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The Devil's Highway: A True Story

4.01  ·  Rating Details ·  5,409 Ratings  ·  892 Reviews
The author of "Across the Wire" offers brilliant investigative reporting of what went wrong when, in May 2001, a group of 26 men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona. Only 12 men came back out.
Paperback, 239 pages
Published 2004 by Back Bay Books
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Feb 05, 2008 brian rated it really liked it
of all the books i've read on the subject, this is the best. the story itself is harrowing, of course, and urrea is one hell of a writer. rather than tell a linear story of the 26 mexicans who walked across the devil's highway (only 12 lived to tell the tale), he offers a kaleidoscopic view of the whole machine: border patrol, mexican gangsters, coyotes, arizona, texas, vera cruz, the rio grande, sonora, and the eyeball-drying life-taking sweat-sucking scorching terrible terrible terrible dantea ...more
D. Pow
Jun 10, 2009 D. Pow rated it really liked it
This a great book, one of the best I’ve read this year. It hits you in the head, makes you think hard about the events conveyed between its pages, but it packs an even harder emotional wallop. I felt such sadness and fierce heartache for the 26 men who stumbled into the Devil’s Highway and the brutal loss of the 14 who didn’t make it and the tortuous way they stumbled, for hour on endless hour, into the ultimately merciful embrace of death.

Urrea has a poet’s gift for language, alternating long,
Oct 06, 2012 Kent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was working with the Border Patrol at the time of this story. It is a very effective presentation of how people are smuggled across the Arizona border from Mexico. It is also effective at showing how to die in the desert. You will feel empathy for the migrants. You will see the day to day life of the Border Patrol. They are not who they are often presented as. With this you will identify how dysfunctional policy is with regard to the Southwest Border... I'm a fan of sealed borders and liberal ...more
Jan 14, 2008 Lauren rated it it was amazing
Investigative journalism that reads like the best fiction... Urrea writes a fascinating, disturbing, and tragic account of the Yuma 14. In May of 2001, a group of 26 people got lost in the Arizona desert while attempting to crossthe border, and only 12 survived. I decided to read the book after hearing Urrea speak here in Bloomington. In person, he was an amazing story teller, and explained the process of writing the devil's highway. I learned a lot about the politics and geography of the border ...more
Nick Iuppa
Feb 25, 2017 Nick Iuppa rated it it was amazing
THE DEVIL’S HIGHWAY is Luis Alberto Urrea’s account of a disastrous effort by twenty-six impoverished Mexican men to cross the border into the United States and find work to support the families. They had their dreams: buying a home for their parents, a new roof for their wife, schooling for their children, a car, gifts for their girlfriends. There was just no work in the impoverished city of Vera Cruz from which they came. They each paid over a thousand pesos for a knowledgeable guide to lead t ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This is as good as it gets if you want a short but comprehensive examination of the issues surrounding our porous border with Mexico. All viewpoints are represented, and with surprisingly little bias on the part of the author. As a Mexican American, Urrea admits to an initial bias against the Border Patrol, or "Pinche Migra." His investigation changed his mind, and he presents them in a favorable light.

Urrea uses one well-publicized 2001 tragedy to illustrate the complexities and absurdities of
Feb 17, 2011 Jill rated it it was amazing
If hell really existed, it would likely look like the Devil’s Highway in southern Arizona – an area so harsh and unforgiving that even the Border Patrol is afraid to travel through it.

In May 2001, 26 Mexican men attempted to cross the Mexican border after gifting the Coyotes – human smugglers – with just about every peso they have. And then their journey goes terribly wrong. “They didn’t carry enough water. Can there ever be enough water? Probably not. But the Popielas carried a couple of those
The border between the U.S. and Mexico is a mythical, brutal place. A no-man's land that men often cross through, or die in. In May 2014, two dozen men entered "the Devil's Highway", a stretch of desert between Sonora in Mexico and Yuma, Arizona in America. Fourteen of these men did not come out alive.

This is not an uncommon fate for "undocumented entrants"; hundreds of migrants die every year trying to gain entry to America. (1,954 people died crossing the border between 1998 and 2004*. Heat st
Aug 21, 2012 Todd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're interested in learning more about the Mexican border in a balanced way, this is an excellent and brutally honest book by a reporter who writes with a poet's touch. We get fed so much propaganda on immigration, from populist politicians and sensationalized media (both sides), that it's easy to form strong opinions on complex issues, of which we barely understand. We demonize those who don't fit inside our own core group's noble mythology. We create bugbears out of our own insecurities. ...more
Mar 01, 2011 Jessaka rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
This was an excellent book on border crossings between Mexico and the U.S. It is horrifying as well. I can still see the mummified bodies of those who tried to cross the borders with just one ola in their hands. They thought that all they had to do was walk across, and they were there in a town or city; instead a desert met them, and they died within a very short period of time.
Apr 30, 2010 Steve rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The Devil's Highway, is a pretty good book. Urrea sees no sacred cows - except for perhaps the poor individuals who dare to cross over to the U.S. Urrea's border landscape is murderous one, and the "Coyotes" that lead the illegals across are predators and gangsters. It's all about money. Urrea does his best to give each of those who suffered through the 2001 ordeal (the Yuma 14 (those that died), or Wellton 26 (the entire party), take your pick), faces, lives, hopes. They are people, and not jus ...more
Apr 12, 2010 Jakob rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in border crossing and immigration, people who just like to read books
Recommended to Jakob by: Dr. Adriann Wycoff
Shelves: for-school
Much like the wandering, doubling back trail the walkers of this tragic story navigated, Urrea's storytelling weaves and twists, backwards and forwards. Abrupt tense-shifts, sections (and sometimes only sentences) of second-person narrative, meant to draw the reader in, only serve to jar this reader into wondering when he became a border patrol agent and why he doesn't remember doing so.

Toward the end of the book, it's clear Urrera has much more to say, and like the walkers that survive the jou
Feb 07, 2016 Shawna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The descriptions were so unsettling, that even though I reading, sitting in a warm bath on a cold snowy night, I felt my mouth turn tacky as he detailed the stages that led to heat stroke. I could feel the sun burning my scalp and imagine the sun’s glare piercing through my eyes straight into my brain.

I was a bit reluctant at the start; I don’t usually enjoy the style of poets turned non-fiction writers. They tend to have flowery, discursive prose that floats around the facts rather than gettin
Jan 08, 2013 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone whose ancestors immigrated to the US
Recommended to Jennifer by: CLC & Dave Groeninger
This book was chosen by CLC for our book discussion group during orientation week. The college hopes to bring Luis Alberto Urrea to campus in April. This book tells the story of the Yuma 14 (which we later learn should be more aptly titled the Wellton 23), a group of men from southern Mexico who are led by two Coyotes across the border into the Arizona dessert, an area aptly titled "The Devil's Highway." A number of events and decisions lead to the men getting hopelessly lost and basically "cook ...more
Well-written account of the horrible tragedy of the Yuma 14. Reminiscent of Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Urrea is a phenomenal writer - the text is engaging and poetic. It's well-researched; its apparent that no stone was left unturned and perspectives of all involved were explored. It highlights the tragic and horrifying story of a few that perish on their path to the American Dream, but brings attention to all of those forgotten and the political and institutional barriers to the Dream. Highly su ...more
Feb 11, 2008 Chata rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chata by: Mayor's Book Club of Austin
Desgraciadamente, este libro es magnífico. Digo ''desgraciadamente'' porque es una verdadera historia de un grupo que inmigrantes que muere en el desierto de Arizona. Como soy de Tucson, Arizona, este libro me atrayó inmediatemente y cuando supe que iba a ser el libro escogido por el alcalde de Austin. He tenido el placer de oir hablar dos veces el autor, Luis Alberto Urrea, y es obvio que él hizo sus estudios para preparar el manuscrito para este libro. Es muy talentoso además; hay que leer sus ...more
Dec 02, 2010 Alyssa rated it it was amazing
This is a heavy read, but such a good one. I started reading this book during a trip to Tijuana to work with Esperanza International and met some men who also crossed the border in the same dangerous way (through the dessert) as those in the book, so the its contents hit me especially hard. Urrea knows how to pack a punch in a sentence and obviously did a great amount of research to be able to reconstruct events with such detail.
James Foster
Nov 07, 2016 James Foster rated it really liked it
This is a dangerous time to read “Devil’s Highway”. It is too easy to get lost in this book, a metaphor I choose intentionally, and to misread it as a justification for the rabid anti-immigration poison so prominent today. More on that shortly.

The “Devil’s highway” (the thing itself, not the book) is a brutal spread of desert between Mexico and Arizona. People get lost here, and suffer horribly until they end with even more horrific horrific deaths. The book chronicles the journey of the “Yuma 1
Dean Hamilton
Nov 04, 2012 Dean Hamilton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Devil's Highway, El Camino del Diablo, lies sere, bleak , arid and forbidding, a calescent trail across the Mexican-US border for illegals seeking salvation and opportunity in the north.

The Devil's Highway is the true story of a group of 26 Mexican illegals who crossed the US-Mexican border heading through the desert for Ajo, Arizona on May 19th, 2001. By May 25th, only 12 came out.

Luis Alberto Urrea's book is a powerful piece of work. Urrea can sling a phrase with the best of them, weaving
Jan 20, 2013 Casey rated it really liked it
After reading Urrea's book, Into the Beautiful North, I looked for more of this author's writing and stumbled upon The Devil's Highway. This book is different from Urrea's traditional writing style of fantastical Latin American literature. Instead it is a more realistic portrail of the border life. He tells the story of the Yuma 14, the infamous story throughout the Southwest in 2001 about the death of many illegal immigrants along the "Devil's Highway" a border crossing corridor within Arizona' ...more
May 19, 2007 Lis rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this book while on a visit to Salt Lake City. Until it was done, I did not look up as we drove around town, and did not contribute to conversations with our friends there. I just sat and read, until it was done. Like "Morir en el intento", it is a real tragedy that happened as a group tried to cross the desert into the US. Unlike that other book though, this doesn't read like a newspaper as much. The author weaves us in and out of the story of the journey itself, using what the survivors ...more
Mar 29, 2010 Adam rated it liked it
If there was any doubt about the desperation, rigor and catastrophe involved in crossing the US/Mexican border illegally, Urrea puts it to rest here. A gut-wrenchingly visceral reconstruction of a 2001 border-crossing gone bad, this book examines the forces that made it happen in the first place. The story is crushing, of course, and Urrea spares nothing in highlighting its tragic dimensions. The style is intentionally inflammatory, which many claim makes it a powerful read that is really well w ...more
Aug 20, 2016 Elena rated it liked it
Okay, so it's no secret that I'm not the biggest fan of nonfiction. But this was really good.

I'm gonna be honest. The first hundred or so pages of this book were unbearable. I could have been reading it in gibberish and it wouldn't have made a single difference. But once the actual story began--the very true, very devastating story of the Yuma 14 (or Wellton 26)--I was hooked, horrified, disbelieving, and angry angry angry.

Because again, this is a true story with many other true stories and fac
Thing Two
This story should be mandatory reading for those involved in any discussion about repealing the 14th Amendment, especially Senator Lindsey Graham. Urrea writes about 26 men who attempted to cross into the US through an especially dangerous part of the Sonoran desert known as The Devil's Highway. Of the 26 who entered the United States in early 2001, only 14 survived. The rest perished in temperatures that soared to the 130s as they ambled east, then west, then north, then south. Urrea's non-line ...more
Jennifer Dines
Jul 09, 2015 Jennifer Dines rated it it was amazing
The Devil's Highway is an unsettling stretch of land in southern Arizona. Its heat kills those who linger in its deserts and mountains - not only Mexicans who have just crossed the border but also white Americans who find themselves lost or stranded in its desolation. What's most striking about this book is the naiveté of the Mexican townsfolk who put their complete trust in guides who take their money and, often, their lives, leading them to excruciating hyperthermic death. Men leave their wive ...more
Nov 20, 2009 Kat rated it did not like it
Shelves: the-worst
I was assigned this book in nursing school of all places, I guess to enlighten the new "immigrants" in our class to the true struggle and torture of the border crossers in this area of the country. While this topic is engaging and radically important to consider, the absolute lack of writing ability of Urrea made me stumble over every page, dragging myself through. I constantly stopped to point out literary, grammatical, etc. errors to my friend who also has a literature degree, and we were both ...more
Mar 04, 2011 Amyss rated it really liked it
ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL. I have lived most of my life near the Mexican border, growing up in El Paso, now living most of my adult life in San Antonio. The "issue" of immigration is one I have always been very aware of (just saying it pisses me off, who the hell is not an immigrant? The entire human race has been on the move for greener grass since its existence). This book shows all sides, tells the story, and does it well. I had to unclench my jaw several times, unaware of the anger that was makin ...more
Apr 14, 2009 Jane rated it really liked it
This is the true story of what it means to attempt an illegal border crossing. At each page, I could nod and agree, as I have heard the stories personally. I recommend the book to all people prejudiced against undocumented workers; the story details why they come, how they suffer and the odds they face. Some of the descriptions of death in the desert are horrible; everyone needs to understand the struggle, the betrayal by "coyotes" and their leaders, and the bravery of men and women who attempt ...more
Kendal Washington White
May 04, 2008 Kendal Washington White rated it it was amazing
A true story regarding the attempted illegal entry of 20+ Mexican citizens into Arizona/U.S., the author skillfully recounts the story from multiple perspectives. This book is a must-read for all who are concerned about border/illegal immigration issues, regardless of what side you are on. Urea helps us to understand that the issues are quite complex. We use the book as a common read for a student success class at The University of Arizona, and this book produces more dialogue and debate among i ...more
Jan 26, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Capitalism reduces everything to money and profit, including human lives.
I have been thinking about US drug policy and immigration policy since reading "The Devil's Highway."
The book reads like an extended magazine article, endlessly fascinating and horrifying.
After you read the book, watch the YouTube video of "Stolen at Gunpoint" sung by Tijuana No! and Kid Frost which is quoted in Chapter 5.
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Luis Alberto Urrea is the award-winning author of 13 books, including The Hummingbird's Daughter, The Devil's Highway and Into the Beautiful North (May 2009). Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, Luis has used the theme of borders, immigration and search for love and belonging throughout his work. A Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005 (nonfiction), he's won the Kiriyama Prize (2006 ...more
More about Luis Alberto Urrea...

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“If it was the Border Patrol’s job to apprehend lawbreakers, it was equally their duty to save the lost and the dying.” 2 likes
“What we take from granted in the United States as being Mexican, to those from southern Mexico, is almost completely foreign. Rural Mexicans don't have the spare money to drown their food in melted cheese. They don't smother their food in mounds of sour cream. Who would pay for it? They have never seen "nachos." In some regions of the south, they eat soup with bananas; some tribal folks not far from Veracruz eat termite tacos; turkey, when there are turkeys, is not filled with "stuffing"―but with dry pineapples, papaya, pecans. Meat is killed behind the house, or it is bought, dripping and flyblown, off a wooden plank in the village market. They eat cheeks, ears, feet, tails, lips, fried blood, intestines filled with curdled milk. Southerners grew up eating corn tortillas, and they never varied in their diet. You find them eating food the Aztecs once ate. Flour tortillas, burritos, chimichangas―it's foreign food to them, invented on the border.
They were alliens before they ever crossed the line.”
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