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El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,523 ratings  ·  197 reviews
The world has watched, stunned, the bloodshed in Mexico. Forty thousand murdered since 2006; police chiefs shot within hours of taking office; mass graves comparable to those of civil wars; car bombs shattering storefronts; headless corpses heaped in town squares. And it is all because a few Americans are getting high. Or is it part of a worldwide shadow economy that threa ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Bloomsbury Press (first published September 1st 2011)
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Is this the most beautifully crafted writing about Mexico's drug war? - no. For that it would be better to seek out Charles Bowden or John Gibler. It is, however, the most complete and well synthesized history of the Mexican drug trade available in the English language. And I will say this distinction is all about sources. Ioan Grillo has clearly read all of the most important works of the fearless Mexican journalists who cover the Mexican drug trade, while also undertaking a substantial amount ...more
Mikey B.
This encompasses an excellent historical review of narco crime in Mexico – how it evolved and became more and more vicious.

Mexico has been used as a trampoline (author’s expression) for passage of drugs from Columbia to the U.S. With the suppression of the cartels or drug lords in Columbia (namely Pablo Escobar) the power base shifted to Mexico which also produces marijuana and other stronger narcotics (cocaine and heroin). There are different cartels that compete with each other to transport an
Nancy Oakes
click here to read a really long review; read on through for the short one.

El Narco is truly one of the best books of nonfiction I've read this year. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who's even remotely interested in the topic. I noticed that while looking at reviews I found one where someone calls this book "conspiratorial," "left-wing" and "Anti-American." Don't believe it. The book is frightening in its implications, because it's all too real, but the facts are well presented and
Ken Brimhall

More than Society Permits

Whenever I review books about the Drug War, the carnage in Mexico, few seem to care. Is it the ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand-syndrome, or is it the “I got my blow, my weed. Now get off my back,” mentality? Perhaps it’s my pedantic tone. I try not to rail, but when one is familiar with the torture, brutality, senseless beheadings and acid baths, all for control of prohibited drug sales, then one loses one’s propriety. We permit the Drug War (useless billions spent eve
RATING: 3.5 Stars

Definitely a heavy read - no happy ending here!

Ioan Grillo is a well-respected journalist who has been reporting from Mexico for over a decade. Here, he tackles the North American Drug War, but more specifically, the cultural aspects of one of the most dangerous criminal movements around - El Narco.

This book is unique in that it focuses on the culture of drug trafficking and violent crime in Mexico, rather than overarching political and economical debates. He clearly shows h
A concise and thoughtful book that provides an excellent background into the violence that has gripped the border as the "drug wars" have escalated in the recent years.
The Death Trade

"The dead can't cry out for justice. It's the duty of the living to do so for them."

Mexico's drug cartels. After Islamic terrorists, they're quite possibly the most powerful and dangerous criminals on the planet. Hundreds of millions of dollars have allowed them to buy the firepower necessary to make utter mincemeat of the civilian law enforcement which tries to go after them. And then there's human rights violations they commit which have sealed them a place in the public consci
I picked this book because it was the most lauded of the recent crop of English-language books about the Mexican Cartels. I was not disappointed. I have been following this issue for some time now through both newspaper investigations and more systematic assessments like those at InsightCrime and Small Wars Journal. But while the gruesomeness and the severity of the Mexican DTO problem is nothing new to me, Ioan Grillo highlighted several misconceptions that I had gathered from other (usually re ...more
Christian Olson
I have a thing for non-fiction history books with a fair amount of violence.....I liked this book. The beginning and end of the book lack a degree of pacing but I thought the amount of research was impressive. This portion of our recent history is under-reported or sound bite fodder on the evening news, but there is a good amount of depth to this book. The author takes the time to break down different factions of the narco gangs, as well as a good historical perspective of each. I think it is go ...more
Greg Maxon
Very informative book about the Mexican drug war. Written by a journalist, it has the feel of an extremely long (but interesting) magazine article on the history and evolution of the Drug Trade in the Americas. Would not describe as a book that couldn't be put down, as the narrative does not include characters you follow/get attached to. The book sets up nicely for sporadic reading though as each chapter has a unique angle that does not require you to have read/retain the prior chapter. Like I s ...more
While it certainly seems the Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, has performed his do-diligence by risking life and limb (sort of) by reporting from the field and interviewing the people involved on both sides of the issue, he ruins it by employing slang/street terms to describe them in his narrator's voice. I guess with the goal of impressing us all of his street cred. I was hoping to gather more information about a complex and horrific issue from a clear-eyed ...more
Krista Danis
Hugely informative but lacking in a structured argument, El Narco provides a factual backdrop to the cartel situation in Mexico and the cultural and class institutions that perpetuate it. Unfortunately, Grillo cannot hide his uninformed biases and carries on with banal references and snarky quips that made me feel like I was reading one of those political banterings that crop up so frequently these days.

According to Grillo, the Nixon-era war on drugs and subsequent aggressive Mexican policy is n
Abuela Linda
Grillo risked his life to obtain incredible interviews with major and minor players in the drug wars, which he describes as major insurgencies not just "wars." The demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. is fueling these insurgencies, as is weak government in the countries of origin. The narcotraficantes are expanding to include major extrapolation industries such as illegal logging, siphoning off oil from pipelines and selling it abroad, kidnapping, preying on indocumentados trying to cross Mexico ...more
Oh, "El Narco", how I wished I liked you more.

I had high hopes for this book after listening to its author, Ioan Grillo, wax eloquently and authoritatively about the Mexican Drug War on the radio some months back. I wanted to understand the senseless - literally, I can't wrap my head around it - killings of over 35,000 people over the past few years by various Mexican drug cartels who went from nearly unknown in the 1980s to some of the most feared gangsters today. In some ways, the book does pr
Les Gehman
El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo is an outstanding chronicle of the Mexican drug war. This book should be required reading for anyone interested in understanding why there is such a drug war, how it started, and why it's not going to go away anytime soon. Thanks to LibraryThing's Early Reviewer's for a chance to read this excellent book.
Jennifer Jarrell
Nov 26, 2011 Jennifer Jarrell rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: true crime fans, anyone desiring a deeper knowledge of current world issues
Shelves: first-reads
As a huge fan of true crime, I was thrilled to receive this book via FirstReads -- and it did not disappoint.

El Narco is a well-written, well-researched exploration of the criminal insurgency threatening to overtake Mexico. Living in the Northeast, my comprehension of the severity of the organized crime epidemic south of the border was limited to occasional CNN headlines and Hollywood movies. I was unaware of the scope of this problem, and the potential global implications, of a Mexican drug car
Chrissy (The Every Free Chance Reader)
Did I enjoy this book: I loved it!

Like many Americans, I’ve visited Mexico and loved the country. Headlines of drug wars disturbed me, especially when I lived in the deep South. Many of our friends came to the U.S. from Mexico, and we’d previously enjoyed crossing the boarder without concern. What changed? What made parts of Mexico some of the most dangerous places in our hemisphere?

El Narco does a great job of explaining a very complicated international problem. Grillo resists the temptation to
Fantastic. Grillo has dedicated enormous amounts of time and energy to examining a whole variety of aspects of the growth of Mexican drug violence (interview subjects range from former presidents to street level dealers and assassins). What's even more impressive is his ability to translate dense & detailed material into clear and engaging prose. Notes and further reading sections are also excellent.
Brilliant but shocking. I think this gave me a much better understanding of the problems related to the drug trade in Mexico and other Central/South American countries. The author, if you haven't read his bio, is a British national who has been reporting from Mexico for over 10 years, has an excellent grasp on the situation, and is not afraid to talk with the criminal element he writes about.

There's been a lot of attention lately on the throngs of immigrants (many of them children) arriving at t
If you want to know more about drug cartels in Mexico and central America, if you are keen to find out what is really driving Mexico's economy and why some of the biggest american banks survived the financial crisis in 2008, this is the book.
Oct 07, 2011 Jodie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I am glad that I won a First Reads copy of "El Narco". With living in Tucson for so many years the boarder war was always in the news. Maybe this book will shed some new light on this subject. Looking forward to starting this book!
After decades of journalistic silence around the narcotic trade routes across the Americas, the past few years has seen some excellent work - very profound work, around broken lives in and around the drug trade. This was led most visibly by David Simon, through the very excellent The Wire (which was in turn inspired by his two excellent non-fiction books Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. (It is relevant to bring in David Sim ...more
Jose Torres
El Narco: Inside Mexico’s criminal insurgency
Ioan Grillo
published by blooms bury press New York
published in 2011
298 pages
In the book El Narco Author Ioan Grillo talks abput all the violence in mexico and in the southamerican countries. Ioan interviews mexican cartel members and a young boy sicario (hitman) from colombia. Ioan also visits la madre sierra where a lot of Mexicos illegal drugs are produced and distributed. Ioan also talks to other sicario memebers and they all tell their stories a
I just love the way great journalists write books. They start with facts, build them to stories - that are eventually about people. Methodically, exhausting topic by topic, building the great narrative from ground up.

That's exactly how Ioan Grillo does it in "El Narco". The book explains the Mexican drug wars by going through different perspectives: history, culture, politics, religion etc. A grand picture emerges about the human suffering, miscalculated and cynical drug policies, but more broa
Robb Ellis
Excellent breakdown of the drug cartel problem in Mexico by a British journalist with years of experience following the issue, actually living in the middle of it.
Tough read but well-written and informative. Very upsetting what is happening in regard to human rights in Mexico. Innocent people are increasingly becoming victims of the drug war there. America provides 90% of the guns that are being used in the gang warfare. As far as I'm concerned, it's yet another reason to overhaul our gun laws. 55,000 people have died in the recent drug wars. 6,000 people have gone missing. What's more, Grillo makes a case that it is not impossible to imagine these wars c ...more
Grillo tediously describes awful murders scenes for most of this book! Was hoping for more economic, political, cultural analysis...
Related to 2666 (this is going to be a very depressing bookshelf)
A very good, very comprehensive despite its short length, account of the drug war in Mexico. I think sometimes Grillo's writing gets the best of him - a New York accent does not have a twang (I have lived in or near New York for much of my life).

That said, the book traces the development of the drug cartels through the twentieth century to today, as the go from small time outfits to whole paramilitary shadow states. It digs into the religion and culture that surrounds it, and makes a persuasive
A really fascinating account of the rise and operation of Mexico's drug cartels. Grillo goes from a history of Mexico, to a history of the the cartels. There are a number of really fascinating bits, in particular about the operation of the PRI, Mexico's old authoritarian party that ran the country for 76 years (although Mexico's current President is also a member of the PRI.)

There are also moments of gobsmacking horror and tragedy. Grillo gives accounts of daylight assassinations where police a
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I’m a journalist, writer and TV producer based in Mexico City. I’ve been covering Latin America since 2001 for news media including Time Magazine, CNN, The Associated Press, Global Post, The Houston Chronicle, PBS NewsHour, Al Jazeera English, France 24, CBC, The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Times, Gatopardo, The San Francisco Chronicle and many others. El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgenc ...more
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“The growing policy-reform movement is a broad church. It includes everyone from ganja-smoking Rastafarians to free-market fundamentalists and all in between. There are socialists who think the drug war hurts the poor, capitalists who see a business opportunity, liberals who defend the right to choose, and fiscal conservatives who complain America is spending $40 billion a year on the War on Drugs rather than making a few billion taxing it. The movement can’t agree on much other than that the present policy doesn’t work. People disagree on whether legalized drugs should be controlled by the state, by corporations, by small businessmen, or by grow-your-own farmers, and on whether they should be advertised, taxed, or just handed out free in white boxes to addicts.” 3 likes
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