (apparently US govt let violent criminals off their charges if they would go and fight in Vietnam) is particularly horrific.
Andrew
I had my ups and downs with this. At times, it seemed to stretch the bounds of credibility, e.g. his stories of his experiences in Vietnam. The footnotes though were invaluable and the author did not try and pass tales which seemed to lack credibility as anything other then just that; tales. It was very well researched and as such, provided a well rounded narrative.

On the whole, the book was pretty good, although Roberts seemed to avoid expanding on certain details as and when it suited him. At
...more
Cara
Well holy crap. This guy has had SOME life. I first learned about him from watching the documentary 'Cocaine Cowboys'; he pretty much single-handedly started the cocaine smuggling in the 70s and 80s that had a huge impact on the Miami culture. But his story is even more interesting than that- from a Mafia family, Vietnam vet, and crazy as all getout while also pretty freakin' brilliant. I was sad to finish this one...super interesting.
Byron
If you've ever seen the movie Cocaine Cowboys, you already know.

This guy Jon Roberts was one of the main people in Cocaine Cowboys. As it turns out, there's way more to his story than that. He was the son or the nephew or some shit of a famous mob guy in NY and he did his share of crime there in the '60s and '70s after returning from 'Nam all fucked the fuck up.

But that's just the beginning. After relocating to Miami, after somehow committing too much crime in NY, he got into cocaine trafficking
...more
Paul Abbott
I saw the "Cocaine Cowboys" documentary by Billy Corben on TV once and was absolutely hooked. Although these people were despicable, vile human beings the things they did that skirted multiple government agencies was awe-inspiring. I knew the Cocaine Cowboys documentary inside and out, so I was browsing Amazon and happened to see this book and I bought it.

The book itself was a fairly easy read, basically a transcript of multiple interviews, obviously mainly with Jon Roberts, the 'bearded gringo'
...more
Ad
good book incredibly revealing of a true criminal and how an organization in the underworld operates. He is mericiless and violent without remorse. You get the fly on the wall view of some of the cruelest notorious people in the western hemisphere, Also very powerful people who are able to be corrupted, some of the powerful people like judges, senate members and entire police forces. A behind the scenes of how backward countries are run what really goes on. It may appear glamorous with the beaut ...more
Vicente Ulive-schnell
Jon Roberts, el verdadero gánster americano

Jon Robertshace queDexterquede como un niño de pecho:“Para deshacerse de un cadáver, lo mejor es un barco. Una vez que se llega a mar abierto, se le revientan los dientes a la víctima con un martillo antes de echarlos por la borda. Después, con un cuchillo bien afilado, se abre el cuerpo desde el ano hasta el plexo. Los intestinos saltan como palomitas de maíz. (…) Los cadáveres flotan por los gases que producen los jugos intestinales. Si no hay intesti
...more
Greg Cummings
Couldn't put it down. Carried the book around like a weapon for a week. It awoke something in me, as only a handful of other books have done.

Jon Roberts lays all his cards on the table, tells the brutal truth about a lifetime of violent crime, an unrepentant "wise wiseguy" who always learned from his mistakes and lived by two rules: crime does in fact pay and evil is more powerful than good. Still Even Wright, who co-authored the book, manages to show us a more vulnerable person than the one Rob
...more
Anna
Nov 12, 2012 Anna rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of history of mafia or illegal things
I won a copy of this book in Goodreads giveaway.

It took quite a while to get into the book; Jon starts of course with telling about his childhood. You can't blame parenting (or the lack of) for anyone who turns out like Jon. Pure evil, bottomless pure evil. While he describes all the disgusting and terrible things he did as a kid (mostly including violence against people who did not deserve it, thefts, etc), I felt nauseated and sick reading the book. The descriptions of everything evil he did a
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Ken
This is the story of arguably the most successful American drug dealer, ever! He was born in 1948, and related by blood to the aristocracy of the Italian mafia-his father and uncles sailed from Sicily with Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, and were part of the Gambino Crime Syndicate.

The book is chock full of detail, and delineates numerous murders, drug deals involving millions of dollars, and wild excesses perpetrated by Jon and his crew. When he was finally brought down, he faced a three hundred year
...more
Sreenidhi
When i first picked up this book, i thought i would get to read sensational things about Mafia, Drug Cartel and more importantly spy life of someone who worked between american government and drug cartels.

Jon is pure evil. I had never thought someone could be so evil. Don't be surprised if this book adds some evil into you.

First phase of the books paints a picture of Italian mafia in the eyes of someone from mafia family. I felt one would have enjoyed it more if there are in and around Newyork b
...more
Kris
This book is amazing.
Whether Jon Roberts told the truth or not, the typical psychopath lies so much it's hard to say if anything he or she says is rational or true, this is a powerful novel.
At times the facts seem surreal and unbelievable, yet Evan Wright manages to weed through the mind of an abhorrent sociopath and bring forth a story that is extremely engaging. Sex, violence, organized crime, drug trafficking were all common place in Jon Roberts life. There are times when reading this book
...more
Michael
This book goes way beyond the documentary Cocaine Cowboys. It describes Jon Roberts' upbringing, his high school gang of "Outcasts", his Mafia ties, his experience in the war in Vietnam, and his role in becoming part of the most successful cocaine smuggling business in U.S. history, all in his own words. Roberts describes himself many times as "pure evil", and Evan Wright digs deep into the facts and details in his writing to back this up. This book was at times scary, laughable, and unbelievabl ...more
Allan MacDonell
Memoir and true crime are two genres that are prone to sensationalism and self-mythologizing at the expense of both style and substance; so it's refreshing--as well as chilling, scary and fun--to read one book that melds the hard-boiled thrills of true crime to the unbridled confessional of the best memoir, and delivers that corrupting and seductive mix with both style and substance. Evan Wright (Generation Kill) is the perfect interpreter for the voice of opportunistic serial killer Jon Roberts ...more
Shannon
As a fan of The Wolf of Wall Street, I picked this book up thinking it would be in the same family, but if Jordan Belfort of The Wolf of Wall Street is a rebellious drug-fueled suit from the street, then Jon Pernell Roberts of American Desperado is his slightly satanic, coercive, impervious, astute business tycoon uncle.
I developed this opinion fairly early upon beginning American Desperado, in fact, as early as several pages in my eyes had already widened at the brutally honest portrayal of ev
...more
Brad684
I listened to the audiobook and thought this book was enthralling. I didn't want it to end. I'm new to books. I don't have a very long attention span for crap, but this book I couldn't stop listening too. It was funny, thrilling, and sometimes scary to know what humans are capable of in the crime world. It was a look into the mind of a self described sociopath. I'm not sure what people didn't like about this book. Maybe it's a better listen than read. If this is a 3.5-4 I can't wait to read a 5! ...more
Sarah
Interesting and readable, but it's mostly just the typical crime tales: robberies, murders, prostitutes, and so on. I feel like I've heard these stories dozens of times. I wish someone would write about the women of the Mafia/gang scene/etc.: I wonder what their lives are like and how they see themselves, but no one ever seems to write about them, except as a peripheral note in a guy's story. I guess maybe the closest I've seen to someone exploring a woman's story is in the first season of The W ...more
Donny Morrison
Easily one of my favorite book of all time .. I've read it over 4 times and have let countless people borrow it. It's an interesting story that never leaves you less than captivated.
Brody Logan
An unbelievable tale of evil, murder, drugs, money, sex and some hilarious moments in between. There were times reading it when I was like "holy shit, there are people like this out there?" But after a while I got used to the brutality in almost a cartoonish way. Jon Roberts' life story is the evil 'cocaine cowboy' version of "Unbroken" or maybe Forrest Gump.

Here's a quick rundown of where this book takes you - NYC Mafia heyday, the disco/drug craze, the Vietnam War, the 'Miami Vice' cocaine ru
...more
Susan Ovans
This started out as an exciting read but the violence quickly became tiresome. Other readers have said that they gained some degree of empathy for Jon Roberts. I didn't. There wasn't a single page that I didn't loathe him. Evan Wright is a helluva journalist, though. Everything that Roberts asserts is fact-checked. But in the end, there's just too much of Roberts’ voice, with almost no balance from anyone else. And speaking of “the end,” Roberts’ life of crime until he goes to jail is minutely d ...more
Mike Gabor
This is the story of Jon Roberts who was in charge of importing cocaine from the Medellin Cartel into the United States in the 1980's. Roberts was originally from New York City where he worked for the Mafia in the 1970's. He also served in the U.S Army fighting in Vietnam. The author gives us a detailed account of his life of crime and what led up to his move to Miami which in turn led him into the cocaine business. The stories in this book can be quite shocking at times but if you've read other ...more
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“When a country goes to war, it acts like a sociopath. It sends people like me out in the woods to do the most evil things we can think of, but everybody else pretends like they're on the side of the angels. The reality is, if the angels want to win, it takes the devil to succeed.” 4 likes
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