Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail
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Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  5,293 ratings  ·  409 reviews
Rusty Young was backpacking in South America when he heard about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia's notorious San Pedro prison. Intrigued, the young Australian journalist went to La Paz and joined one of Thomas's illegal tours. They formed an instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas's experi...more
ebook, 400 pages
Published May 1st 2004 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published June 1st 2003)
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Sarah
This book made me angry because it was so poorly written - such an interesting story made into something so flat and annoying. The narrator was not trustworthy - in high school lit, we would have called him an "unreliable narrator." One of the faults of the first-person narrative structure - the narrator had no independent authority and the author didn't have the skill to bolster his narrator's credibility (He would say, "I did this bad thing, but I'm not a bad guy" and my reaction would be "I d...more
Bryce
Everyone has one of those friends that drink too much and tell outrageous stories. Things like "The time I sat next to Hannah Montana in first class and she totally hit on me," "The time I got lost in the NYC subways and spent the night hanging out with a bunch of homeless guys," or "The time my boat almost sank but I was saved by a magical friendly dolphin." If you're lucky, your friend is entertaining and the ridiculous stories are actually fun to listen to. If you're unlucky... your "friend"...more
Mark
Ghost writer wanted!
I love a good ripping yarn - tales of adventurous stupidity, derring do and the right mix of good and bad luck. Throw in a good dose of local colour and corruption, and away you go! But not this time...
I can't believe how dull this book turned out to be. Thomas bleats on and on ad infinitum about how crazy the jail is and how loco the situation is - prisoners taking out mortgages on cells, imbibing in the purest cocain in the world, restaurants run by prisoners and even a cat...more
Kim
I first heard about this book a couple years ago and was interested straight away. A book set in the San Pedro prison in Bolivia. Full of corruption, crime and drugs.

What I got was full of corruption, crime and drugs. But also a fair bit of boredom and self-pity. No matter how nice he was he was still a convicted drug smuggler and dealer and I can't have any sympathy for him at all. If he'd been innocent I would have felt differently. But he was there because he deserved to be. So for me that re...more
Bel Vidal
Having lived in Bolivia for the first twenty years of my life, where the goings-on inside San Pedro are public knowledge, I can vouch for the veracity of the story exposed by Young / McFadden, although it reads as stranger than fiction. The bizarre, sometimes brutal, sometimes comic revelations of Marching Powder, are not as astonishing to me as they might be to someone unfamiliar with “the way things are in South America”, but even to my acquainted eye the book still made for interesting readin...more
Donnie
This is just one of those amazing true stories. If a fiction author wrote it, you would think it was too unbelievable. I dare anyone to try to read this book and remain non-nonplussed by the fuctupedness in this story.

The story takes place in a Bolivian prison which is unlike any in the world, I imagine.

The protagonist is a drug smuggler; he was caught red-handed and is sent to a bizarre prison in which you pay to enter and pay to own a cell. The guards never really enter the prison grounds in...more
Michelle
I bought this book because my 'book lady' in Saigon recommended it to me and boy am I glad I did!! It is the amazingly true story of a drug trafficker from England who is caught and arrested in Bolivia where he is sent to San Pedro. When he arrives he is barely alive and it seems as though he has no chance of surviving. San Pedro is like no prison I have ever imagined could exist. For starters, prisoners have to buy their own cell. They have various sections to choose from to live in depending o...more
Manda
This memoir of a British drug dealer's nearly five years inside a Bolivian prison provides a unique window on a bizarre and corrupt world. McFadden, a young black man from Liverpool arrested for smuggling cocaine, finds himself forced to pay for his accommodations in La Paz's San Pedro Prison, the first of many oddities in a place where some inmates keep pets and rich criminals can sustain a lavish lifestyle. McFadden soon learns how to survive, and even thrive, in an atmosphere where crooked pr...more
Tom Collin
Everyone I'd talked to about this book told me it was incredible. I feel that I might need to stop asking everyone about books. The headline on the back of the novel boldly states:

"A darkly comic, sometimes shocking account of life in the world's most bizarre prison"

Why is it, then, that I feel so underwhelmed by this novel? Is it because the protagonist fails to conjure up any charisma? Is it because all of the "shocking revelations" could've probably been summed up in a 5 page summary? Is it...more
David Goode
Marching Powder was lent to me by my super awesome friend Grace full of stories from her adventures across the South American rugged terrain. I've never been to South America and have never really had a desire to go either however Grace threw this book on me and told me I had to read it. One of the places where Grace travelled to was Bolivia which is where this story is set.

This true story is about an english drug trafficker who gets caught in Bolivia trying to smuggle 5 kilo's of coke out of th...more
Jennifer
Awesome. Fascinating look into the inside of a South American jail where the inmates have almost unlimited freedom, run their own businesses and have their families staying with them inside the prison, come and go seemingly at will, have drugs-fuelled parties (cocaine, mostly, naturally!) and invite guests in to take tours of the prison ... but start out with nothing, living amongst filth and scum in a common and dangerous central compound, having to buy their way into a cell. This was an eye op...more
Cedar
Um WTF...

At first, reading about the prison conditions, the prisoners lifestyles and bribery I was entertained. Not amazed, as its a third world prison and they will never amaze me... Unfortunately from about halfway through I found Thomas to be whiny and self centered. And the more I read, the more it grated.

Granted it would be hard being thrown into a third world prison, hell it would be hard being thrown into any prison, but the fact that Cocaine is glorified throughout the novel, until the...more
Ray
Concur w/ Raghu's 10/25/10 review, much of which is duplicated below:

Rusty Young's 'Marching Powder' is the real-life account of Thomas McFadden, a black Englishman and cocaine trafficker, and his nearly five years in the San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia. What is bizarre and unusual and incredible about the book is the nature of the San Pedro prison. One is used to hearing about notorious third-world prisons where corruption, crime, violence and inhumanity is rampant. Police brutality and cor...more
Elizabeth Lhuede
I read Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail over one wild, windy weekend, only getting up off the couch to eat, say hi to my long-suffering partner and sleep. Then I read the reviews.

Strange, but I agreed with both the 5-star and the 1-star comments. It's a fascinating, page-turning story, told in a simple, easy-to-read style. It has touches of surreal comic brilliance, as it tells of the narrator Thomas's survival through incredible hardships...more
Prakriti
This is a fantastic story written very amateurishly. The first two thirds of the book focuses on the La Paz prison and the idea that such a thing could exist - the entire USP of the book. However, that is the part which is lousy, and you would be better advised to stick to the Wiki page. By the end of it though, one does feel for Thomas, and the indulgent adventure that he turned it into.

The small length of the chapters grate one's senses, and one gets a sense again and again that the book was...more
Carlie
Fascinating story on a convicted English drug trafficker in San Pedro, a Bolivian prison.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading how San Pedro was run and about the people and politics in Bolivia but the story dragged in places and it was not written well. At times I found myself wondering how much of the story was true as Thomas, the English drug trafficker, spends most of his time stoned or drunk whilst in prison and surely this would affect his memory and ability to retell his story?
I also found it di...more
Vicki
I loved this book. The corruption, the drugs, the crime and all the details placed me right there sitting and listening to his story. Good insight to what happens in other countries and makes our convicts look like they're on an all expenses paid for holiday. A friend of mine went to San Pedro prison on a holiday in 2011 and said the similarities were pretty spot on. Whilst at times we as readers were made to feel sorry for Thomas Mcfadden, at the end of the day he was a drug smuggler and knew w...more
Rebecca
I don't get the 4 star average for this one. At first I thought it was beacuse I had listened to the audio, and the main character who is British and spent 5 years in a Bolivian prison had a South American accent, really? But as I got further along I realised it was the character of Thomas that got to me. He always seemed so hard done by, full of excuses and stories. Yes I believe about paying for your cell, but there's plenty of others I don't believe.

I also don't get why tourists would ever wa...more
Subvert
Backpacker-fodder. One of those typical books you'll see backpackers reading on the beach or come across in hostel-shelves. It's also one of those books that you just finish in no-time. It probably didn't take much more than 8 hours I guess.

Anyway, the premise is interesting enough. The 'truthiness' is highly questionable. It's written down in a way Thomas McFadden may have told it while he was recorded by Rusty Young. And I guess he must've been a good storyteller. Being a tourist-guide and hav...more
Kimberley
A friend recommended this book to me and said I wouldn't be able to put it down. He was right. What a riveting story!
It had me from the very first page. Thomas McFadden's account of what goes on inside Bolivia's San Pedro prison is completely shocking but so intriguing.
This is one of those strange stories that you just want to tell everyone to check out for themselves. Highly recommended!
It is also being made into a movie, in which Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle are producing. Can't wait!
Tiffany Mercer
Fantastic! It was such an eye opening story about a third world prison. I was completely fascinated despite the spelling errors throughout the book ;-)
Koula
This book is a rare treat! A page turner... Thomas McFadden is so charismatic and through his eyes we see all the complexities of the strange, harsh and violent world of San Pedro prison. I'm so glad I got to meet these characters and I hope Thomas and Rusty's lives are filled with happiness and good health! Absolutely brilliant! This book made me laugh, cry and rethink...
Gillian
This was such a crazy story I just couldn't put it down. Since I spent time in Bolivia and had heard about the jails I was very curious to read this book. I think it would make a great movie. It is no great work of literature, just a good suspensful story and it will truly blow you mind what the conditions and corruption is like there.
Keegan Dollinger
I thoroughly enjoyed it, quite an adventure. I wish I was traveling in Bolivia during that time and really got to participate in one of those tours. This book makes me want to drop everything I am doing and make the trip from Los Angeles to Cape Horn, the tip of South America.
Kesh Khullar
This book made me want to go to the prison in La Paz, take cocaine and experience the life that McFadden endured for one night!

I've been to La Paz, and unfortunately the release of this book stopped tourists entering the prison - or so I thought - now I only want to go back and try again!

The way this book is written it really impresses on you the harshness of prison life yet glorifying it enough to make you wish you were there.

Corruption is wild and far reaching in this world, but for a prince...more
Michael McEvoy
This was an incredible story about the strangest place I've ever heard of. Thomas' story was almost unbelievable, and even though he was guilty, I really felt for him and wanted him to get out of that place. South America was the perfect place to read this book!
Michaé Baisden
read like a movie!

The world of this prison was literally unbelievable and so it kept me increasingly interested.

loved every minute of it.
Julie
This book tells the most amazing story about a prison that works like a caste system. The story told is this book is utterly amazing and kinda makes me feel like I want to visit La Paz prison.
Leila
A convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia's notorious San Pedro prison. Intrigued, the young Australian journalisted went to La Paz and joined one of Thomas's illegal tours. They formed an instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas's prison journey. An entertaining reading despite the mediocre writing style and presentation. I had to hold myself to not feel much sympathy and connection with Thomas.I've admired his resilience, his survivor sk...more
Yolanda Davis
i really enjoyed reading this. it was easy to read the true stories of Thomas McFadden's time in San Pedro prison. Caught for smuggling cocaine at a Bolivian airport,he spends days being starved and left to rot in the cells at the FLCN because he would not sign a confession.He begged to go to court and be taken to the main prison. Once there he was amazed at the conditions and crazy rules. He had to pay an entrance fee , had to buy his own cell and supply his own food. if you had no money; you d...more
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Total pages 1 10 Jun 07, 2012 02:19AM  
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